Transatlantic cruises rank among the most iconic types of travel. They generally fall into two categories. The first type is a regularly scheduled transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2, the only cruise ship that routinely sails back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean between New York City and London (Southampton). These cruises run between late April and December and take about six or seven days in each direction because the ship does not have any ports of call. The Queen Mary 2 crosses the Atlantic about 25 times a year on this week-long route.
The second type of transatlantic crossing is a repositioning cruise for ships that sail in the Caribbean, Central America, or South America in the winter and in Europe for the rest of the year. Most transatlantic repositioning cruises sail in the spring and fall months, but travelers can find one or more ships crossing the Atlantic every month of the year. These crossings are usually longer than a week since they include a few ports of call in the Caribbean or the Atlantic Ocean.
Both types of transatlantic crossings are different than a cruise where the ship is docked at a new port of call each day. Travelers planning a transatlantic cruise vacation need to think about the pros and cons of what it's like to be out of sight of land for days at a time.
Pro: Bargain Prices
Cruise lines follow the sun, moving most of their ships to another part of the world to help guests enjoy the best weather and most daylight on their vacation. Because these repositioning cruises are often longer (10 or more days) and include only a few ports of call, the cruise lines usually reduce the price per day to attract more travelers. The ships have a "captive audience" on sea days, and onboard guests tend to spend more money on drinks, gambling, and in the retail boutique shops. So, cruise lines need to have the ships full when making the crossing.
When planning a repositioning cruise across the Atlantic, be sure to check out the cruise right before or after your transatlantic crossing. The cruise lines often discount these cruises for those willing to book back-to-back.
Pro: No Flying
A long flight across the Atlantic is stressful, tiring, and often not a good beginning or ending to your vacation. A transatlantic cruise at the beginning of your vacation can get you into a relaxed mood, and one at the end of your vacation can help ease you back to the normal work life. North Americans with more vacation time can cross the Atlantic at the beginning of their vacation, travel around Europe via land or on another cruise, and then take a second transatlantic cruise back home. They only have to drive or fly to the embarkation port.
Pro: No Jet Lag
One of the factors every traveler loves about a transatlantic cruise is the lack of jet lag when arriving at their destination. Since continental Europe is about six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in North America (depending on the time of year), ships traveling westbound lose an hour almost every day. Those traveling eastbound gain an hour, making some cruise days 25 hours long! Although losing or gaining an hour each day can be a little disconcerting, it's far better than the jet lag you can get from flying across the Atlantic.
Pro: Learn Something New
Cruise ships on transatlantic crossings offer many educational, entertaining, and/or fun activities on the many sea days. For example, guests can take classes in computing, photography, cooking, bridge, fitness, or ballroom dancing. Or, they can attend lectures on a variety of topics that expand their knowledge of topics related to history, travel, health, music, or art. Smaller ships and more luxury brands tend to feature more guest lecturers and educational opportunities than larger ships do.
Pro: Relax and Unwind
When arriving home from vacation, many travelers often complain that they "need a vacation from their vacation!" Although many are surprised at how quickly the sea days fly by on a transatlantic cruise, no one is forcing guests to do anything other than whatever they want to do. Some guests bring along an e-reader full of novels, while others catch up on movies, try their luck in the casino, or spend time unwinding in the spa or fitness center. On a transatlantic cruise, someone else is cooking and cleaning up after you. Guests can sleep in as long as they wish or go to bed right after dinner. It's their choice.
Con: No (or Few) Ports of Call
The traditional transatlantic crossing of the Queen Mary 2 does not feature any ports of call, leaving New York and arriving in Southampton seven days later (or vice versa).
Most transatlantic repositioning cruises taking the southern route between the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas make stopovers at ports of call in the Caribbean, the Cape Verde Islands, and the Canary Islands. Ships crossing the northern route might stopover in Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, Bermuda, Newfoundland, or Atlantic Canada.
While you won't have as many ports of call as on a seven-day Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise, some of the ports are unique and can only be seen on an extended voyage like a transatlantic crossing.
Con: Weather and Rough Seas
Weather can be a major concern for some travelers planning a transatlantic cruise. On traditional cruises, ships are sailing most nights and in a different port each day. They often are not far from land, so even though the weather can be rough, it doesn't last long.
Crossing the Atlantic can be different since the ship might not see land for several days.
The good news is that modern cruise ships have amazing stabilizers, so most guests won't feel the wave action. Those who are prone to seasickness have a variety of remedies to prevent or treat this malady.
It's no guarantee, but transatlantic cruises in the summer months usually have the best weather, although hurricanes and tropical storms can affect ships sailing either the southern route or northern route.
Believe it or not, there are cruise travelers who love stormy weather and rough seas. A transatlantic crossing in the winter months of November through March is ideal for these die-hard travelers. They can get a good price and might even "enjoy" a storm!
Con: Passengers Tend to Be Older
A general rule for cruises is the longer the cruise, the older the passengers. This is not surprising, because senior travelers have more time off and more disposable income. Although many younger travelers enjoy socializing with seniors, most transatlantic crossings are not "party" cruises. The bars and discos probably won't be packed after midnight like on shorter voyages where travelers are trying to cram as much as possible into their vacation time.
Con: Too Much Free Time
Although most travelers can get into the rhythm and routine of a transatlantic cruise, some people feel almost claustrophobic when surrounded by water 24 hours a day for several days. This feeling is rare, but a transatlantic cruise might not be for everyone. If you can't wait to get off the ship each day when on a traditional cruise moving from port to port, you might not embrace several consecutive days at sea. If you are a self-starter who appreciates free time alone or doesn't require constant entertainment, you probably will come home planning your next transatlantic voyage.
Is a Transatlantic Cruise For You?
If you consider these pros and cons and your own personality type, you can decide if a transatlantic cruise is the right vacation for you. Since this type of cruise is often a good bargain, offering no-jet-lag travel and the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate, a crossing might be a perfect cruise vacation for you.