Transatlantic Cruises and Cruise Lines - Choosing A Transatlantic Cruise
Yearning to turn back the clock to the Golden Age of Cruising? Turn it back on a transatlantic cruise.
It is a misty morning in May. Passengers cluster on the outside decks of the Queen Mary 2. Some sip cups of coffee; some stand clutching cameras; some just stand in awe. It is a memorable moment: They are coming to America by ship.
Six days earlier they left Southampton, a bustling harbor in southern England. Today, they will float past some of America’s greatest icons – the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Manhattan’s towering skyline. Within an hour, they will disembark a few blocks from Times Square, having completed a classic cruise – crossing the Atlantic.
In 1842, author Charles Dickens famously crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a publicity tour of America. The entire concept of regularly scheduled passenger service from Europe to North America was still in its infancy, and the man who would give us tales like A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist was none too impressed with the shipboard facilities. In fact, Dickens even went so far as to compare his stateroom to 'a coffin."
Today, transatlantic crossings are prized for their relaxing nature and restorative opportunities, allowing guests to get in touch with themselves in a way that simply isn’t possible on many other voyages. But not all crossings are created equal. In fact, there’s a wealth of ships and itineraries that sail from a remarkable number of ports in both North America and Europe.
Fans of the quintessential transatlantic crossing will no doubt be lured to offerings from Cunard Line. The only line to still offer regularly scheduled crossings between New York and Southampton, Cunard employs its mammoth Queen Mary 2 on the run – the only “true” ocean liner currently operating transatlantic service today. While the line sometimes places the smaller Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on the crossings, few things can be as spectacular as arriving in New York after a crossing on QM2, whose whistles can be heard for 10 miles.
Cunard’s crossings are typically characterized by five to six straight days of mid-Atlantic cruising bliss, with no ports of call in-between. But nearly every cruise line offers transatlantic crossings intermingled with ports of call. These repositioning voyages are intended to move the vessel to either Europe or North America – and there’s good reason to take part in them.
Beginning in March and lasting until May, the spring transatlantic crossings typically sail the southern Atlantic, transiting from the Caribbean to the warm shores of Africa and the Mediterranean for the summer months. These crossings typically include a mix of ports in the Caribbean, along with calls on mid-Atlantic stops like Las Palmas and Funchal before arriving in the popular European disembarkation ports of Lisbon, Barcelona and Civitavecchia (Rome).
For something truly exotic, though, save your vacation days until September, when ships begin repositioning back to North America. Tops on our list: voyages that sail between Northern Europe and New York.
Starting from Northern European ports like Southampton and Copenhagen, these voyages sail a northerly route that can include calls in Scotland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Atlantic Canada. Voyages typically terminate in New York, or sometimes Boston.
A century ago, only the wealthiest could afford to cross the Atlantic for leisure but today, a transatlantic crossing can also be one of the best cruise values, with fares often hundreds – sometimes thousands – below conventional fares.
That, we think, even Dickens would approve of.
How Many Days?
Transatlantic cruises come in two versions. The most popular way to experience the Transatlantic is on 6 or 7 day crossing on the Queen Mary 2 between Southampton and New York. A Transatlantic "crossing" is when there are only two ports involved - the port of embarkation and the port of debarkation.
The other way to cruise the Atlantic Ocean is on a longer 12 to 15 day cruise that incorporates several extra ports of call. I the spring those cruises start in various ports along the U.S. coastline, from Galveston to Boston. The cruises end in a number of European ports, from Copenhagen in Northern Europe to Venice in the Mediterranean.
When To Cruise?
The weeklong Transatlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2 depart from April through December every year. The longer Transatlantic cruises on other ships take place in April and May or between September and November, when the cruise ships reposition to or from the summer cruise season in Europe.
Choose Your Cruise: Transatlantic Cruises
New York has nearly always been the final destination for European liners that began Transatlantic cruises in 1840. The city has seen ships bring waves of immigrants and scores of millionaires and movie stars. The Big Apple has welcomed the world’s greatest sailing ships, stately icons that symbolized a time of great glamour, elegance and tradition.But the advent of transatlantic jet service in the late 1950s put the oceangoing liners out of business, and transatlantic cruises slowed to a trickle. Though cruise ships still sail into New York’s harbor, Queen Mary 2 is the only one regularly cruising between Europe and America.
The journey between Southampton, a bustling harbor in southern England, and New York takes only six days. Leaving Southampton, quite near where the Mayflower departed in the 1600s for the land that would become America, today’s cruise passengers sail past some of America’s greatest icons when entering New York’s storied harbor — the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Manhattan’s towering skyline. Within an hour, they will disembark a few blocks from Times Square, having completed a classic cruise — crossing the Atlantic.
For nostalgia buffs or anyone that longs for the elegance of a bygone era, a transatlantic cruise is an absolute must.
No-Jetlag Journey: On transatlantic cruises, you lose an hour a night cruising eastbound from New York and gain an hour a night cruising westbound from Southampton, which makes for a smooth transition for such a long trip.
Trans-Atantlic Tip: Meet The Duke
Got an hour to spare before boarding Queen Mary 2 in Southampton, England? Walk several blocks from the cruise ship terminal to the Duke of Wellington pub.
We did, and what we found in the 15th-century pub located at 36 Bugle Street was a convivial maritime setting, stone fireplaces with logs blazing and a row of cask ales to accompany the menu of traditional English fare: Fish and Chips, Ploughman’s Lunch, and Bangers and Mash.
Sailors and “cruise” passengers from earlier times may well have stopped here for fortification. In 1620, more than a century after the pub opened, another ship set sail from the foot of Bugle Street. Its name: the Mayflower.