After 22 years of cruising and 22 different cruises, we finally took our first Transatlantic cruise this spring. What took us so long? Well, probably like you, we had a lot of questions about spending that much time on a cruise ship.
Would we be bored? How rough is the Atlantic? Would we be seasick? Is the weather nice or stormy? And on and on and on. Now that we are back, I can answer these questions and more. Read on to see if you will find a Transatlantic cruise fun or boring.
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What Exactly Is A Transatlantic Cruise?
For many “cruisers,” a Transatlantic cruise is a bucket list cruise. This cruise is precisely what its name says, sailing from North America across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe or vice versa. In the old days, this was the only way to get between the two continents. Now, most people opt to fly.
Transatlantics (TA for short) are repositioning cruises. This means the cruise line moves its fleet from one place to another. For example, moving ships from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean to take advantage of the summers in Europe.
TA’s were initially offered at bargain rates because of the travel time between continents with no ports for cruisers to enjoy. Those days are pretty much in the past. You may occasionally find a reasonable rate for a Transatlantic cruise. Still, more often than not, you will be paying dearly for your bucket list cruise.
Why have the prices gone up? Simple, supply and demand. Each ship typically only crosses the Atlantic once a season. So you see, the opportunity for these sailings is somewhat limited.
The exception to this is the iconic Cunard Line. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 spends her whole year going back and forth across the Atlantic full-time. While not solely dedicated to the Atlantic, her sister ships, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, and Queen Anne, each make a few crossings each year.
And everyone knows Cunard is not a bargain rate company.
How Long Does It Take To Cross The Atlantic On A Cruise Ship
Our Transatlantic cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy, was 14 nights long. Not all of that was crossing the Atlantic. The first seven nights got us from Florida to Ponta Delgada, Azores. It was good to stop after being at sea for seven days and nights.
But the Azores are still a bit away from mainland Europe. After the brief port of call in Ponta Delgada, we spent another four nights sailing to get to Palma de Mallorca. Mallorca is still an island, not the mainland of Spain, but we’ll call this close enough. With a quick addition, you come to 11 nights of sailing from Florida to Europe. 10 to 11 nights is a typical Transatlantic cruise for most passenger cruise lines.
Note I said most cruise lines… The Queen Mary 2 goes from South Hampton to New York in just seven nights! This may be because the northern route is shorter than the middle Atlantic route. But Cunard will tell you it’s because their ships are Ocean Liners, not cruise liners.
For fun, I googled the fastest time any cruise ship ever crossed the Atlantic. I found a great article on NatGeo regarding the SS United States. On her maiden voyage in July of 1952, the SS United States crossed the Atlantic from New York to Le Havre, France, in less than four days. This ship was moving!
Things You Can Do For Fun On A Transatlantic Cruise
What the heck is there to do for seven (7) days at sea?! You may think this is the best thing ever. You are on a fantastic resort-style ship, being forced to relax and do nothing. This may be your idea of heaven.
At first, I thought so too. We’ve sailed a lot already. And we enjoy sea days. I love to sit on my balcony and stare out to sea while reading the latest mystery novel. But I found out I don’t love to do this every day for seven days. And even the southern Transatlantic route from Florida to Spain can be cool, windy, and cloudy in April.
So, What Do You Do All Day At Sea?
We were sailing eastward. Almost every day of the cruise, we lost an hour. By moving the time forward each day, the Captain edges the ship’s time towards the time of the European country of your final destination. This is one of the best things about taking a Transatlantic cruise. No Jet Lag!
These time changes, and the fact that we didn’t have to get up to be anywhere, led us to sleep in most days. Sleeping late meant we usually missed the breakfast times offered in the main dining room. So our typical day started with breakfast in the Buffet or at everyone’s favorite Café al Bacio. While at breakfast, we reviewed the day’s events to see what was happening around the ship.
We set up spa appointments at the beginning of the cruise. Massage, facial, and reflexology are some of my favorites. We keep these appointments in mind when choosing what to do each day.
You can also book time in the “spa” area of the ship if you get there soon enough. There is an extra cost for this; see more about the Spa below. I like steam rooms and such, but hubs is not much of a fan. So for us, the extra cost is not a value.
Before returning to the cabin after breakfast, we took our daily mile-long walk around the ship.
We’d take in one of the ship’s activities in the afternoons, and there are many. (See a sample day’s schedule below.) One day it was “Deal or No Deal”; another day, the Art Auction. My husband is a recovering bidder; now, he just watches with no paddle in his hand. As we got closer to land, port lectures were offered, and we attended these.
There are wine and spirits tastings. We chose a wine tasting one time, and it was pretty fun. (Note: if it involves alcohol, there is likely to be an additional cost.)
Finding our spot on deck to sip a cocktail and enjoy the ocean was beautiful. But be careful to choose a place with a good wind break. The Sunset Bar (on our ship) provided comfortable seating and fantastic views of the ship’s wake. And by its very name, you can guess the sunsets here were incredible.
Some Tips For Keeping Busy On Your Own
Load up your e-reader. Ships do provide internet access these days. But if it’s not included in your cruise package, it can be costly. Even so, you are out in the middle of the Atlantic. Those satellites sending you a signal may not be so reliable.
Walking around the ship and using the fitness center are both free. Also, you should at least try to work off some of the desserts you eat every night.
Maybe puzzles are your jam; you can have both digital or physical. Whatever you use to pass the time while hanging out, you should plan to have with you.
The Evenings On Our Transatlantic Cruise Were The Most Fun
After cleaning up from a day of lounging around, we’d dress and head out for the evening. The usual prelude to dinner was a stop at our favorite bar for small talk with other guests and light entertainment. We seemed to always end up at the restaurant around 7:30 for dinner. Some people still book the traditional early/late seating arrangements for dinner. We prefer what they call anytime dining.
We knew from our review of the day’s activity what the evening show would be. When we wanted to see the show, we finished dinner in time to make the 9:00 performance. We could linger more over dinner if we didn’t plan to go to the theater. The wait staff always tries to bring you more food and drinks, and we gladly let them.
You know from the title of my blog that I like my food. Celebrity has some of the best food at sea, and as you can see from the pics here, I did my best to taste it all!
Evening Entertainment – The Theater, Small Cabaret Venues, And Of Course, The Casino!
The shows on cruise ships range from hokey to very good. We had an excellent songstress who did fantastic covers of Aretha Franklin. The ships always have their in-house team who put on “Production” numbers several times during the cruise.
You can listen to different musicians perform in the various lounge areas around the ship. One lounge is usually jazz, our favorite. Celebrity Cruises also has “Silent Disco” parties. You choose headphones based on your genre of music (there are usually 3 to choose from) and boogie on down. It’s a bit chaotic but fun.
We would close out our evening by making a trip to the Casino. I like to play the slots, and DH likes the poker machines. When we ran out of our allotted $20s, we’d grab a nightcap and head back to our stateroom.
Ship Board Activities Abound
Cruise ships have a whole department staffed with people whose only job is to keep you entertained. Before your Transatlantic cruise even starts, the Cruise Director is lining up entertainers and lecturers and working with their staff to plan out daily activities for all of us passengers.
A typical days schedule looks something like this:
This Celebrity Today is from an earlier sailing, but you get the idea. If you want to, you can find something to do anytime, anywhere.
What Kind Of People Take A Transatlantic Cruise?
I’m going to be honest here. Most people taking cruises longer than seven days are older, often 50+. It is an unfortunate fact of life that it is harder to leave work for long periods in your crucial earning years. Also, because of the “double occupancy” thing, there are significantly more “couples” than “singles.”
With these two caveats in mind, you will find all types of people on a Transatlantic cruise. These cruises often have a more international clientele since they are crossing the oceans. The opportunity to meet people from different cultures is much greater than on your typical Caribbean or Mexico jaunt.
Our cruise seemed to have a lot of Brits and Spaniards. And we met a couple who live part-time in the US and part-time in Denmark.
Is A Transatlantic Cruise A Good Choice For Families with Children?
Mainstream cruise lines have activities like water slides and pool/water play areas. Mini golf, rock climbing walls, ping pong, and foosball are some other onboard attractions. These are your best bets if you are traveling with kids. You will need to be with your kids, but this does give them something to do.
Most ships have a “teen club” and a “camp” style place for kids 4 – 12. These spaces are usually staffed with one or more crew members to coordinate activities for the kids. Very rarely will there be any sort of babysitting services. So if you are looking for downtime from the kids, you probably won’t find it on this vacation.
I do not remember seeing any young children on our cruise. There were some young adults (14 – 21) but not many. Generally, I would not recommend a Transatlantic cruise for families with kids. There is, of course, one big exception to this, Disney Cruise Lines. I don’t think I need to spell out why.
How Much Does A Transatlantic Cruise Cost?
Now the saying “it all depends” really comes into play. Royal Caribbean, a mid-tier cruise line, has interior cabins starting at $1,450 double occupancy as of this writing for a 12-day cruise. Don’t be fooled by any place that quotes a “per person” rate. Cruise lines always sell their rooms based on double occupancy. You can get a room by yourself by paying a “single supplement.” Generally, the single supplement is the same cost as double occupancy
Interior cabins are a fantastic choice and a great bargain if you are very social and spend most of your time on the cruise outside your stateroom. From here, the cruise price jumps up in each stateroom category.
For example, An ocean view room (you get a porthole) nearly doubles to $2928. Want a balcony? Now you are up to $3,460. Need more space? There is a junior suite for as low as $4,818; for even more room, a 1-bed suite starts at just $7,282.
Also, as I mentioned, Royal Caribbean is a mid-tier cruise line. If you move up to a line like Celebrity, you will pay more for your cruise. If you cruise on Carnival, you may pay less.
If you are the interior stateroom sort of person, you spend only $60.50 per person per day. Considering that this includes all your meals, some beverages, and entertainment is a pretty good bargain.
Do you fancy going the “suite” route? That’s going to cost you $303.60 per person per day. It makes you think about how much private space you really need.
But, full disclosure, I am an introvert. I like my space. We generally end up in a junior suite on most cruises. So not top dollar, but still a bit costly at $200 per person per day.
And again, the cost for a Transatlantic cruise will be higher on a premium or luxury cruise line.
Things You May Be Charged Extra For On The Cruise
Your room, most entertainment, and a lot of food are included in the overall price of your cruise. However, there are several other things you may want to do to pass the time on a Transantlic cruise that will cost you extra.
In the Buffet, juices, iced tea, and coffee are free. These drinks are dispensed from large machines similar to what you might find at a fast-food restaurant. But you will pay for everything else. Bottled water, fancy coffee drinks at the coffee bar, soda or pop, and of course “adult beverages” all are an extra charge.
Typically there are beverage packages you can buy for your cruise. Depending on the package, it may be a bargain, or you may be better off buying your drinks as you go. On the cruise boards, there are a lot of discussions about how to buy your drinks. It’s quite the controversy.
Planning to work while on your Transatlantic cruise? You will want an internet package; again, more $$$!
Some cruise pricing now comes with an all-inclusive fare. You get your stateroom, beverages, internet, and tips for one price. We usually choose this option when available. Not because it is cheaper (we’ve never done the math to figure it out) but because it is convenient. I hate hassles when I’m on a cruise.
More Fun Things To Do To Fill Your Sea Days
Maybe you like to luxuriate in the Spa. In addition to massages of all types, most ships have pretty fantastic Spa areas that include saunas, steam rooms, rain shower therapy, and many other seductive ways to lounge about. Spending a day in the Spa will cost you.
Are you a foodie? I am. We ate in one of the “specialty restaurants” several times during our cruise. What are the “specialty restaurants?” Most ships will have a steakhouse-style restaurant. And maybe an Italian or French venue, or maybe even a Chef’s Table event! And then perhaps a restaurant with an Asian flair. These venues will range in price from $29 to as much as $50 per person. The Chef’s Table will be even more expensive. The cost depends on the ship and the restaurant.
The Casino – Almost every ship has one. We generally make a daily deposit here. I say deposit because If I come out even at the end of the cruise, I am happy. I only play slots and let myself spend $20 daily, win or lose.
Some cruisers spend and win large amounts in the Casino. These big spenders, like at casino hotels on land, get offered all sorts of free benefits, including free cruises!
The Weather In The Atlantic Depends On When You Sail
The Atlantic can be a rough place to sail. But today’s ships are more prepared than ever to handle the oceans. Our Captain kept the ship just ahead of the storms. Each day during the Captain’s report (right around 10:00 am), he would share with us the weather and how he was working hard to make our crossing pleasant.
Most days, passengers were sunbathing on deck. Sometimes they had their towels wrapped around them, but more often than not, it was comfortable in the sun.
But here is what a difference a day can make. The ship that left the day after our (same line, same direction) did not miss the storms and had far more high seas and rain. We know this because we are in a Facebook Group for this cruise line, and members share everything!
We were fortunate. But as always, if you plan for the worst, everything else will seem grand!
If You Have Bad Weather On Your Cruise, You May Get Seasick
Even with the fantastic engineering on modern cruise liners and the great job their stabilizers do, there will be times when the ship seems to pitch and roll. If you are subject to sea sickness, come prepared with your Dramamine or Wrist patches.
The Best Time To Take A Transatlantic Cruise
I’m told that the fall East to West Transatlantic Cruises are the best. This is mainly because you gain an hour every day you sail, rather than lose an hour like on our cruise. I agree that it’s better to have 25-hour days than 23-hour days. Maybe then we could wake up in time for a real breakfast.
Regardless of the time of year you take your Transatlantic Cruise; you will be in for a relaxing time.
For Us, A Transatlantic Cruise Was Relaxing And A Fantastic Start to Our European Vacation
This Transatlantic cruise was our first. I was most intrigued about doing a TA to avoid the jet lag I always have flying from San Francisco to Europe. Plus, we like to cruise. We’ve even contemplated an around-the-world cruise.
We enjoyed our time on the cruise, even the long seven nights at sea before our first port. There is always something going on around the ship. If you are a person who can amuse yourself or find fun in the simplest of things, you will enjoy a Transatlantic cruise.