For years, I had dreamed of crossing the Atlantic in a mighty ocean liner like the Titanic (well, not exactly like the Titanic). In spite of that infamous sinking, a transatlantic voyage conjures up visions of women in ball gowns gliding across gleaming hardwood promenades on the arms of men in top hats. Today’s cruises may be more about spa services and scaling the rock climbing wall, but the romantic notion of a journey across the sea still persists.
A repositioning cruise can make that fantasy come true. Twice a year, in spring and fall, the cruise ships of the world undertake a great migration, following the sun like snowbirds flying south for the winter. The most popular repositioning cruises take place between Europe and America on ships that ply the Mediterranean in the summer and then ferry passengers around the Caribbean during the cold winter months.
Major cruise lines such as Celebrity, Holland America, and Princess offer a variety of these transatlantic voyages every year. Cruise length is typically 13-17 days, and the most popular months for repositioning are April, May, October, and November. For a complete listing of available cruises see www.cruisetransatlantic.com.
Here are 10 reasons why you should take a repositioning cruise now:
#1: Cruise value
Repositioning cruises offer some of the best bargains in the cruise industry. With cruise liners anxious to fill cabins for these necessary crossings, prices can be remarkably low. A transatlantic cruise can cost as little as $65/day/person (including port charges and fees). Not bad for an all-inclusive deal providing accommodations, food, entertainment, transportation, and some unusual ports of call!
#2: Cheap one-way flights
One-way flights were long considered a major downside of the repositioning cruise. However, one-way flights are not nearly as elusive (or expensive) as they once were. When you shop around for one-way flights don’t forget to consider Europe’s discount airlines. One inexpensive alternative is to pair a cheap one-way flight to London with a short hop on a European budget airline to your embarkation city. Also consider Iceland Express, a low-fare airline offering great one-way deals to Europe out of Newark, N.J.
#3: World class cities
Repositioning cruises begin or end in some of Europe’s finest cities creating the perfect complement to a European adventure. The two most popular routes connect either Rome or Barcelona with Florida, but the repositioning circuit also includes European wonders like Athens, Lisbon, and Venice. Wherever your itinerary takes you, make some time before or after your cruise to ogle modernisme architecture in Barcelona, experience Portuguese soul music in a Lisbon fado house, glide along on Venetian canal, or get lost in the antiquity of Athens or Rome.
#4: Exotic ports
Your repositioning cruise across the Atlantic will most likely stop at one or more of the exotic islands off the coast of Africa. Possibilities include Madeira Island, a floral wonder with unusual hiking trails called levadas; the Azores known for whale-watching and pineapple plantations; or one of Spain’s seven Canary Islands where the weather seems stuck in an eternal spring and dormant volcanoes add to the natural beauty. Other common ports include Malaga and Cadiz on Spain’s southern coast and Moroccan cities like Tangier and Casablanca.
#5: Relax at sea
Traveling across the ocean takes time, so plan on six or seven days at sea. Don’t worry about being bored – these ships offer more than enough activities to keep you busy. However, this is an ideal opportunity to unwind far away from any distractions. Life seems simpler surrounded by nothing but blue sea. For maximum pampering get a pedicure or a hot stone massage in the onboard spa. Walk the open decks, watch for flying fish, or grab a deck chair and curl up with a bestseller. You may even want to try that time-honored ship sport: shuffleboard!
Most cruise lines offer extensive enrichment programs allowing you to expand your mind (while you struggle not to expand your waistline with all the tempting food choices on board). Learn about the glories of Florence in an art history class, get a mental tune-up in a psychology lecture, or trace the evolution of western music from Bach to Berlioz. Sound too serious for you? Then check out the cooking classes or get your samba on with some dance lessons. It’s like taking half a dozen adult education classes all in one week!
Cruise ships offer all kinds of entertainment ranging from Bingo and trivia games to comedians and Broadway productions. Music lovers can choose between elegant Classical string quartets and raucous dance bands. If you’re feeling lucky, you can drop a few in the casino. Shopaholics can browse the shipboard bargains on art, jewelry, and booze. Or if you are exhausted from so many activities, you can watch a movie in the privacy of your own cabin.
#8: Florida sun
Florida is a frequent bookend of a repositioning cruise giving you the opportunity to soak up some sunshine in ports like Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Take a dip in the ocean, check out the Art Deco architecture of South Beach, or search for gators during an airboat ride in the Everglades. All are perfect ways to get into vacation mode at the start of your trip or enjoy one last fling before heading home.
#9: Back-to-back option
If you have the time, consider doing a back-to-back. In cruise lingo, a back-to-back is simply two cruises in a row. For example, you can sail across the Atlantic to Europe and then continue on that same ship for a Mediterranean cruise. Or top off your transatlantic voyage back home with an additional cruise island-hopping in the Caribbean. An added benefit is the price break you get on the combined cruises. Of course, you’ll need extensive time to be able to do so.
#10: No jet lag
One of the greatest benefits of cruising between continents is: no jet lag! Rather than crossing half a dozen time zones in one night, you make the change gradually, one hour at a time. By cruising east to west, you gain an hour of sleep almost every other night. If that isn’t heaven, what is?
Of course, there are some downsides to a TransAtlantic cruise. While the per-day value is very good, overall, a two week cruise is simply going to cost more than one that lasts four to seven days. That means you need more vacation days, and since fewer of those days are actually spent exploring a new destination, it’s not as appealing of an option for more independent-minded travelers. And finally, the higher cost and longer trip length means that the majority group on the cruise will be older travelers and retirees. If that’s a deal-breaker — or the thought of 8 days on open water crossing the Atlantic makes you queasy — a TransAtlantic cruise may not be the best choice for you.
Learn more about cruising:
- 7 Things to Know Before You Book Your First or Next Cruise
- The Pros and Cons of Small-Ship Cruising for Independent Travelers
Top photo by Nick Chill. All other photos courtesy of Frank Supsic and may not be used without permission.