Two types of transatlantic cruises can be taken. Cunard Cruises’ Queen Mary 2 is the only ocean liner that regularly schedules transatlantic crossings from spring to fall, between New York and Southampton, England. The second type of transatlantic cruise is a “repositioning” cruise. Repositioning occurs when ships migrate to more hospitable, warmer waters in the fall. For example, ships in Europe will cross the Atlantic Ocean to dock in a Caribbean, North American or South American port. In the spring, between March and May, the ships return to Europe. Fall repositioning voyages start in August, but the westward pace picks up September through November. A few ships also cross in December.
Cruises can last from six nights to more than three weeks. Shorter transatlantic cruises may be non-stop, or include just one port call. Longer itineraries may have multiple stops, but transatlantic cruises generally are about languid days at sea and onboard fun.
A valid passport is required to board and disembark a transatlantic cruise. Itineraries with multiple stops may require travel visas to disembark; before traveling, go to the country-specific Web pages on the U.S. State Department Web site, www.state.gov, to research required documents. It’s also a good idea to make a photocopy of your passport, driver’s license, tourist visa and any other documents you may need in case you lose the originals.
All children, including infants and newborns, must have their own passport. Some countries may require other documentation as well. Again, refer to the State Department Web site for specifics.
Check to see if your ship provides childcare. The Queen Mary 2, for instance, offers a nursery staffed with British nannies certified by the Nursery Nurses Examination Board. Other areas for older children and teens are staffed by youth counselors.
Most ships will provide activities structured around sports, arts and crafts and games for children and teens. Again, check with your cruise line to get detailed activities and programs.
Transatlantic cruises are one-way vacations, so you will need to make travel arrangements to meet the cruise ship at the port or to return home. To be safe, consider arriving at your departure port one or two days in advance of embarkation; you’ll also want to give yourself some wiggle room when booking a flight home. Give yourself an extra day to relax -- and budget some time for airport delays and other emergencies -- before boarding your ship or plane. Consult your Vacations To Go travel counselor for pre- and post-cruise flight arrangements and hotel packages.
The advantage of most transatlantic cruises is that there are no restrictions on luggage. However, airlines do have certain restrictions, so check to see if your baggage will add to the cost of your trip.
When packing for a transatlantic cruise, think in terms of layers. For example, you'll need warmer clothing if heading east and northeast to Europe. Going west and southwest, you'll want to lighten up as you cruise in the direction of balmier weather, such as the Caribbean. Don’t forget a pair of good walking shoes and a windbreaker for shore excursions.
Be sure to include a few dressy outfits for the evenings, as most transatlantic cruises host elegant dinners. (The longer, more expensive cruises take "formal night" to extremes. Tuxedos are suggested, but even the most exclusive ships will accept a dark suit and tie unless you’re invited to dine with the ship’s captain.) Generally, the mood on board a transatlantic cruise is country club casual. Dressy shorts, slacks, jeans and other casual attire is the norm throughout the day. Swimsuits, sarongs, tanks, trunks and workout clothes are reserved for the ship’s deck, gym and pool.
Some cruise lines will automatically charge a gratuity to your onboard account. (Carnival, for example, will bill $10 per day, per passenger. Celebrity also automatically charges a gratuity, ranging from $11.50 to $15, depending on accommodations.) And don’t forget off-ship gratuities -- tipping is customary in most destinations visited by transatlantic cruises, so please reward outstanding taxi drivers, waiters and other service staff during port calls.
When making an eastbound transatlantic voyage, the clock pushes forward an hour each day, whereas the clock turns back an hour on a westbound passage. This is why many people refer to transatlantic cruises as the “civilized” way to travel. Unlike flying, your body gradually adjusts to the time difference, so no jet lag!
Some cruise lines have an ATM onboard, usually near the casino. ATM fees range from $5 to $7 in addition to bank fees. You also can cash a personal check at the purser’s office. Check on limits and requirements. Traveler’s checks may also be cashed at the purser’s office.
U.S. dollars and credit cards are widely accepted onboard and at most Caribbean destinations. However, many ships will set up currency exchange facilities before docking so you can change small amounts of money prior to departing for your shore excursions. Once on land, you can also go to a nearby town, which likely will have ATM facilities.
Direct-dial phones are available onboard. You can send and receive emails and faxes from the ship’s Internet café. Wireless Internet usually is available either in public areas or your stateroom. Charges will be billed to your onboard account. As for cell phones, you can make and receive calls onboard if your wireless provider has a roaming agreement with the cruise line.
Yes, you can, even though hair dryers will be provided onboard. Depending on your location, outlets can be either 110 or 220 volts. Converters and adapters come in handy for international visitors.