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In the chronicles of maritime history, nothing seems more iconic than trans-Atlantic ship travel. For many of us, it sets the stage for romance, adventure and glamour. Remember “Titanic” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, or “An Affair to Remember” with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr?
Romanticized in print and on screen, this seafaring tradition dates to the 1840s, when steamships started taking mail and passengers on regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic crossings. Back then, it wasn’t always for leisure: Between 1820 and 1920, more than 34 million immigrants seeking better opportunities in the United States boarded these towering steam vessels. The throngs slept in steerage on the lowest decks, while the affluent lounged in stylish cabins and dined on haute cuisine.
Trans-Atlantic ship travel was transformed in 1923 when the U.S. government made drastic cuts in immigration quotas. In response, the cramped, dismal steerage quarters were dismantled and replaced by tourist-class accommodations. The golden era of trans-Atlantic sailing took shape as more people took cruise vacations to Europe or vice versa. The era peaked from the 1930s through the 1950s with the introduction of Cunard’s storied ocean liners, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth 2. Hollywood personalities, honeymooners and society types cavorted on board, feted with caviar and champagne.
When the 1960s rolled around, trans-Atlantic cruise lines entered choppy waters. More people were crossing the Atlantic by plane than by boat. Cruising revived in the 1970s, thanks to the TV show “The Love Boat” and the inviting blue waters of the Caribbean.
In recent years, the glamour of trans-Atlantic crossings has also regained its luster. People seeking to experience the luxury of traveling by sea are growing in number, and cruise lines fitting all budgets have taken note, offering a variety of trans-Atlantic sailings.