Avid Cruiser Voyages: The Transatlantic Crossing

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.”

Cunard's Britannia of 1840 transported author Charles Dickens to North America in 1842. Illustration courtesy of Wikipedia.

Throughout the intervening years, the fabled Atlantic has taken on a far more revered glow as rights of passage for some of the most famous ships to ever sail these waters. Names like Queen Mary, Normandie, France, Rotterdam and, yes, even Titanic are synonymous with the great adventure of sailing between continents.

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.

Cunard's Queen Mary 2 is the only true modern-day ocean liner, routinely crossing between New York and Southampton. Photo courtesy of Cunard.

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.

Relaxing days at sea on the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

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, Boston or even Montreal.

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.

Many transatlantic crossings that take the northern route include stops in Iceland.

That, we think, even Dickens would approve of.

Want to read what’s it’s like to sail into New York on Cunard? Read The Grand Tradition of Transatlantic Cruising

Curious to know what a Transatlantic Crossing is like? Follow Avid Cruiser contributor Aaron Saunders on his Live Voyage Report from Bridgetown, Barbados across the Atlantic to Lisbon, Portugal.

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