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.

Queen Mary 2 offers both standard and “sheltered” balcony staterooms like this one, set lower into the hull. Photo courtesy of Cunard.

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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  • Theft on the QM2: A Cautionary Tale

    I had great expectations of the Transatlantic crossing between Southampton and NYC, fueled by all the
    novels and historical accounts I read. I should have taken into account that he 19th and 20th centuries are long gone.

    After convincing my water-phobic husband and reluctant elderly parents to join me in London, I placed
    them and our luggage in the Cunard transfer bus to the docks on June 14th, 2015.

    When we arrived in our staterooms, I found that my bag had been broken into: the lock was gone and
    some of the contents had been taken. Unfortunately, the missing items were of sentimental as well as monetary value.

    I know, I know, packing valuables is not safe, but I thought that Cunard’s reputation would hold true.
    On top of that, the items were sharp sterling silver skewers intended for tableware, and I did not want them to appear as
    potential weapons in my hand luggage. My mom had insisted that I keep them and use them for our July 4th BBQ.

    When I reported the theft I did not expect to be reimbursed, but I did think the Cunard Security Officer
    would investigate the matter, since it had happened on their bus or on their ship.

    Instead, I was rudely dismissed with a “claim form”. The officer showed no sympathy: he
    quickly dismissed my concern by saying it was “impossible: must have happened at the airport” (But we didn’t fly!!!).
    No investigation took place.
    The cold refusal to acknowledge a simple fact, is, in my mind, beneath subpar customer service.
    A modicum of kindness, a simple apology or sign of concern would have been enough for me.

    That was only the beginning of the trip. What followed continued to be extremely disappointing. Service was
    average. The food in the Britannia Restaurant and the King’s Court Buffet was less appealing than other cruise lines
    (I have sailed extensively with Norwegian, Carnival, Celebrity and others); the Afternoon Tea (I so looked forward to it)
    was skimpy at best-they always ran out of scones! No Devonshire cream and no lemon curd.
    It is really sad to hold a cucumber sandwich with no cucumber in it…Oh, well.

    My father and husband loved the Cliquot Champagne Bar, though they found it very annoying that all bar seats
    were occupied by non-drinkers and they had to wait.

    The food in the Todd English restaurant was good enough, except for the stuffy waiters and décor. We are
    still trying to figure out what his relationship with Cunard’s history might be.

    Since this is a review, I want to be as objective as possible, so I will mention all the positive
    features I observed on the QM2, in spite of my bad experience:

    1. Great ship, wonderful stabilizers: a very smooth ride even in rough seas;

    2. I enjoyed the RADA workshops and shows as well as the 3D Opera, the Planetarium and the musical entertainment;

    3. As usual, most of the crew (staff) is extremely hardworking and kind, unlike the officers.

    If you are considering traveling with the Queen Mary, please know that it is wonderful and full of history, but it is permanently docked in Long Beach, CA.

    The currently working ship is, indeed, a distant number 2 for those of us who are dreamers and experienced travelers.
    To sustain their pompous, smug attitude, Cunard officers who deal with the public will need to base their attitudes in present substance, not
    past assumptions. Otherwise, the last remaining, feeble connection with history will completely dissolve in salt water.

    • Claire, thank you so much for what appears to be an objective review under extremely unfortunate circumstances that were poorly responded to and handled. I am so sorry to hear that you lost sentimental items.


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