Five Things That I Enjoy About Crossing The Atlantic

In just under three weeks time, I’ll embark on an eight-night Transatlantic Crossing aboard Cunard Lines grand flagship, Queen Mary 2. Sailing from Southampton, England to New York (well, Brooklyn actually, but who’s counting?) guests aboard the Queen Mary 2 will sail for eight straight days across the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. No ports. No distractions. Just one week and a day aboard the only modern purpose-built ocean liner in existence.

While I’ll be covering the voyage day-by-day with a full Voyage Report, I thought I’d take some time to explain exactly why it is that this, a cruise with absolutely no port calls, is such a desirable journey to make. Here are five reasons why I enjoy Transatlantic crossings.

1. It’s Relaxing

Kick back and relax! A transatlantic voyage is all about indulging in you and your interests. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders
Kick back and relax! A transatlantic voyage is all about indulging in you and your interests. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Calling a typical port-oriented cruise a “vacation” is sometimes a misnomer. After all, frequent port calls and early departures for shore excursions often mean that your vacation days are spent waking up early, queueing in lines, boarding motorcoaches, and generally running yourself ragged on-shore.

By contrast, a transatlantic crossing takes on an entirely different ebb and flow. Mornings are relaxing and lazy affairs that gradually seep into afternoons spent poolside, enjoying the spa, reading a book, or relaxing in one of the ship’s many lounges. Transatlantic crossings – particularly with Cunard – tend to offer an increased focus on guest lecturers and special entertainment guests. My own voyage aboard QM2 will feature performances by the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Anthony Inglis, plus numerous guest speakers.

Afternoons bleed into evenings that are long, late and entertaining. Expect the nightlife to continue well past midnight on most crossings. After all – where do you have to be the next morning? Nowhere! So let the good times roll … or, in this case, sail.

2. It’s Never Boring

Ballroom dancing, anyone? Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders
Ballroom dancing, anyone? Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The first assumption most people make about transoceanic crossings is that they will be bored stiff. That’s simply not the case. In fact, you can be as relaxed or as busy as you’d like.

Of course, the larger the ship you take across the Atlantic, the more options there are for you to while away your time. Cunard even publishes a list called “101 Things To Do Aboard Queen Mary 2” that highlights some of the ways you can spend your day. In fact, my own experience in crossing the Atlantic three years ago taught me a valuable lesson: You can’t do all that there is on offer. Not by a long-shot.

Besides the scheduled activities – of which there are many – one thing most guests seem to appreciate is the opportunity to do the things they normally don’t have time to do. So you’ll see a lot of groups playing cards in one of the lounges over cocktails. Couples reading books on-deck. People relaxing in the ship’s swimming pools, or taking in afternoon tea.

3. It’s Historic

Cunard's Mauretania of 1906 carried hundreds of thousands of passengers across the Atlantic until she was withdrawn from service in 1934. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons
Cunard’s RMS Mauretania of 1906 carried hundreds of thousands of passengers across the Atlantic until she was withdrawn from service in 1934. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Up until the age of the jet-powered airplane, ocean travel remained the de-facto method of going from Europe to North America, and vice-versa. There was just no other way to cross, to paraphrase the late maritime historian, John Maxtone-Graham.

For those of us in North America, most of our ancestors crossed the Atlantic to eventually seek out a new life in Canada or the United States. My ancestors did. They made repeated crossings from London in 1915, 1924 and 1928, finally settling in Canada for good in 1929. As a second-generation Canadian, it’s a journey that is important and personal to me – and I’m certainly not alone in that feeling.

Cunard's iconic RMS Queen Mary 2 is the last true ocean liner at sea. Photo courtesy of Cunard.
How times have changed: the 2004-built RMS Queen Mary 2,  the last true ocean liner at sea. Photo courtesy of Cunard.

This is also how millions of people commuted between Europe and North America for the purposes of trade. Author Charles Dickens wasn’t so enamoured with his first crossing in January of 1842. Steam-powered transatlantic travel was in its infancy then, and Dickens described his first experience in somewhat harsh terms:

“Before descending into the bowels of the ship, we had passed from the deck into a long narrow apartment, not unlike a gigantic hearse with windows in the sides; having at the upper end a melancholy stove at which three or four chilly stewards were warming their hands; while on either side, extending down its whole dreary length, was a long, long table over which a rack, fixed to the low roof and stuck full of drinking-glasses and cruet-stands, hinted dismally at rolling seas and heavy weather … “

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

Analogies of death came back as Dickens described his stateroom for the voyage:

“Deducting the two berths, one above the other (the top one a most inaccessible shelf) than which nothing smaller for sleeping in was ever made except coffins, it was no bigger than one of those hackney cabriolets which have the door behind and soot their fares out, like sacks of coals, upon the pavement.”

The Cabriolet Dickens is referring to was a horse-drawn carriage with a fold-down top.

So, the man who gave us A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities was non-plussed. Chances are if he could have sailed the Atlantic in 2015, he might have formed a different opinion about the experience.

4. It’s Unique

Star Clipper's Royal Clipper, along with the rest of the fleet, offers transatlantic sailings twice per year. Photo courtesy of Star Clippers.
Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper, along with the rest of the fleet, offers transatlantic sailings twice per year. Photo courtesy of Star Clippers.

In a world filled with possible cruise itineraries, transatlantic crossings are decidedly unique. Most cruise lines will only offer them as seasonal repositioning voyages, typically during the spring and fall, when ships are being positioned to and from their European summer itineraries.

Cunard remains the only cruise line in the world to offer regularly-scheduled transatlantic crossings throughout most of the year. The vast majority of these take place aboard Queen Mary 2, but the odd crossing does exist from year-to-year aboard the smaller Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.

There are also transatlantic crossings that take place on lines and ships that you may not have even considered. For example, Windstar Cruises routinely offers crossings aboard its 310-guest sailing ship, Wind Surf, and Star Clippers sends its Star Clipper, Star Flyer, and Royal Clipper across the Atlantic on voyages that can span up to 28 days apiece.

5. It’s A Great Deal

It's hard to put a price on sunsets like this... Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders
It’s hard to put a price on sunsets like this… Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders
...and it sure beats this! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders
… and it sure beats this! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The best news of all revolves around price: Because of the duration and the lack of ports, many (but not all) transatlantic crossings go for a rock-bottom price. In fact, when you break it down per-day, a transatlantic crossing offers some of the best value out there. On some lines, as little as $499 per person can get you on a voyage across the Atlantic.

For the Queen Mary 2, there’s more of a prestige factor to her crossings. Still, there are plenty of sub-$1,000 per person sailings out there.

It’s also a great option for those who dislike long-haul flights, or those who have a severe fear of flying.

As for me, I like the transatlantic crossings for all of these reasons. I love flying, but nothing makes you appreciate the vast scale of the ocean that separates Europe from North America like actually spending a week sailing across it.

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