Things To Know When You Do A Trans-Atlantic Cruise

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Are You Considering A Trans-Atlantic Cruise?

When people talk about a trans-Altantic cruise, the images that come to mind are often of the luxurious days of ocean liners crossing the sea. We booked our first trans-Atlantic cruise with Oceania Cruises to head to Europe to begin our exploration of Portugal and some parts of Andalusian Spain. I tried not to think about the Titanic! There are some things you may want to know about when you do a trans-Atlantic cruise.

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Why Do People Do A Trans-Atlantic Cruise

When a cruise ship is moved from one large area of cruising to another, it is termed a re-positioning cruise. For example, ships get moved from Alaska to the Caribbean through the Panama Canal, from the Caribbean to Europe and then back again. A trip across the Atlantic may also be part of an around the world cruise.

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Some people do a trans-Atlantic cruise as a means of transportation rather than flying. The slow transit across the ocean lets you cross time zones at a slower rate and avoid jet lag. We crossed 4 time zones going across the Atlantic. The cruise ship moved us through the time zones, no more than one time zone a day.

Many people book an ocean voyage with romantic images of trans-Atlantic cruising of bygone days. Some people like us, started our vacation with a trans-Atlantic cruise and then headed off on the land portion of their vacation.

For others, staying on a cruise ship can be like staying on a floating luxury resort. They enjoy life on a cruise ship and the longer itineraries you often get when you do a trans-Atlantic cruise.

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Different Routes

Most cruise ship lines, even the ones with small ships, offer trans-Atlantic cruises. Most need to get their ships re-positioned at some time of the year. The routes you take will depend on the time of year and the cruise line.

If you do a trans-Atlantic cruise, you will likely follow one of three general paths. The most northern paths head through the North Atlantic. These are generally between northeastern Canada or the U.S. and northern Europe. These routes are typically done in the warmer months. Remember my concern about the Titanic!

The very south routes typically are between South America and southern Africa. These are great routes in the winter. We have seen these routes show up as part of around the world cruises.

The route we took to do a trans-Atlantic cruise took us closer to the middle. We started our trans-Atlantic cruise portion in Barbados and made first landfall in Cape Verde. From there the ship headed up along the coast of Africa and through the islands of the North Atlantic. Our full cruise was 21 days. This route was great as it meant we only had 4 days in the wide open ocean!

The path to do a trans-Atlantic cruise will then dictate where you start and end the cruise. You will have options to spend extra time at the beginning and end ports. Our trans-Atlantic trip started in Miami. We enjoyed several days in Miami before the cruise to warm up after leaving Toronto in March. Our cruise finished up in Lisbon, Portugal. This then was our gateway to explore Portugal for 4 weeks.

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A Lot Of Sea Days

No matter which path you take to do a trans-Atlantic cruise, you will end up with a large number of back to back sea days. If the idea of being nowhere near land is frightening, they you probably will not do a trans-Atlantic cruise. Our 4 day transit may be one of the shortest that you can do.

Most cruise ship lines offer a lot to do on days at sea. You can be as busy as you want. Or as lazy! There will be lectures on ports coming up on the cruise. Entertainment day and night. Even dancing or exercising if you want to work off some of the great food you eat.

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We never find it hard to find something interesting to do on sea days. Cooking demonstrations are one of our favourite activities. Often they have been great entertainment too. We have done wine tastings at sea twice. David even finally found a red wine he likes. David enjoys taking magic lessons. And one time we both did needlepoint. Although our projects never did get finished. There is generally something for everyone to do on sea days.

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If you do a trans-Atlantic cruise and cross the equator, be prepared for a ceremony. When we did our amazing 51 day adventure, we crossed the equator in the Indian Ocean. The crossing the equator ceremony was a fun way to bring back this ancient mariner tradition.

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Ceremonies At Sea - Do A Trans-Atlantic Cruise.jpg

Weather May Be More Of An Issue

For our first trans-Atlantic cruise, we were a bit concerned about the weather and rough seas. We booked on a little bigger cruise ship than we normally sail (1200 versus 600 passengers). We made sure we got a cabin closer to the middle of the ship and did not book on the highest decks. Many people will select inner cabins for ocean crossings. The closer you are to the centrelines of the ship, the less motion you will feel.

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We also made sure to pack for potential rough seas. My carry-on bag contains an odd assortment of gadgets. And one of the handier ones is my electronic seasickness band. It sends a sends a small electric pulse. We tried this first on our whale watching trip in Monterey. We packed Gravol as a backup. And the ship had a widely distributed supply of ginger candies. When you do a trans-Atlantic cruise, we prepared for being tossed about. Even if you may normally not be prone to seasickness.

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We were well prepared for rough seas for our ocean crossing. But we could not have had calmer seas. At one point the ocean was almost mirror calm. David called this sea state 1.

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We got used to calm waters as we crossed the Atlantic. So we were very surprised when we turned north along the Africa coast and hit much rougher seas on our way to the Canary Islands.

You May Get A Mini Cruise At The Beginning Of Your Trip

Our cruise was a long one at 21 days. But it meant that we got mini-cruises at both ends of the trans-Atlantic crossing.

We left from Miami and started with a Caribbean cruise. This let us et us enjoy the heat and sunshine of the Caribbean in early April. Our first port was San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a return visit for us so we just explored old town San Juan on foot. Our stop in St. Barts gave us a chance to head to the beach for the day. We had our only day of rain in Antigua. But that didn’t stop us from heading out to explore the town of St John’s. Our final Caribbean port was in Barbados. An underwater tour in a submarine filled the day with excitement.

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We felt like we already had a vacation when we left the Caribbean to do a trans-Atlantic cruise! The ship landed next in Cape Verde. This was our first taste of the volcanic scenery we would see as we continued through the North Atlantic.

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And You May Get Another Cruise Treat At The End

We then began a trip through the Canary Islands. Each island had some similarities but was unique in its own way. Lanzarote provided the most stunning volcanic landscapes. La Palma was green and lush. Tenerife provided a wide range of things to see as we visited the towns and countryside. We loved the Canary Islands so much more than we expected.

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Our final stop in the North Atlantic was in Madeira. We got our first taste of Portugal as we explored the hills and valleys of the island.

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A great mini cruise through the islands of the North Atlantic finished our trip before we landed in Lisbon. We loved this part of the cruise so much, we will definitely plan a return visit to these islands.

When you do a trans-Atlantic cruise, try to find one that has great ports at the beginning and the end. It is like getting several cruises all in one.

The Cost Highly Variable

The cost when you do a trans-Atlantic cruise is highly variable. Many cruise lines deep discount these trips so that the ship does not sail largely empty to be re-positioned. But it will depend on the length of the cruise and the ports that are at the beginning and end. Longer cruises that offer great min-cruises as part of the itinerary will cost much more.

Like all cruises, you may get better prices if you wait to book last minute. But we found that these itineraries were very popular. Many categories of rooms sold out very early.

The one thing you need to factor in is your cost to return if you have sailed from your home base. As we have noted before, we have found trans-Atlantic one way fares to be very very expensive. When we have priced these, sometimes it is cheaper to throw away half of the ticket than to buy one way. On this trans-Atlantic trip, we found great one way fares home from Lisbon. So we made sure our travel plans brought us back to Lisbon at the end.

You Can Stay Connected

Staying connected is always an issue when you travel by cruise ship. If you take a normal cruise, you are generally in port most days. You can buy land-based connectivity or use your home cell phone with a roaming package. I have both an international SIM and hotspot that lets be get connected when we are in most ports.

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But at sea in the middle of the Atlantic, no land-based cell plan will work. If you want to stay connected, you will need to use the ship’s satellite internet plans. Or you can just enjoy a few days of down time!

Medical Emergencies May Be An Issue

All cruise ships have medical facilities to deal with minor and some serious issues. They even have morgues on board! Most medical issues that you run into can be dealt with by the ship’s facilities. But make sure that you have travel medical insurance. Medical treatment onboard cruise ships is very expensive!

But there is a limit to what kind of medical emergencies can be handled on a ship. Depending on where you are, it may even be prohibitively expensive or impossible to get emergency medical service to remove you from the ship. If you have serious medical issues, you may not want to do a trans-Atlantic cruise.

The Views From The Ship In The Middle Of The Atlantic May Be Stunning

Sunrises, sunsets and moon pictures are always quite stunning when we cruise. Often the port adds an interesting dimension to the scene. But the views you get in the middle of the ocean can be magnificent. The light shimmers across the endless sea.

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When you do a trans-Atlantic cruise, enjoy the endless views.

Just A Few Of The Things You Need to Know About A Trans-Atlantic Cruise

Our first trans-Atlantic cruise was a total success. We loved the mini Caribbean cruise that started our trip. The sailing was flat calm and offered the most amazing views. We finished with a great mini cruise up the islands of the North Atlantic. We were so glad we planned to do a trans-Atlantic cruise to start our trip to Portugal and Spain!

Are you ready to do a trans-Atlantic cruise? Any other tips to share?

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About TravelAtWill 737 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!


  1. The problem with repositioning cruises are that each ship only does one a year in either direction. The original and most famous transatlantic cruise is from Southampton to New York (and vice versa) and was the route taken before planes were able to cross the Atlantic. Liners are built differently from cruise ships. They have a stronger hull so they can go faster in rough weather, and a V shaped keel, not U shaped, so they don’t roll so much. Today it is Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 that operates the route. Passengers are allowed to take pets that are looked after with Cunard’s customary hospitality in a special section which even has a lamp post and fire hydrant for European and American boy dogs!

    • Mike, Thanks for this information about real trans-Atlantic “liners”. I did not really appreciate the difference. A more stable ride is certainly something to look for. Doing the Queen Mary 2 would be a great thing to put on our travel wish list! Linda

  2. It’s funny. I have crossed the Atlantic on a small “student” ship and more recently sailed a round trip to Hawaii from California across the very wide Pacific. Never once did I think of the Titanic. The Atlantic crossing had one day where choppy waters sent our dinners, served on long tables, sliding from one end of the table to the other. More than once. (What happened to my spaghetti!) And we all, a youthful group, thought it was hilarious. I guess I am a natural-born sailor. Thanks for all the great cruising tips. In these days of Norovirus and Covid we can’t be too prepared and at my age I am now more cautious. Nevertheless you have made me want to sail to the Canary Islands. Your photos are so tempting. Maybe one day…

  3. This sounds like you had a great trip with a few extras thrown in. I’m prone to seasickness and I’d love to know if that electronic armband works at all. I have tried EVERYTHING! There’s only one type of medication that has helped me, but of course it is not ideal.

    • Our trans-Atlantic trip worked out well for us. The seas were surprisingly calm and my electronic band helped with the little bit of waves we got. I am not sure if it would work on severe sea sickness.

  4. Always wondered about the transatlantic sailings. While fun, I bet you would be ready to be off the ship by the end of the three weeks. Do you they offer a variety of evening shows to last the whole time you’re on board?

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