Are you wondering what’s a transatlantic cruise like? I’ve just returned from a transatlantic cruise with my kid and I’m sharing my experience and some tips here on transatlantic repositioning cruises.
My Experience on a Transatlantic Cruise
Before my recent Transatlantic journey with my 3-year-old daughter, I was honestly worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the trip. I knew my daughter would love the transatlantic cruise — with all the kid-friendly amenities — but I didn’t know if I would enjoy cruise travel. I have mix feelings towards cruise travel, having been on a Mediterranean cruise which I didn’t like, and expedition cruises to Antarctica, the Arctic and Alaska which I absolutely loved.
As it turned out, the transatlantic experience was pretty disappointing. I’d perhaps romanticised the whole idea of crossing the Atlantic Ocean — it was nothing as dreamy or adventurous as I’d imagined. My transatlantic cruise with Costa Cruises was similar to those typical holiday cruises, where all people did was sunbath, eat, drink, dance, sleep and repeat. While we did enjoy our stops in the Caribbean, we found the transatlantic voyage itself (crossing the ocean for six days straight with no land in sight) rather boring and meaningless.
Read on to learn more about our transatlantic cruise experience and why it didn’t turn out to be how I’d imagined it to be.
What’s a Transatlantic Cruise?
As its name implies, a transatlantic cruise is a cruise that crosses the Atlantic Ocean, either from Europe to the Americas or in the other direction. Many cruise companies do such journeys at the start and end of each season. I traveled with Costa Cruises, an Italian cruise line that usually travels from Europe to the Caribbean in November and returns to Europe around May or June.
On these transatlantic journeys, most of the time is spent at sea, with no land in sight. Our cruise took six days to cross the Atlantic. Six full days with no stops and nowhere else to go can be hard. It felt like being in prison, except that the prison was luxurious and fed us well. There were pools, jacuzzis, activities and kids’ facilities, but things got old pretty fast.
As transatlantic journeys are longer and more expensive than standard cruise trips, there are usually less people on the cruise during these voyages. Our vessel, Costa Pacifica, has the capacity to take 3,078 passengers and 1,078 crew, but it was only half full during our transatlantic voyage. I already felt suffocated with so many people around all the time and so little personal service — I cannot imagine how it would be at its maximum capacity.
Where Does a Transatlantic Cruise Go?
Some cruise voyages add on stops at the start or/and end of the trip so you get to visit some islands and do a bit of traveling. Our 14-day cruise started in Guadeloupe and took us to three different Caribbean islands (St Lucia, St Vincent and Barbados) at the start of the voyage and three different parts of Spain (Tenerife, Malaga and Barcelona) at the end. We had fun at all our stop and definitely enjoyed every single port we stopped at.
St Lucia was my favorite stop as we got to see the rainforests, hills and volcanoes of the island. It was very diverse and surprising, definitely nothing I’d expected. Barbados was quite disappointing as I didn’t imagine it would be so developed, with so many fancy mansions (including Rihanna’s) and condominiums. On Tenerife, I was thrilled to be able to go all the way up to the peak of El Teide (at 3,700m) on cable car with Kaleya. It felt like an adventure, climbing up all that altitude in such a short time, especially with a small kid like her but we both loved it!
Why Travel on a Transatlantic Cruise?
I booked the transatlantic cruise for a few reasons. Firstly I found a ridiculously cheap deal: the 14-day cruise only cost me 250 euros (US$305) per person, for an oceanfront room and all meals included.
I’ve traveled quite extensively in the Caribbean and I know going from one island to another can be expensive (only via flights or luxury yachts) so this would be a good way to see four on one trip. With just one day on each island, we would be barely scratching the surface, but we could get a taste and return for longer trips in future.
I also wanted to do a mother-daughter trip with Kaleya somewhere warm, and a cruise seemed like an easy and comfortable way to let her have fun and give myself some downtime. We really needed some sun and warmth after spending the past few months in cold Amsterdam and taking winter trips to Slovakia and Ukraine.
Plus, a transatlantic voyage sounded like an epic journey and a rite of passage for any traveler. Crossing the Atlantic on cruise would give us the chance to relive history and experience the passage that migrants took in the 19th and 20th centuries on steamships.
I met plenty of people on the cruise who were avid cruisers who have cruised around the world. A Tranatlantic journey was the goal for most of those who love cruising. As one of them shared with me, “They say that you haven’t really cruised until you’ve crossed the Atlantic on a cruise.”
How Much Does A Transatlantic Cruise Cost?
Our 2-week cruise trip cost me only 250 euros (US$305) per person including taxes. I was lucky enough to nab a promo fare via fly4free.com, most people paid 3-5 times of what we did.
Compulsory service charge, which had to be paid at the end of the cruise, was 10 euros (US$12) /person/day. Kids don’t have to pay. In total, it added up to 140 euros (US$170).
All meals were covered, including the excellent breakfast buffets, lunches and gourmet style dinners in their fancy restaurant, water during meals, and juice at breakfast.
Most of the cruise facilities are free for everyone to access — including the slide, jacuzzi, swimming pools (one is for adults only), gym, kids club, and nightly entertainment. Spa, yoga sessions, laundry, ice cream and some sweet snacks come with an extra charge.
What Are the Extra Charges?
That’s the thing: even though I paid so little for our cruise fare, I soon realized that there were lots of extra charges once on board.
Firstly, all drinks (except water and coffee/tea) come with a charge. The prices are pretty ok for wine and beer (around 5 or US$7) but cocktails are expensive, at 16 euros or US$18 each.
Most people get drink packages (there were four, offering different privileges). I got the Brindiamos package, which cost 338 euros (US$413) and included free flow of wine, juices and beer at meals, non-alcoholic mocktails and certain long drinks.
Internet is not too expensive and works even in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A social media package costs 5 euros (US$7) per day for unlimited usage (which was pretty worthwhile) and a 500mb internet pack costs 47 euros (US$57). The social media package allowed me to upload photos and videos onto Facebook and Instagram, and make video calls on Whatsapp.
Besides these, the cruise also has two other restaurants where passengers can dine at for extra charges. There’s a staff who goes around during breakfast time to invite people to dine there. There are also cruise photographers who go around taking photos of passengers during dinner. I don’t like the fact that there’s a lot of upselling on the cruise — they’re constantly trying to sell souvenirs, photos, bathrobes, and lots of other stuff.
What To Do on a Transatlantic Cruise?
This totally depends on the cruise line. Our vessel, Costa Pacifica, has quite a lot of amenities: three swimming pools, jacuzzi hot tubs, a big slide, library, plenty of bars, four restaurants, gym, running track, disco club, even a casino and spa. A few of these facilities were only opened for a few hours a day and the pools were either closed or too cold to be used when we were crossing the Atlantic.
For kids, Costa Pacifica has a small playground with a kids’ wading pool, as well as a Peppa Pig themed playroom and a kids club for those aged 3-11. The kids club is opened from 9am to 12 midnight (for real!), with child minders to look after the kids. Some of the staff at the kids club were great, but a few of them looked like they’d rather be somewhere else. I wasn’t happy with their attitude, and stopped leaving Kaleya there after realizing that she was often left to her own defences there.
At the start of the voyage, we enjoyed ourselves at every destination, going out to explore and seeing different things each day. We mostly spent the whole day outside (usually our landings were from 8am to 5pm) and returned to the cruise only in the evenings. But the main challenge came when we were crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
Before the trip, I didn’t think it would be a problem but we got bored on day one at sea. Due to the strong winds, the slide and most of the pools were closed. It was still sunny the whole time, so most people sunbathed on the upper deck but I couldn’t do that all day long even if Kaleya wasn’t around.
The cruise organised daily activities, but none of them were my cup of tea. Zumba classes, cooking demonstrations, darts, line dancing, bingo and silly games. Most of the activities catered to older folks, who were the majority anyway. We did enjoy the nightly entertainment in the theatre. They had professional performers and each night was a different show. They ranged from acrobatic shows to pop music displays and singing performances.
What Kind of People Do You Find on a Transatlantic Cruise?
I had first learned about transatlantic cruises from friends who recommended them as an interesting and affordable way to get from one continent to another without flying. Most of them were traveling for a few months and found the transatlantic cruises to be a relaxing and unique way to end their journey. I was thus expecting to meet other like-minded travelers like myself, who have chosen an unconventional life.
But I found that most of the people on our cruise were retirees from France, Italy and other parts of Europe. Many of them didn’t speak any other language besides their own. The majority of the people were above 60 years old. Most people were nice, saying hi and smiling every now and then, but there were a few rude and impolite people around. I saw one older passenger shouting at the top of his voice at the pool attendant and making a scene just because the attendant asked him to get one at the reception.
On the tours we went to (which I regretted signing up for), many of them were pushing and shoving to get onto the bus as if they were afraid to be left stranded on a foreign land. One time, I was carrying Kaleya in my arms and an older man jostled his way past us so hard and hurt Kaleya. That was really shocking behavior.
Most passengers seemed to be ok with having children around, but a few were intolerant and grumpy with kids. I was hissed at by a passenger once because Kaleya was walking slowly and we were in his way. Another French lady shouted at Kaleya and said she shouldn’t be climbing on the theatre seats. There wasn’t any show going on, and I’d brought her to a quiet corner of the theatre so we weren’t disturbing anyone. Kaleya was just being a kid and I didn’t think she was out of line here.
That said, I did meet a few lovely people onboard who were great. There was a young Brazilian couple with a toddler, who love travel as much as I do; a Dutch couple who shared a few cocktails with me; three Danish families who were spending six weeks in the Americas traveling; and a friendly couple from Martinique who sat next to us every night at dinner.
Is a Transatlantic Cruise Suitable for Kids?
It was definitely very easy to travel with Kaleya on a cruise. Being on a floating hotel for two weeks meant that we ate and slept at the same place and had a routine. She slept extremely well (perhaps lulled to sleep by the hypnotic movement of the ship) and ate very healthy and balanced meals. I definitely see the draw of cruise travel for families with kids.
In general, young kids like Kaleya flourish with routines. Cruises definitely make it easy for them to have a routine, plus there are lots of kids-oriented facilities on board. We’ve traveled lots with Kaleya — She’s been to almost 30 at the age of 3 — and can say that cruising has been the easiest travel experience I’ve had with her to date. Even though I was traveling solo with Kaleya, I didn’t find it challenging at all.
On our cruise, there were only a handful of families with children. I would estimate a total of 20 kids. Only a few of them were around Kaleya’s age and none of them spoke English or Spanish. Although she didn’t have any problems playing with kids whom she couldn’t communicate with, the parents weren’t quite as friendly mainly because of the language barrier. I did end up becoming good friends with the Brazilian couple and their adorable son, Daniel, also loved hanging out with Kaleya.
How’s the Food on the Transatlantic Cruise?
Food on our cruise was probably my favorite part of the journey. The cruise line is Italian, and you can always trust the Italians to have the best food. The buffet breakfast was outstanding, with a huge spread of pastries, American breakfast and fresh fruit and yogurt. The breakfast spread was opened till late, and snacks too were available throughout the day.
Lunch was available at both the buffet diner and the restaurant. The buffet was surprisingly excellent: it was different everyday and the quality of the food was very high. They ranged from handmade mozzarella to fresh pasta, grilled steak, lamb fillet, fried fish, squid, steamed mussels, seafood rice, and lots of cakes and fruit. The menu at the restaurant changes everyday too and serves mostly Italian dishes.
I looked forward to dinner at Restaurant New York New York every night. Each meal was divine, and absolutely surprising and impressive. The restaurant was run very well, and our food was always delivered fresh and piping hot. We usually had three courses, with an appetiser like squid salad or Italian parma ham to start off, then a main course like lamb shank, grilled shrimp or beef steak, followed by dessert.
Everyone was assigned a table and a restaurant and each night we would sit at the same table for dinner. Our waiter, Florante from the Philippines, was brilliant. He got to know our preferences pretty well and he always made sure to have a dish of olives for Kaleya before we even got there.
How’s the Service on the Transatlantic Cruise?
The crew on Costa Pacifica were great — they did their job well and made our journey a very comfortable one. I really liked our cabin stewart Hoirul and restaurant waiter Florante, who often went above and beyond to make our experience positive. They were also really friendly to Kaleya and it made her feel special, and that meant the world to me.
I did notice that some bar staff didn’t look too excited about their jobs though. It was understandable, considering their long hours and being away from family for so long. The crew usually worked eight months straight, with no rest day or break in between. They also worked really long hours, with very little sleep. I don’t understand how that is legal since most European countries have labor laws enforced to protect employees.
The staff on the cruise is from around the world, though the majority of them are Asians (mainly from the Philippines, India and Indonesia). I’ve seen the same in all the other cruises I’ve been on, including the expedition cruises. To me, it shows third-world exploitation at its worst. While some of the staff told me that they are well paid, I don’t think they are offered fair conditions and working hours. I’m happy that cruises provide so much employment and many of these people are grateful to have jobs that allow them to support families back at home — but they should be treated with respect, and given reasonable working hours and breaks.
Do People Get Sick on the Transatlantic Cruise?
The sea condition was generally very calm. We didn’t have big waves at all, throughout the whole journey. The first few days of cruising in the Caribbean was absolutely smooth; We only noticed a bit of rolling when the cruise started crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
I got a bit dizzy on our first day at sea, but I got used to it by day two. Kaleya kept saying she felt perfectly fine, but she refused to eat and do anything basically on day one so I think she was affected too. She was absolutely fine from day two onwards as well. We brought Diamox (seasickness pills) but the cruise provided them for free at the reception.
Whenever we felt the ship’s motion, we would lie in bed and feel better immediately. In fact, the motion was very relaxing and often rocked us to sleep. Our cabin was on the first floor of the ship and we still didn’t feel much rolling. We had great views of the ocean and waves right outside our window.
Would You Recommend a Transatlantic Cruise?
This experience has shown me that cruise travel is not my cup of tea. I’ll still definitely go on expedition cruises in future as those are educational and filled with adventure, but I don’t think I’ll go on another transatlantic cruise on the same route or with the same company again.
While translantic cruises aren’t for me, that doesn’t mean that it’s not suitable for you. If you’re looking for a completely relaxing experience, then this might be what you’re looking for. Transatlantic cruises with kids are also easy and comfortable, so families who are looking to truly unwind and spend quality time together might like them as well.
I do believe that a transatlantic cruise can be suitable for certain types of people:
- Those traveling for an extended period of time (months or years) and looking for a cheap way to get from the Americas to Europe or vice versa
- Those who absolutely hate flying and have a lot of time on their hand
- Big fans of cruises who enjoy the idea of being pampered and not doing much besides lounging around by the pool
Another thing to note that experiences depend largely on the cruise line and the itinerary. A few bloggers have written about their positive experiences on transatlantic cruises, such as Steve and Amie who cruised on the Queen Mary 2 and World Travel Family who traveled on the Norwegian Epic. Both really enjoyed their transatlantic journeys and one of them have even gone on a second transatlantic cruise after that first experience.
Transatlantic Cruise Tips
Do Your Research
My top advice would be to do your research before booking, and read reviews from people who have traveled on the cruise line and even better still, on the same route as the one you’re interested in. Check out cruisecritic.com to read reviews of the vessel from people who have traveled on it before.
On transatlantic repositioning cruises, you’ll be spending at least six days at sea. Certain cruise lines will add some additional activities to occupy passengers on all those consecutive sea days, but you’ll still find yourself with lots of free time on board. Bring lots of reading materials and toys for your kids. You might want to load up your iPad or Kindle, or pack books you can leave behind once you’ve finished them.
Depending on your itinerary, the weather can be unpredictable. Our Atlantic crossing was in April, so the weather was mild and relatively warm. Even though it was warm sunbathing weather in both the Caribbean and Spain during our visit, it got rather windy and cold when we were in the upper decks during the crossing. If you’re traveling from the UK to New York, or in cooler months, remember to layer up. We also needed our jackets and trekking shoes on the top of Mount Teide on Tenerife.
Know the dress code
Most transatlantic cruises have gala evenings (usually at the start and end of the crossing) where guests are expected to dress in formal wear — tux for men and evening gowns for women. I didn’t bother bringing an evening gown, but I did carry a few short dresses. You can’t pop out to a shop if you’ve forgotten to pack a nice dress, though the ship shops will stock formalwear.
Pack seasickness medication
Seas can be rough; remember to pack Dramamine. I only used it once, on day one of the crossing. Most ships only offer them at the reception.
Set your time
This depends on which way you’re traveling on your transatlantic cruise. If you cruise westward like we did, you’ll wind up with a handful of 25-hour days. Going east? You get cheated of an hour, with some 23-hour days. In either case, you get to avoid jet lag on any Atlantic crossing.
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