Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean during my transatlantic cruise with Holland America. Photo: Jesse Adams

Why a Transatlantic Cruise Could Be Your Next Favorite Vacation

by Morgane Croissant Feb 5, 2024

I took my first cruise, a nine-day journey on the Mississippi River on board the American Queen, the world’s biggest paddlewheel steamboat, less than two years ago, in July 2022. Since then, I have been on four more cruises to Alaska, the Mediterranean, around Iceland, and my latest, across the Atlantic Ocean.

I never thought I’d become a keen cruiser, and I especially never thought I’d book myself on a cruise that involved a lot of consecutive sea days, yet, in 2023, I did just that. A great deal found on Holland America’s website led me to book my partner and I on a 14-day cruise from Rome, Italy, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from November 26, 2023, to December 10, 2023.

The itinerary consisted of three stops in southern spain: Alicante, Malaga, and Cadiz, as well as one stop in Ponta Delgada in the Azores. It also involved 10 sea days, including seven consecutive ones, while crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Why choose a transatlantic cruise?

The main appeal of transatlantic crossings with major cruise lines like Holland America is the price. In late fall and early winter, cruise lines move several of their ships from Europe to the Americas until late spring when they do the reverse trip. That’s because winter is the best time to sail around the Caribbean and Central America ,while late spring, summer, and early fall are the seasons when cruise lines travel the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. A transatlantic crossing is what is called a repositioning cruise, meaning that the ship departs and arrives at different ports so that it can relocate. Repositioning cruises are usually less attractive and practical to travelers and therefore cost a lot less than closed-loop cruises.

The cabin on our transatlantic cruise with Holland America.

The cabin on our transatlantic cruise with Holland America. Photo: Jesse Adams

Case in point, the journey we took started at less than $300 per person for 14 days in an inside cabin. While that’s not the option we chose, it’s an incredibly appealing price for anyone looking for a cheap vacation. However, depending on where you live, it makes it a little difficult to find affordable flights.

Isn’t it boring to spend so much time at sea?

Performance in the World Stage Theater during a translatlantic cruise with Holland America. Photo: Jesse Adams
You can even watch NFL games on a big screen during your transatlantic cruise. Photo: Jesse Adams
Amazing performance at the B.B. King's Blues Club on Holland America's Nieuw Statendam during a transatlantic cruise. Photo: Jesse Adams
You can keep working out, even if you are in the middle of the ocean. Photo: Jesse Adams

During a regular cruise, spending time at sea is a welcome respite from the intense exploring. For me, at least. My partner and I are the type of people who get out of the ship as soon as it docks, walk around the destination all day, and come back just before departure incredibly satisfied, but also totally exhausted. Therefore, a day at sea from time to time is a much-appreciated opportunity to rest and look around the ship, partake in activities, visit the onboard library, and even lounge by the pool.

On a transatlantic cruise, however, there are much more days at sea than days on shore. That means that if your goal is to visit Europe’s nooks and crannies, this isn’t the cruise you want to book. This is the type of cruise you take because you want to rest, eat a lot of amazing food, and spend focused and quality time with your partner, family members, or friends. If you’re traveling alone, or as a couple, it’s also a great way to meet people during the many onboard activities.

Rainbow over the Atlantic Ocean.

The more time you spend on the running track located on the top deck, the more likely you’ll get to see rainbows over the Atlantic Ocean, dolphins, and more. Photo: Jesse Adams

Because activities abound. From early morning to late night, there’s always something planned, from fitness classes to trivia to wine tastings to movie showings to pickleball tournaments to origami workshops to dance lessons to musical performances, and more — you’d have to be very picky to be bored. Also, if like me and my partner, you just want to be outside as much as possible, you can do that, too. During our trip, we spent hours every day walking on the running track located on the top deck, looking for dolphins, scrutinizing the horizons for other ships, and generally taking in the beauty and peacefulness of the ocean while burning some of the calories we ingested daily.

Transatlantic cruises are a great way to see places you’d never go to otherwise

The Azores, an archipelago of nine islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, are so out of the way that they never feature on regular cruises’ itineraries. Cruise ships only stop there when they are crossing the ocean. And that alone is one of the reasons why a transatlantic cruise is a great idea: You get to see places you’d never go to otherwise.

In the city center of Ponta Delgada, Azores. Photo: Jesse Adams
The natural swimming pool in Ponta Delgada, Azores. Photo: Jesse Adams

The one day we had in Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores and a city on São Miguel Island, was the stop my partner and I most looked forward to. Passengers could book excursions to see the magnificent volcanic lakes, tea plantations, and lush landscapes of this little-known island, but we opted to explore the city and its surroundings on foot. We visited the impressive botanical garden Jardim Botânico José do Canto, toured a tiny pineapple farm and tested out their products at the on-site café, went for a warm December swim among the fish in the outdoor natural swimming pool Piscinas do Pesqueiro, and simply walked around the city to get an idea of how the Azorians live. It was the highlight of our trip.

Don’t you get seasick being at sea for so long?

If you’re prone to seasickness, do not book a cruise with multiple consecutive sea days like a transatlantic crossing. Although the captain makes sure to avoid storms along the way, there’s no guarantee that there won’t be big swells for days on end. On our transatlantic cruise, we had beautiful, hot weather and very calm waters throughout, but we could just as easily have been rocked around for seven days straight. And when you’re feeling seasick, there’s nothing worse than knowing you won’t touch land any time soon.

Even if you’re not usually seasick, don’t go on a transatlantic cruise without over-the-counter motion sickness medication. Neither my partner nor I are bothered by seasickness, but we played it safe and brought with us what I call “the miracle remedy”, i.e. Options + Ginger Anti-Nauseant Tablets. It saved us from feeling nauseous (and drowsy) while sailing amid 27-foot swells in Iceland, so we never go anywhere without it.

How about jet lag? Don’t you get super mixed up with the time change?

During our 14-day sailing from Europe to the US, we crossed six time zones. Because the ship moved slowly across those time zones, passengers didn’t move back their clocks six hours in one go, instead everyone on the ship moved back one hour every few days, gaining one hour of sleep (and vacation) every time. Multiple announcements were made every time the clocks were turned back, little messages were left in passengers’ cabins to remind them of the change, and all the clocks on the ship were updated before passengers got up in the morning, so nobody got confused about what time it was or got jetlagged. (Note that if you are going from North America to Europe, it is the same process, but you lose one hour of sleep and vacation every few days.)

Isn’t it scary to cross an ocean on a cruise ship?

Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean during a transatlantic cruise with Holland America

Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean during my transatlantic cruise with Holland America. Photo: Jesse Adams

Don’t go on a transatlantic cruise if you are claustrophobic or afraid of being at sea for long stretches of time. Being surrounded by nothing but water for multiple days can lead to feelings of anguish and panic, especially if the weather is stormy and the waters are rough. Note that when the weather is too windy or the swells too big, the outside decks are closed, forcing passengers to stay indoors until it passes. Also, don’t make a transatlantic cruise your first ever cruise — try a short cruise with very few sea days before you commit to a long ocean crossing.

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