“It’s not really the middle of nowhere.”  That’s what I find myself saying whenever someone declares, “I’d never go on a transatlantic cruise.”

Queen Mary 2 transatlantic from NYC
Queen Mary 2 leaving for a transatlantic cruise to Southampton from NYC

 

A transatlantic crossing is an entirely different cruise.

I have to admit, while not exactly in the middle of nowhere, there isn’t a whole lot of activity going on, except maybe for an occasional whale or dolphin sighting.  You can feel like you are out there all alone.  Kind of a personal litmus test for latent agoraphobia.

Remember that old expression, “the shoemaker’s children go barefoot”?  Whenever I prepare for a transatlantic crossing, I still remind myself of the crossing experience.

Top ten cruise tips and advice for a transatlantic cruise

Cunard Queen Mary 2 largest library at sea
Library aboard the Queen Mary 2

1. Know Before You Go – Prepare

With a minimum of seven or more consecutive sea days, even the most entertaining of the mega ships will have a lull in the activities that most interest you.  All of the ships have some sort of library.

For the best selection, get there when the library first opens.  By the second or third day, the choice for best sellers has dwindled.  Note that Queen Mary 2 has the library on any ship and chances are you can find a book or two that for the cruise.

Not a reader? Bring your home craft project (providing it fits into your suitcase.) You’ll find knitters, needle-pointers, scrapbookers meeting each day in some public space on the Queen Mary 2 as well as on any other ship going transatlantic.

Wine tasting events have expanded into single-malt scotch, craft beer and tequila tastings, too. There is a fee but what else do you have to do?

Cunard Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic from deck 2
Just a bit of waves somewhere in the North Atlantic

2. Stop to smell the roses

If you find yourself on the verge of activity-overload, scout out a quiet spot to watch the sea.  I usually search for both an indoor viewing area as well as an outdoor, wind-blocked vantage point.  Sunny days with millpond seas do exist on the Atlantic Ocean.

Cunard Line Queen Mary 2 - transatlantic cruise tips
The fog lifts at noon somewhere in the North Atlantic, aboard Queen Mary 2.

On foggy or rough seas days, you’ll want to curl up in a comfy chair near a picture window.  Yes, you will want to look out and see what’s going on.  Mid-ship on a low deck and you’ll hardly feel those famous December thirty-foot seas and gale force winds!

3. Keep moving

There are some ships that you can almost walk your way across the Atlantic.  On Queen Mary’s wraparound outdoor walking track/promenade, a mere three times around is 1.1 miles.  Other ships, you can walk in circles ten or eleven times to finish one mile.

Cunard Queen Mary 2 wrap-around 1.1 mile promenade
Cushioned teak deck chairs on the Queen Mary 2 promenade.

If a good fitness center is important, head on over to the cruise line’s website for photos of their workout facility.  Almost every cruise line plying the Atlantic offers aerobics, yoga, pilates in addition to spinning and a fitness center.

4. The legendary weight gain

With at least a week of sea days, one of the biggest concerns is weight gain.  I’ve come to realize over time that it isn’t the actual over-eating that is the cause but the amount of salt in the food that is the culprit.  Also, I hear a lot of people complaining about swollen feet and ankles.  Again, it’s the overload of sodium in the food.

NCL Sun - Grilled chicken and polenta without salt
Grilled chicken and polenta without salt aboard the Norwegian Sun.  Sodium-free!

Solution? Tell your dining room waiter that you would like to be on a sodium-free diet for the cruise.

Here’s how it works:  every night at the end of your dinner, the waiter (or head waiter) will present to you the menu for the next evening.  You choose your entire dinner and the order is brought to the kitchen where there are other special diets orders (gluten-free, allergy requests etc.).

By eliminating the “built-in” salt, you will avoid retaining water and thus not blow up like a puffer fish.  But be forewarned:  if you order salt-free, your dinner will be salt-free.  This means that the gorgeous bowl of steamy French onion soup will arrive sans toasted French bread and cheese.  You can always do a modified salt-free when something sounds too good to pass up.

5. A transatlantic cruise is a great time to do nothing

This isn’t a “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium” experience.   Transatlantic cruises are generally not “port intensive.”  But if there is a port you would like to visit, chances are you can find a cruise that stops there en route to where you will disembark.

So, with careful planning and a lot of vacation days, you can choose an itinerary which visits four and five ports along the way.  Some cruise lines include a couple of Caribbean ports, too.

6. Hop on the bus, Gus

My luxe bus across the ocean, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is the ONLY cruise line offering regularly scheduled non-stop transatlantic crossings nearly year round.  The Queen Mary 2 is also the ONLY purpose-built true ocean liner, not cruise ship, in service today.  She’s built for transatlantic voyages in the North Atlantic and sails them beautifully.

My favorite place to watch the sea aboard the Queen Mary 2; on Deck 2 forward.
My favorite place to watch the sea aboard the Queen Mary 2; on Deck 2 forward.

7. Make a new plan, Stan

Once you’ve decided on which transatlantic voyage to take, book yourself into back-to-back cruises so that you stay onboard for either the first cruise once you arrive in Europe or the last cruise before the westbound crossing.  You not only feel “special” in saying that you are “continuing on…”, but you get to spend time in many wonderful ports throughout Europe.

8. Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is?

One of the best advantages of a transatlantic crossing is the elimination of jet lag.  Yes, you arrive at your destination either in Europe or the U.S. without needing two or three days to catch up to the local time zone.

Which direction is better?  Personally, l prefer a westbound crossing because it results in 25-hour days.  Here’s how it works.

You are booked on a crossing with seven sea days before you get to New York.  Starting on the first or second night after departure from Europe, clocks are set back one hour at bedtime or even at noon. It’s the captain’s choice.  My last Cunard and Holland America crossings, we set our clocks back at 1pm every day. It was weird at first, but then we all liked it. You continue to do this for maybe two consecutive days, take a break to adjust and set the clocks back again until you reach your debarkation port.  I find that I wake up a bit earlier than usual towards the end of the voyage, but I’m well-rested and ready to go.

Eastbound with shorter, 23-hour days, you might find yourself at the buffet at 2am because your body is telling you it’s only 9PM! If you are sensitive to time changes, be sure to check that the ship you are on will have a 24 hour food option, even if it’s only room service.  Otherwise, you might find yourself, like I have many times, 2AM at the 24 hour coffee and tea location, getting a flavored tea to bring back to my room to have with cookies that I saved from lunch.

9. Helloooo…is anyone out there?

For a little peace of mind along your journey, remember that your ship travels in shipping lanes.  You are never too far from another ship, even though it may not be visible.

A four-masted ship appears out of nowhere.
A four-masted ship appears out of nowhere

There is a portion on the north Atlantic where you may find yourself in “no-man’s-land” for a day or so depending upon the route that your captain decides to follow.  Be prepared for a brief blip in satellite communications which affects the internet and television. But things are improving.

Aboard Queen Mary 2 on a transatlantic cruise
Watching our route aboard the Queen Mary 2 as we cross the Atlantic. That’s us just above the “C” in “Atlantic.”

On my recent Cunard voyage, we never lost a second of communication via wifi or TV.  Ships’ satellite technology (meaning the company that they contract with for access) vastly improves every year.

10. Round-tripping

Finally, if you have the time, why not do like I do and make the transatlantic crossing in both directions?  This does take a bit of skillful planning and occasional maneuvering but it is quite frankly, the best way to visit Europe. Here’s an idea:

Book a cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona.  Stay on the same ship for a Mediterranean cruise, round-trip from Barcelona.  Afterwards, spend a couple of days in Barcelona.  Catch the luxury overnight train from Barcelona to Paris and maybe spend a night or two in the City of Light.

In the morning at 9:00AM, take a taxi to the Gare du Nord to board the Eurostar to London.  Two and one-half hours later, with twenty-one minutes of that spent zooming under the English Channel, you arrive rested and relaxed at St. Pancras train station in London.  Walk a few yards from your train to the departure hall, find the Cunard representative and board their motor coach to Southampton.  In another two hours you’ll board the Queen Mary 2 for your voyage home. Easy-peasy.

Once you’ve experienced the exhilaration and excitement of crossing an ocean, you will be hooked.  For the most memorable experience, sail into New York City. Cruise ships arrive into New York harbor at dawn, pass under the colorfully lit Verrazano Bridge and quietly sail past the illuminated Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Cunard Queen Mary 2 nearing Verranzano Bridge in NYC at dawn.
Cunard Queen Mary 2 nearing Verrazano Bridge in NYC at dawn.

Nearly everyone, passengers and crew, are out on deck at 5:30am to view this amazing sight.  Some cruise lines set up a special coffee and danish pastries buffet for the occasion. As we sailed past the Statue of Liberty, I’ve seen grown men cry and overheard people speaking English with foreign accents in hushed voices.  Others blankly stare at Ellis Island.  It’s a very moving experience.

The next time you plan a European holiday, factor in a transatlantic crossing, either a 7- to 9-night voyage on the Queen Mary 2 or a repositioning two-week adventure back to America.  Whether eastbound or west, it’s an amazing experience that you’ll remember forever.

Read next:  How to go by train from Amsterdam to Southampton for Queen Mary 2

33 Comments on 10 Best Tips For Your First Transatlantic Cruise

  1. Hi Mary Ann,

    Thank you for reading the article and taking the time to write! I really appreciate it. I have to be honest and say that on my first transatlantic, I was a little nervous. But after the second day, it was wonderful. Just being out there, feeling like a “real” mariner of long ago, was such a neat experience. Celebrity Edge will have tons of things to do to keep busy, plus a couple of ports along the way. If you’re really lucky, Capt. Kate McCue will still be on Edge, so to speak! What I would recommend is downloading movies or tv shows to whatever device you bring along. For me, that really comes in handy. Going eastbound, you have 23-hour days, too, so less time to be bored! Also, I would suggest requesting the largest possible table in the dining room but I think that’s one of my suggestions in the article! I’ve completed 22 transatlantic crossings and hope to go again in 2020. I miss it. Thank you again!
    Sherry

  2. I’m considering a TA cruise in Oct from Rome to Ft Lauderdale. I do love cruising but have never been at sea for so many days. Thinking of Celebrity Edge. Can you give me some positive words of wisdom to help. Thanks

  3. Hi Kathy,
    Wow…what a nice dilemma. If your cruise is for August, keep in mind that summer storms can influence the weather in the North Atlantic. A Canada/New England cruise to Halifax can be really nice in the late summer. If it were me, I’d probably take the transatlantic in August and save a Canada/New England cruise for late September in hopes of a fall foliage experience. Either choice, have a wonderful cruise.
    Sherry

  4. Hi Sjherry
    we are looking at a transatlantic crossing in August or Halifax trip in July of 2020 do you recommend one over the other?
    thank you
    Kathy

  5. Hi Suzanne,
    I’m so sorry for my late reply. I’ve been traveling and fell behind in answering comments. By this time you’re outward bound and I hope you have the best clothes for the weather. It’s so unpredictable it’s tough to be perfectly packed. Have a wonderful cruise!
    Sherry

  6. I’m cruising Norwegian end of April
    To Portugal and Spain
    Wonder about weather
    What to expect and what to pack

  7. Hi Susan,
    Yay that you’re heading out on a transatlantic crossing! For November, my best advice would be to expect the unexpected. For your morning walks I’d pack a hat, gloves and a scarf. One side of the ship may be windless but when you walk to the other side, it can be blustery. I’d guess that temps might be in the 40s-50s in the morning…but you never know. Whatever the weather, you’re in for a wonderful time. I’m guessing that you’re on Queen Mary 2 since you’re going eastbound. That ship is incredible for crossings, no matter what the weather. Have a wonderful time! Thank you for your question.
    Sherry

  8. My husband and I will be going from NY to South Hampton in mid November. What should be expect for temperatures on the deck of the ship? We like to walk in the morning.

  9. Hi Barbara,

    I apologize for my late reply…you’ve already completed your transatlantic voyage. I hope it was a smooth crossing. I’m so sorry I couldn’t get back to you sooner but I’ll bet that you both enjoyed the week, especially the sailaway from NYC (if it wasn’t raining.). If you have a chance, please let me know your thoughts on your first transatlantic crossing and QM2. Thank you.

  10. Hello Sherry,
    I figured I’d ask you a few questions since you’ve done these cruises many times. My husband and I are taking our first transatlantic this September on the QM 2 from NY to GB. We are up on deck 12, forward on starboard side. Wondering whether we will feel the rough seas should we encounter them? I’m also thinking we may get wind blasted out on our balcony, not that there aren’t many other protected places to sit and view the sea, including inside the room! We are excited and looking forward to the whole experience. Any other tips you can share are welcome to assist in our planning and enjoyment.
    Many Thanks

  11. Hi Kathryn,
    In my opinion, there is no better ship on which to cross the Atlantic than Queen Mary 2. It is built for the North Atlantic and is an amazing ship.
    Good question about calm seas. You never know. I’ve crossed the Atlantic and it was like a millpond the entire way. Other times, in November and December, we had 30′ seas and hurricane force winds, not to mention a few blizzards. While storms can appear anytime of the year, generally speaking May, June and July tend to have calmer seas…but again you never know. Yes, chances are you will pay double. Even the studio/solo staterooms seem priced higher than a good sale on an inside double-occupancy. It’s all a price game. Just keep watching.
    Thank you for your question and if you try a transatlantic, congratulations!
    Sherry

  12. Never been on a TA cruise…thinking about calm seas, which is the best month to travel in.
    I will also be traveling single, how are prices, do you pay double as on other cruises, or is there
    Cruise lines with a better singles policy. I will have a t least a window or balcony cabin, not somewhere low down int he ship.
    Are the Cunardships the best for tTA cruises.

  13. Hi Susan,
    Good question! I’d expect that your ship will follow the southern route for the crossing…probably picking up the Gulf Stream as you continue southbound. Barcelona should be fairly temperate at that time (mid-60s) and of course the Caribbean will be hot. On deck and especially at night I’d suggest something warm…like a thin puffy jacket with a light scarf to tuck in and a hat. Days could also be cooler (50s and 60s), especially if you encounter any fog. The Air Con on the ship could also be cranked up too far so I’d suggest a wrap or cardigan for the dining room, just in case. All in all, November crossings (not the North Atlantic which would be very chilly by then) the temps should be pleasant. But you never know. I’d rather be prepared to stay warm than have to buy an expensive logo jacket onboard! And who knows…the way our weather has been, it could end up being in the 70s and 80s! Have a wonderful crossing!
    Sherry

  14. What is the average temperatures in November for a transatlantic cruise? We are leaving from Barcelona to the Caribbean. Thanks

  15. Awesome -thanks so much. I certainly feel better about my cabin choice after reading your comments. I got my recommendation from a great travel agent but always willing to hear more opinions! I have traveled mostly on Disney Cruise Line (which I love) -this is going to be a whole new experience and I love reading about your travels sans air flights! Thanks

  16. Hi Kelly,
    Thank you so much! Lucky you to come back to USA on the QM2. There’s not too much more exciting than daybreak and to see the Statue of Liberty and the Verranzano Bridge still aglow. Yes, I have stayed in every category of stateroom aboard the QM2, except the Grills! My favorite for any transatlantic crossing season except maybe mid-summer would be the sheltered balcony. It’s larger than the standard balcony and it is protected from the wind (except Force 11 can be tough to open the door if you’re on the windward side!). I’ve completed 16 transatlantic crossings, most of which have been in September. Weather of course is unpredictable, but at least it will be a lot warmer than my 2015 Dec. crossing. Good for you to take a port side on the westbound – the natural daylight is great and if it’s nice enough outside, you can sit out and relax and not get battered by the breeze. And being on deck 5 is good too. If you and your group like to walk, it’s easy to get up to King’s Court on Deck 7. On the morning that you arrive in NYC, be sure to be out on deck at 5:30am (ugh!) because it’s an amazing sight. The ship will have continental breakfast ready early so that you can take your tea or coffee outside with you. ALSO…being on the port side coming in to NY harbor, the Statue of Liberty will be on YOUR side of the ship. But at least take a peek at the early-morning crowd on deck…it’s really a moving experience. I’m so jealous! Thank you for reading my newsletter, have a wonderful cruise and Happy Travels! Sherry

  17. Hi Sherry, First of all, I love your newsletter! We are taking the QM2 in September, west to NYC. I saw in the article that you have taken 10 transatlantic on the QM2-soon to be 11. I also know that I read a review you wrote on taking an inside stateroom at one time. Have you stayed in different staterooms? We have a sheltered balcony on deck 5, port side, aft. Was wondering if you had any experience with this type of cabin? My advice has been to be on the port side for more sun on a western transatlantic and we have 3 adults- so we had some limitations on staterooms. Overall though, I am really excited to see the newly refurbished ship and to stay in this stateroom! Any tips on possible September weather? thanks!!

  18. Hi Rose! Your ship will be taking the southerly route out of Lisbon, maybe stopping in the Canaries or Azores? It’s so hard to guess on fall weather in the Atlantic. Of course the Captain can steer away or around any tropical events. Generally speaking, since you will closely follow the Gulf Stream, it could be a very smooth crossing. Have a wonderful voyage! Sherry

  19. Looking at an transatlantic cruise in Sept from Lisbon, Portugal to Panama Panama and stopping in St. Maarten. What should I expect the transatlantic weather will be like?

  20. Hi Catherine,

    Thank you for your question. As you’ll most likely be taking the southern route following the Gulf Stream, you may have fairly warm weather maybe in the 60s or so. As it’s always quite windy on deck, you should pack a windbreaker or warm jacket that you can layer underneath so you can be comfortable walking outside in the fresh air. Most likely the outdoor pools will be filled…but a tad too cold to use. But you never know! Have a wonderful crossing.

  21. Hello,
    I booked a transantlantic cruise from Barcelona to Fort Lauderdale at the end of October. Could you give me some advice about the kind of clothes we should bring? Is the crossing of the Atlantic ocean usually cold? Thank you for your help!

  22. It’s nice to just have the time and space to work on a handicraft and not worry about doorbells and phones ringing! Thanks for reading and leaving comment.

    Sherry

  23. You’re so right about the wisdom (and peacefulness) of taking along one’s latest craft project. On our last cruise we brought my latest rug hooking project and spent many happy hours watching the ocean outside our cabin window as I worked on the rug.

  24. Hi Richard,

    Absolutely it is fun to travel solo and meet so many interesting people. Have a wonderful cruise to Lisbon. Try to go to a Fado performance in the Alfama district if you haven’t been yet.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Sherry

  25. Tomorrow, 4-12-13, I fly from my home to San Juan PR. Spending one night and most of the day in San Juan, I then board the RCCL Brilliance of the Seas for my 5th Transatlantic Crossing! We have port days in St. Maarten and Tenerife, Canary Islands before disembarking in Lisbon, Portugal! My other 4 TA’s were twice eastbound onboard the Queen Elizabeth 2, including her final Transatlantic Crossing in 2008, a westbound crossing on the QM2, and lastly in 2011 westbound onboard the Celebrity Solstice, from Barcelona to Ft. Lauderdale. I love the peacefulness of a TA Crossing and would do one anytime.

    Just for the record, I have done all 5 of my TA Crossings as a single traveler. I know many people say they would never travel alone like that, but I have always met great people onboard the ship and have always had a fantastic time!

  26. Hi Marian,

    Thanks for finding this article! No…it’s really not much different than any other cruise. Sometimes the North Atlantic is like a millpond and other times, well, we’ve had 30′ seas. Once on the Constellation, the letters of the ship’s name were nearly washed off the bow. The southern route in winter is usually a bit more calm in the winter months…but you never know!

    Sherry

  27. Hi Donna,

    You were lucky to have a few tropical ports to visit along the way; I’ve only done the roundtrip LA non-stop to Hawaii. Definitely, you should try to schedule a Queen Mary 2 at some point. And you’re right…there never seems to be enough time to do all the things that are offered!

    Thanks for your comment.

    Sherry

  28. Crossings are my favorite type of cruises, although I’ve never experienced one on Cunard. I find that there is almost too much to do on transatlantic voyages. And, if you have the time, transpacific crossings are even better with a few stops in tropical destinations like French Polynesia along the way.

    When traveling to Europe, my husband and I always try to work in a cruise at least either coming or going. Next time, we’ll have to try your suggestion of going by ship both ways. It’s time we tried Cunard.

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