Crossing the Atlantic used to conjure up images of steamer trunks, movie stars dressed to the nines and silver trays loaded with decadent goodies.
Transatlantic flights, especially with the advent of jet travel in the late '50s, took some of the romance out of Atlantic cruise crossings.
Cunard is the only cruise line that has continued the tradition of regular transatlantic crossings all year long, with a typical non-stop crossing between London and New York taking six nights.
Transatlantic choices abound, especially in the spring and fall, when cruise lines are repositioning ships for the prime season in North America and Europe. In some cases, these crossings offer the best value in cruising, with prices that start as low as $40 a day.
Rule of thumb No. 1: More sea days and fewer ports means lower prices.
Repositioning cruises vary in duration, from about 12 days to some that take nearly three weeks or longer as they meander from country to country in Europe.
Eastbound or westbound, it doesn't really matter. I prefer eastbound because there's plenty of time to adjust to time changes, and I arrive refreshed and ready to lengthen my holiday visit in Europe.
Cruise lines are getting more creative by offering a few choices outside those seasons. Holland America's Veendam, for example, has a 35-day cruise in July that goes from Boston to Europe and back. The ship takes a northerly route covering Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Norway before finishing in Amsterdam with an overnight. The Veendam then returns to Boston, without repeating a port.
However, if you're the kind of person who has no hobbies, doesn't like to read, or can't lose yourself staring out at the ocean for hours, these cruises are not for you.
To make the most of transatlantic cruises, I strongly recommend being prepared:
-- I load my Kindle with at least six books. The ships have libraries, but to ensure you have your favourites, load up your suitcase or e-reader. Have a hobby? Bring it, if possible, and you will probably find people on board to join you.
-- Case the ship when you board. Pick out a spot inside to escape any inclement weather, and one on the outer deck for when the sun's shining. I like my outdoor spots to be shielded from the wind.
-- Stay healthy. This can be challenging with all those sea days, so be picky about what you eat and use the fitness facilities. I like walking, so I favour an outdoor deck that circles the ship -- I can walk my way across the Atlantic.
-- Don't worry that your ship's alone out there. Cruise lines follow designated shipping routes across the Atlantic, and although you may not see the many ships and freighters using these lanes, they are out there.
Phil's Pick of the Week
This transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian Star is really last-minute and inexpensive
Date: May 5
Miami to Copenhagen, Denmark: 13 nights -- only three ports and 10 sea days
Starting price: $449 (about $30 a day), available at time of writing
Look for more travel deals at portsandbows.com, ncl.com, or check with a cruise travel agent who may have other perks
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