Taking the slow boat to Europe: Crossing the Atlantic by cruise boat
First, scheduled transatlantic cruises. Now that the fabled QE2 (QEII, technically, refers to Her Majesty Elizabeth, Queen of England; QE2 refers to the big boat) is headed for a retirement moored in Dubai, the premier ship crossing the Pond is her niece, the Queen Mary 2, operated by Cunard.
The main differences between the Queen Mary 2 and repositioning cruises:
Frequency: The Queen Mary 2 journeys happen every week from April through October. Positioning cruises only happen at the beginning and end of the season (and only in one direction).
Duration & variety: The Queen Mary 2 makes the trip in a swift six nights, with no ports of call between New York and Southampton. Repositioning cruises—though some speed it along in eight days or so—usually take a leisurely two weeks (sometimes even longer), throwing in ports of call along the way, often at both ends: a few in Europe and/or North Africa, a few in the Caribbean and/or South America.
End points: The Queen Mary 2 always shuttles between New York and Southampton, England. Repos cruises tend to focus on Florida on this end, and may end up anywhere in Europe on the other (though the Mediterranean is popular).
April through October, she crisscrosses the Atlantic Ocean between New York, NY and Southampton, England on six-night journeys starting as low as $675 per person in a cabin for two (plus about $400 per person for the one-way airfare, and another $50 or so in taxes and fees) when booked via a broker such as Cruisedirect.com, Travelthemesanddreams.com, Vacationstogo.com, or iCruise.com.
Then there's the repositioning cruises. Most cruises ships spend half the year (the winter) on this side of the Atlantic (mostly cruising the Caribbean) and the other half (the summer) on the European side, cruising the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, and North Sea.
That means, twice a year, they have to reposition the boats from one side of the Pond to the other.
These globe-trotting cruise ships tend to head over to Europe in March and April and come back in September and October (some linger into November and even December), when hurricane season is winding down and Caribbean cruises come back into high demand.
Rates for these repositioning cruises start around $600 per person for two sharing a cabin—though $799 is more typical—and can rise as high as $1,500 to $3,300. (Occasionally they'll plunge as low as $500—and I once saw $337, though that was on a less convenient route, like Mallorca to Panama).
Most cruises last two weeks, and they make several stops on either end (a couple in Europe; a couple in the Caribbean) to keep it entertaining rather than just sheer transportation.
A few examples of cruises and per-person prices for an inside cabin from a recent repos season:
- From $449: San Juan, Puerto Rico to Southhampton, England on Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas for 14 nights. It sails via St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and the Azores.
- From $609: Malaga, Spain to San Juan, Puerto Rico on Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas for 13 nights. It sails via Funchal and Madeira, Portugal; Canary Islands; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
- From $649: Barcelona, Spain to Galveston, TX on Carnival Cruises Carnival Magic for 16 nights. It sails via Palma de Mallorca and Malaga, Spain, the Canary Islands; and Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos.
- From $729: Barcelona, Spain to Miami, FL on Norwegian Cruise Lines Norwegian Epic for 13 nights. it sails via the Azores, Portugal and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
- From $799: Barcelona, Spain to Fort Lauderdale, FL on Celebrity Cruises Celebrity Eclipse for 13 nights. It sails via Alicante and Malaga Spain; Funchal, Madeira Portugal; and the Canary Islands.
Of course, these cruises are one-way, leaving it up to you to find airfare to or from Europe and also to or from Florida (or wherever the domestic end of the cruise is).
Where to find and book transatlantic cruises
Cruise Direct (www.cruisedirect.com)
One of the top cruise discounters in the business, consistently underselling the higher rack rates you'll see posted on the web sites of the cruise companies themselves. CruiseDirect.com even have a last-minute page with discounts on soon-to-leave ships.
Cruise Compete (www.cruisecompete.com)
You know the commercials for LendingTree.com? That whole "When banks compete, you win..." spiel? Well this the same thing for cruises. You put in the date and destination and ship (any or all of those), and it sends your cruise request to a whole bunch of cruise brokers and discounters. Each of them then contacts you with a quote on how little they can do that cruise for you. Basically, it does the shopping around for you, pretty cool, huh?
Travel Themes and Dreams (Travelthemesanddreams.com)
Run by "Leisure Larry" Fishkin, and particularly good for packages: knitting together a discount cruise with reduced airfare to/from the port, and sometimes hotels stays before/after the cruise.
Other great cruise discounters
Also great are Vacationstogo.com, Cruise411.com, Onlinevacationcenter.com, Bestpricecruises.com, Cruisebrothers.com, iCruise.com, Cruisesonly.com, and Cruisewizard.com (a.k.a. White Travel Service; cheesy, low-tech site, but consistently great bargains).