A roundup of the most interesting and best value transatlantic cruises for Fall 2009. Atlantic ports of call; Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands and Bermuda.
Every fall season several cruise ships return from Europe to the Western Hemisphere on "repositioning cruises." They usually start in the Mediterranean, continue through the Straits of Gibraltar and head west to New York or Florida. These transatlantic cruises offer some of the best cruise prices on a per diem basis anywhere.
That value is the upside, but the downside is a large number of days at sea with relatively few ports of call. So, while they are relaxing and affordable, there often isn't much variety beyond the onboard activities the crew has planned.
But they don't want these ships to sail empty - so they can sell for a song.
Our first recommendation for Trans-Atlantic crossings is newer and larger ships for more onboard activities and a smoother ride in the open sea. Smaller ships tend be less active and not ride as well, so it's a good idea to bring along books and motion medication - just in case.
Atlantic Crossing Ports of CallWhile some Trans-Atlantic crossings include popular European ports of call at the beginning of the cruise - or Caribbean stops at the end - some crossings visit the rare mid-Atlantic islands you probably wouldn't see any other way.
The Azores archipelago is about 930 miles due west of Portugal - almost one-third of the breadth of the Atlantic. There isn't much to see or do there, but it's great for bragging rights. The islands were barely settled by the 19th Century and don't have much natural attraction on tap. But some 240,000 people live there today, mostly fishing, farming and herding.
Madeira, a southerly Portuguese island warmed by the trade winds and closer to Europe, is known for its namesake wine. The main city Funchal was settled in the 1500s and bustles with over 100,000 inhabitants.
The Canary Islands are the warmest Atlantic islands near Europe - making them a European tourist trap. Located in the Atlantic Ocean ninety miles out from southern Morocco, Roman sailors settled there in the 1st Century AD and over 2,000,000 people live there today.
Madeira and the Canary Islands lie directly in the path of the Atlantic Ocean trade winds that drop south from the coast of Portugal past Bermuda and into the Caribbean Sea. These trade winds are the primary reason Columbus ended up in Bahamian San Salvador rather than Newfoundland, Canada.
The last popular mid-Atlantic island paradise is Bermuda - about 640 miles east of North Carolina. This one tiny island, in the middle of nowhere, was discovered in 1503 and called the Isle of Devils due to its treacherous reefs. Most of the early settlers were shipwreck survivors of the 17th century.
Bermuda is known for its colorful cities, boutique shopping and cute policemen in - Bermuda shorts - of course. Strict privacy laws and great golf courses make it haven for the banking industry. It is only 20 miles square with no other islands even remotely close, but Bermuda is a cruise destination unto itself from all along the Eastern Seaboard - with summertime cruises originating from Boston to Ft Lauderdale.
Best of 2009 Atlantic CrossingsOf course, the definitive Trans-Atlantic crossing cruise does not stop at any of the above. The "classic" crossing is the one that duplicates what all the best ocean liners of the 20th Century have done - making the non-stop crossing from the U.K. to New York in under a week.
Queen Mary 2 is the only ship that can make this crossing in six days or less, and it does it several times each year. In 2009 Queen Mary 2 will continue to sail eastbound and westbound crossings from September through November.
The westbound sail dates from Southampton are Sept. 26, October 23 and November 11. The Eastbound cruises depart New York on Sept. 8, October 9, and November 5. Prices start at just $995 per person inside, oceanview or balcony and $1995 for a suite.
The six-day crossing on Queen Mary 2 is one of the busiest cruises I have ever taken - even with no ports of call. Cunard is fantastic at organizing onboard activities to make this cruise as enriching and authentic as any grand Ocean Liner of the past could offer.
Another important but one-time crossing this year will be the brand new Carnival Dream - still under construction in Italy. The ship will not be officially christened until it lands in New York after the crossing.
At 130,000-tons, Carnival Dream the largest Carnival ship ever built. The Trans-Atlantic cruise will depart from Civitavecchia Rome on October 27 and stop in Barcelona, Mallorca and Malaga Spain. Then it's on to the Canary Islands, Bermuda and finally New York 16 days later. Starting price for the crossing is just $1369 for an oceanview, $1579 balcony and $2599 per person for a suite.
Atlantic Crossing Tips to RememberBefore we get to the best deals remember that crossing the Atlantic can mean rough water. The roughest cruises tend to be the more northerly itineraries, such as the Queen Mary 2 route. The cruises that commence later in the year can also be rougher - although that is not an exact science. You can have calm or rough weather anytime of year, and for the record Queen Mary 2 handles very well in most conditions.
Possible cold weather conditions also mean that while balcony cabins are nice they aren't as preferred as in the Caribbean. Just having a non-opening window for natural light is good enough.
Best Trans-Atlantic Cruise Deals of 2009While Queen Mary 2 traveling at 30 knots-plus can make the crossing in six days, most cruise ships top out at 20 knots per hour and include ports of call along the way. So the average crossing is 12 days or longer.
Portuguese Special: Splendour Of The Seas will sail a 14-night crossing from Lisbon, Portugal, to Brazil with stops in Madeira and the Canary Islands before crossing over to Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil. This amazing bargain starts at just $629 inside, $869 oceanview, $1199 balcony and $1529 suite. This is an older ship and you will have to get air for two remote places, but the cruise is still a bargain.
Italian Special: Norwegian Gem offers a 13-night crossing on November 29 leaving from Barcelona with stops in Cannes France, Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Civitavecchia (Rome) Italy, Ajaccio Corsica, Malaga Spain and across the Atlantic to New York. Prices start at $699 inside, $849 oceanview, $1099 balcony and $1399 suite. Starting at close to $50 per night this is an outstanding bargain.
Texas Express: The 14-night Voyager Of The Seas crossing commences Nov. 29 from Barcelona to Cartagena Spain, Madeira and the Canary Islands then across to Nassau, Bahamas and on to Galveston, Texas. This two-week cruise starts at just $749 inside, $839 oceanview, $1099 balcony and $1749 suite. This is a mega-ship with plenty of onboard activities.
Northern Exposure: Norwegian Jewel leaves on an 11-night northerly crossing from Dover (England) to Lerwick Scotland in the Shetland Islands, Reykjavik Iceland, St. John's Newfoundland, Halifax Nova Scotia and landing in New York. Departing September 19th, prices start at $1199 inside, $1399 oceanview, $1499 balcony and $2299 suite.
Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas leaves Rome on November 30 and stops in Nice France, Barcelona and Cartagena Spain, Madeira and then crosses over to Fort Lauderdale. This 13-night ride starts at $799 inside, $1149 oceanview, $1399 balcony and $3099 suite.
The big and beautiful Independence of the Seas, the newest sister ship to the Royal Caribbean Freedom-class, starts a 13-night crossing Nov 23 in Southampton, England, and goes to Le Havre and Cherbourg France, Vigo Spain, Madeira and on to Fort Lauderdale. Prices start at $849 inside, $1029 oceanview, $1299 balcony and $2349 suite.
Celebrity Equinox' 14-night crossing sails from Rome on Nov. 5 and stops in Marseilles France, Barcelona, Mallorca and Cartagena Spain. It makes two stops in the Canary Islands and then sails on to Ft Lauderdale. Prices start at $1299 for inside, $1849 for oceanview, $1899 balcony and $4349 suite. This is a beautiful, brand new ship with plenty of onboard activities.
Celebrity Century commences on a 14-night crossing on Nov. 28 sailing from Barcelona and stopping in Cartagena Spain, Gibraltar, Madeira, Tenerife and La Palma, Canary Islands, and landing in Miami, Florida. Prices start at $849 inside, $1049 oceanview, $1148 balcony and $1799 suite. This is a smaller and older Celebrity ship and will be a quiet cruise.
Celebrity Summit embarks on a 14-night crossing Nov. 28 from Barcelona to Marseilles France, Mallorca, Valencia and Malaga, Spain, Agadir Morocco, Tenerife Canary Islands and landing in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Cruise fares are from $979 inside, $998 oceanview, $1149 balcony and $2299 suite. This is one of the mid-sized, middle-aged Celebrity ships. While the price is not bad we prefer the newer Equinox.
Finally, Holland America fans have a 16-Night Oosterdam cruise from Barcelona to Alicante and Malaga Spain, Casablanca Morocco, Cadiz Spain, Lisbon Portugal and Madeira. It then crosses over to Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, before landing in Fort Lauderdale. Departing October 17 cruise fares are $1317 inside, $1414 oceanview, $1705 balcony and $3791 suite.