Crossing the Atlantic – Is it Right for You?

Crossing the Atlantic on a repositioning cruise isn't necessarily right for everyone, but if you enjoy your sea days aboard a first class ship, it can be the best time of all.

Liberty of the Seas Outdoor Pool
Outdoor Pools on board the Liberty of the Seas offer many activities. Image by Bonnie Fink. Image by Bonnie Fink

If you talk to ten people about cruising, you’ll no doubt get ten different answers about its attractiveness. Some people love it, while others absolutely hate the idea. One particular kind of cruise seems to evoke controversy over its merits, and that is the crossing, or repositioning cruise.

As the seasons change each year, cruise lines generally move their ships to different markets.  A ship that cruises the Alaskan market in the summer months might move to the Pacific coast of Mexico, or even transfer to Australia and New Zealand. A ship that normally cruises the Caribbean in the winter might go to Europe.

When the cruise lines make these transitions, they of course don’t want to take an empty, non-revenue generating ship across the ocean, so they’ll sell the cruises. The advantage to these trips is that they are often at reasonably good rates, and spend many days at sea with very few destination stops along the way. The disadvantage is that they spend many days at sea with very few destination stops, and there lies the controversy.

Coastline of Fort Lauderdale
The Coastline north of the entrance to the Port of Fort Lauderdale. Image by Bonnie Fink

Many people see them as a waste of time since they spend so many days at sea with so few stops along the way. Others see these kinds of cruises as a great way to completely unplug and unwind.

Last spring, we made an Atlantic crossing aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. The ship left Fort Lauderdale on April 8th and traveled across the Atlantic, arriving in Barcelona, Spain on April 20th. Of those twelve days, it took eight just to get across the ocean. Then, we stopped in Lisbon, Portugal, Cadiz, Spain, and finally arrived at Barcelona, Spain. To be honest, we went on to do another cruise, same ship, same room, that visited Nice, France, Rome, Italy, Livorno, Italy, and back to Barcelona, but that could be another story.

The point is, we’re people who really enjoy just being on a big ship. We like the amenities including the food and overall service, the entertainment, but most of all, we really enjoy just unplugging from the rest of the world for a few days. We go a bit further than most folks probably because we don’t really care if the ship actually goes anywhere. Sure, we checked our email once a day, and even made an occasional phone call using the internet and Skype, but for the most part, we were unplugged.

Starbuck's Coffee
The Cafe Promenade is a small European style open cafe on board the Liberty of the Seas. It features Starbuck’s Coffee and some great deserts and sandwiches. Image by Bonnie Fink

So what’s to do when you’re so “unplugged”? In our case, we have a few habits (or not habits in this case) that may be different from most other people. Our notion of being unplugged doesn’t usually involve sitting in the sun doing nothing, which is probably what most people think of when you say “unplugged”. On this latest crossing, we spent our days exercising in the morning after a modest breakfast, then we’d go for coffee somewhere and either visit with total strangers or simply watch the people go by. Then, after lunch, we would spend time either reading, writing, or just sitting in a spa for a few minutes. By late afternoon, after we found a cookie and maybe some ice cream, it was time to get ready for dinner. We used the Anytime Dining Plan, but on Royal Caribbean, that really means we had reservations for our table every night at 6:00 PM. After dinner, there were shows or some form of entertainment every night.

 

Since we don’t drink, we stayed out of the bars, but rest assured, there is something for nearly everyone after the sun goes down, and we had lots of choices if we changed our minds. We don’t gamble much either, but every ship we’ve been on has a well equipped casino (except for Disney ships), again just in case we changed our minds. On the Liberty of the Seas, there are a total of 22 bars, clubs and lounges. The casino is over 10,000 square feet with over 300 slots and 18 tables for your gaming pleasure. There’s an ice rink that is sometimes open for skating and features a first class ice show, and the main theater doubles as a 3D movie theater.

Liberty of the Seas Outdoor Pool
Outdoor Pools on board the Liberty of the Seas offer many activities. Image by Bonnie Fink. Image by Bonnie Fink

We’re not at the stage of cruising that makes us “Cruise snobs”, but we have been on Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Carnival, and so far, we haven’t met a cruise ship we didn’t like. , however, has to go down as one of our favorites. Being a large, modern ship, it has amenities that some of the smaller vessels just can’t accommodate.

On the interior of the ship, at Deck 5, the whole inside is open up to about Deck 10, and spans for over 400 feet in length. Inside this space, there is a “street”, called the Royal Promenade,  that looks much like a European village main street. It’s lined with shops of all kinds, but includes several eating and drinking establishments. There is a pizza parlor, a Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream, and a coffee shop. Above the shops, there were interior cabins that looked out onto the street just as if it were a small town. We understand that if you happen to have the interior cabin that has its view obstructed by the Ben and Jerry’s sign, you get free ice cream for the entire cruise.

Ben and Jerry's
The Royal Promenade on the Liberty of the Seas features a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Shop. Image by Bonnie Fink

Many food items in the shops were complimentary. Some were billed extra. For example, the coffee was Starbucks brand, and a regular coffee and all pastries and sandwiches were complimentary, but specialty coffees were billed to your room. Ben and Jerry’s was at an extra charge, and the cupcake shop billed to your room as well. Still, with all the coffee, cookies, and pastries we could eat, we were all set.

Up on Deck 12, there was a Johnny Rocket’s Diner. The food there was authentic Johnny Rockets and was complimentary, but the malts and milkshakes were an extra charge. There were two high end restaurants, Chops Grille Steakhouse and Portofino Italian restaurant. These first class restaurants are at an extra fee, and well worth the small amount they charge for your meal. Many of the larger Royal Caribbean ships have these two restaurants on board, and the service and meal has always been great.

What’s it cost?- Beyond an occasional specialty restaurant, a Coke now and then, and an internet bill, we pay pretty much what our tickets costs. That usually makes for a reasonable cost to be transported from one place to another. In the case of the Atlantic Crossing, that means that our expenses amounted to pretty reasonable transportation to Europe, and gave us entertainment and food along the way. As far as what the trip actually cost, it would be fruitless to even mention an actual number because of the great variety of packages and amenities available, so we won’t.

Royal Promenade Shops
Small shops like the Hoof and Claw Pub along the Royal Promenade offer intimate settings for personal time. Image by Bonnie Fink

On every cruise we’ve made – and the Liberty of the Seas was no exception – we’ve managed to find a spot that was our favorite hangout. On one ship, it was the aft spa area. On another, it was the enclosed terrarium pool. On the Liberty of the Seas, our favorite hangout was the coffee shop in the main promenade. It was an intimate little place where we could go and spend time in relative privacy. Nearly each day at sea we would come down at least once – usually more – and take up a table, enjoying coffee and sometimes a cookie or other dessert. You would think that a ship with over 3,000 guests and over 1,300 crew would be a crowded nightmare of a sardine can, but truthfully, it was easy to find little out of the way places where we could enjoy relative privacy.

The question of whether a “crossing” cruise is right for you really is a personal choice. It’s easy to see both sides. Many people have trouble getting fully unplugged to the point where they can enjoy several days at sea. And many people simply can’t justify the time, especially if they work for a living. We certainly remember the days when we had to politic, fight, and weasel every minute of premium vacation time, and we certainly didn’t want to spend it doing absolutely nothing at all! For those people, a crossing cruise might not be the right choice.

Sailing Through the 25th of April Bridge
Sailing under the 25th of April Bridge, Lisbon, Portugal. This bridge crossing the Tagus river is remarkably similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Image by Bonnie Fink

We can’t honestly recommend a crossing cruise as a first cruise. If you plan to do one of these, you should already know how you feel about cruising in general. You should know how you’re going to handle the down time, and should be able to look forward to it, not just endure it. For first time cruisers, there are literally hundreds of choices in cruising that are shorter in duration, and with more choices in terms of stops along the way that would be entertaining and interesting. For a crossing cruise, you’ve got to be interested in the cruise itself.

Still, for those of us who have the time to relax, unwind, and unplug without feeling that it’s a huge waste of our very valuable vacation time, it’s an attractive way of getting from one point to another. To arrive in Europe fully rested, well fed, and entertained, all for not much more money than an airline ticket, it’s not only “not a bad choice”, it could be our newly found preferred mode of transportation.

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