Can I go by ship from North America to Europe and back?
Many people do not like to fly. In addition to those who do not like heights, an increasing number of people simply do not like the experience of going through airports and being crammed into an airplane. Flying is no longer the glamorous way to travel that it once was.
The good news is that it is still possible for people in North America to experience Europe - - its historic landmarks, natural beauty and culture - - without flying. For more than 200 years, a transatlantic voyage on a passenger ship was the only way to cross the Atlantic. While it is not as fast a means of transportation as flying, it is still possible to sail both ways and see something of Europe within a reasonable period of time.
Getting There and Getting Back
Speaking generally, there are two ways to cross the Atlantic by sea.
First, Cunard Line's ocean liner Queen Mary 2 does a regular schedule of transatlantic crossing from late Spring until early winter each year. (See FAQ on the difference between ocean liners and cruise ships). Although the ship could do a crossing much more quickly, QM2's crossings between New York and Southampton are usually seven day voyages.
You can take QM2 to Europe and then return to North America on a subsequent westbound voyage. Indeed, some travelers take the eastbound voyage and the immediately following westbound voyage, spending only a day in England. However, most who elect to go round trip on QM2 take a later westbound voyage.
Second, one can cross by cruise ship. Many cruise ships spend the colder winter months in the Caribbean and the warmer months in Europe. When they re-position from North
America to Europe in the Spring or from Europe to North America in the Fall, they take passengers along. Often the prices for these re-positioning cruises are much less on a per day basis than a cruise on the same ship would be.
A re-positioning cruise generally takes longer than a crossing on Queen Mary 2. This is because the cruise ships often stop at a port or ports along the way such as one or more of the Caribbean Islands, Bermuda, the Azores, or the Canary Islands. Such voyages are often two weeks or longer.
Once a cruise ship re-positions to Europe in the Spring, it stays there for the warm weather season and does not return to North America until the Fall. Thus, unless you can spend several months in Europe, you will have to travel on Queen Mary 2 for the return trip back to North America. (Alternatively, you could take Queen Mary 2 to Europe in late summer or early fall and then take a re-positioning cruise back to North America).
In addition to the Spring and Fall re-positioning cruises, occasionally a cruise ship will cross the Atlantic during the summer months. For example, each year, one of the Princess Cruises ships that is based in Australia does a world cruise. As part of this voyage, the ship crosses the Atlantic in mid-summer. (The cruise lines usually offer segments of world cruises and so you do not have to do the whole world cruise). Holland America has sometimes offered a round trip cruise to Europe from Boston in the mid-summer.
Beginning and End Points
Queen Mary 2 leaves from New York City and sails to Southampton in England. Several voyages each year continue on from Southampton to Hamburg, Germany.
Most of the European-bound re-positioning cruises leave from Miami or Fort Lauderdale, Florida. However, some ships that spend the winter sailing out of other Caribbean embarkation ports such as San Juan, Houston and New Orleans also sail to Europe in the Spring
Re-positioning cruises terminate in a variety of European ports. Barcelona, Spain, Civitavecchia, Italy and other Mediterranean ports are often the end points. Some ships sail from the Caribbean ports to the British Isles or to the ports of Northern Europe.
Getting Around Europe
Once you have crossed the pond, there is the question of how to see Europe without flying from city to city.
Europe has a well-developed train system, which includes quite a few high speed trains. Thus, you are not dependent on airplanes for inter-city travel. In addition, a number of companies offer luxury train trips on trains that have been restored from the golden era of train travel.
There are also many companies offering coach tours.
You can also see quite a lot of Europe by sea. If you are taking a re-positioning cruise, you can stay on your ship for the cruise that follows the crossing. If that itinerary is not to your taste, you can take a cruise on one of the other ships that are based in the port where your crossing terminates.
Queen Mary 2 docking in Southampton, England
Similarly, Queen Mary 2 sometimes does a cruise to Northern Europe or around the British Isles before returning to North America. Alternatively, you can disembark in Southampton and take a voyage on one of the many cruise ships that sail from that port to the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, the Norwegian Fjords, the Baltic capitals, France or Ireland. Involving some additional overland travel from Southampton, you can also take a cruise on one of the ships sailing from Harrich or Dover, England.
Yet another alternative is to take a cruise on one of the major European rivers. River cruises have become very popular.
Of course, in selecting a European cruise, you have to find one that takes place during the time between the end of your eastbound Atlantic crossing and the beginning of your westbound crossing. If the cruise does not begin in the port where your eastbound crossing ended and end in the port where your westbound crossing begins, you also have to factor in some time for traveling overland between the ports.
It is difficult to generalize about the weather on the Atlantic. There can be rough storms but it can also be as calm as a cruise in the Caribbean.
Queen Mary 2 was designed expressly to be comfortable on the North Atlantic. She is the fastest passenger ship currently in service. Her hull was shaped to allow her to cut through the waves efficiently and the hull was strengthened in order to withstand the rigors and stresses of an Atlantic season. Our experience has been that she is a very stable ship even more so than her predecessor the legendary Queen Elizabeth 2.
Today's cruise ships have much better sea-keeping properties than their predecessors of just a few years ago. They are built to be safe in storms. However, most are designed with the relative calm of the Caribbean or the Mediterranean in mind and so are more comfortable in such waters. With this in mind, they often (but not always) cross the Atlantic following a more southerly course where the weather is usually better.
One concern that is often expressed by those who have not been on an Atlantic crossing is whether they will become bored with so many sea days.
Cunard has been doing Atlantic crossings since 1840. As a result, Cunard is good at filling the days and nights with activity and entertainment on Queen Mary 2. There is also an enclosed pool with a glass roof and a large spa as well as outdoor sports and recreational facilities. A refrain often heard at the end of a QM2 crossing is that there was not enough time to do everything I wanted to do.
The other cruise lines are also very aware of the need to keep passengers entertained during sea days. Accordingly, they often will have additional enrichment programs and entertainers on their crossings.
Since Queen Mary 2 figures so prominently in transatlantic travel, it is appropriate to address some of the concerns that travelers have expressed to us about that ship in particular.
First, some travelers are concerned about the formality of the ship. During the evening, guests do dress more formally than on other ships. However, there are now fewer formal nights per crossing than there used to be. The evening dress code applies throughout the ship (i.e., in the bars, lounges and entertainment venues as well as the main dining rooms). But there are alternative dining venues for guests who do not wish to dress formally. During the day, guests dress casually as they do on up-market cruise ships.
Second, many people are under the misconception that QM2 is a two class ships as in the movie Titanic. It is not a two class ship. Guests in the most inexpensive accommodations can go into any of the public rooms and enjoy the same entertainment and activities as the guests in the most expensive cabins. The guests staying in the suites do have exclusive access to their own restaurants (and a small lounge) but the same is true on cruise ships such as Norwegian Epic and no one's egalitarian principles are offended by those ships. Moreover, the main dining room on QM2 is a much more magnificent room than the two small restaurants used by the passengers in the suites.
Third, some people are concerned about the size of Queen Mary 2. QM2 is approximately the same size as Freedom of the Seas and Norwegian Epic. Thus, she is a big ship. However, she holds fewer passengers than cruise ships of similar size. As a result, there is more space per passenger.
Having said this, it is important to consider whether the cruise experience offered by QM2 or any other ship that you are considering for a transatlantic voyage is for you. Unlike airliners, ships are not fungible means of transportation. They each cater to a specific lifestyle. Inasmuch as you will be living in this environment for a week or more, you should consider whether the ship's lifestyle is consistent with your lifestyle.
Cruise ship FAQs - - Can I get cruise to Europe from North America?