Transatlantic voyagers may prefer the thrill of two deep, long blasts from an ocean liner's horn compared to listening to boarding gate announcements at the international airline terminal. The vast differences between sailing and flying across the big pond certainly don't stop there. Of course, with boat travel, there's no jet lag. But it's important to set aside one week or more for the journey, as the cruising rule of thumb is that the mileage a ship will cover in one day is about what a jet covers in an hour.
Check the passport validity requirements and for any country you plan to visit after arrival in England. While the U.K. and Republic of Ireland don't have a minimum validity for U.S. passport holders, many European countries require at least six months from the date of arrival. The process for passport renewals and new passports typically takes around six weeks. If children under 18 are traveling without parents, a letter of authorization is required in addition to a passport. Book flights, arrange insurance, organize transfers to and from the ports of departure and arrival, and consider pre-booking onboard spa or theme restaurant dining options.
Affix the special luggage tags provided by the cruise line, make a sensible packing list (check on what the weather is likely to be at your onward destination) and prepare a carry-on bag of essential items to use while luggage is being distributed to the cabins. Take note of any formal evenings or dress codes on board. Travelers who plan to return by air will want to keep baggage weight restrictions in mind for the homeward journey. Lastly, double check on what's included onboard, from gratuities to cocktails, as this varies by cruise operator and possibly by accommodation category. U.S. dollars are accepted in transit, but U.K. sterling will be required upon arrival.
Choose a Ship
Travelers can select from a wide range of ship sizes. Eastbound transatlantic voyages to England are mainly limited to late March through early November, with Cunard offering sailings in December and January as well. Most of the departures are from New York City and Fort Lauderdale, with perhaps an occasional departure from Miami. Arrivals are at the port cities of Southampton or Dover, each about 75 miles from London. Silversea operates Silver Wind, the smallest luxury ship on the transatlantic crossing, docking at Tower Bridge in London. She has a capacity limited to 296 guests plus 222 crew members. Two of the largest ships on the Atlantic crossing to England are Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Breakaway with a guest capacity of 3,998 and RMS Queen Mary 2, Cunard's flagship, with a guest capacity of 3,090. Speed is a hallmark of the elegant QM2; with a maximum speed just over 30 knots (34.5 mph) she sails New York to Southampton in seven days.
Life on Board
It's a special time at sea with no distractions other than an extraordinary array of activities to keep passengers occupied. A daily ship's newspaper is delivered to each cabin nightly with a rundown of the following day's special events, activities, entertainment and meal times. Because transatlantic voyages don't call on sightseeing ports for several consecutive days, the onboard agenda is robust. Programming varies with each cruise line, so consider whether an emphasis on family-friendly or formal is most suitable. "Edutainment," or hands-on learning and lectures, is popular on many transatlantic crossings, offering passengers the opportunity to develop a skill or hear from topic experts. Spa services are also popular for whiling away the hours. Active types will find fitness and sports options for keeping in shape. In addition to live theater productions and cinema screening, evenings may be given over to international dining options, piano bars, casinos and dancing. There is sure to be more to do at any given time than one can possibly manage.