Are You Ready for a Transatlantic Cruise?

I’m old enough to have sailed across the Atlantic at a time when it was as common as flying and before it was called cruising. The ocean liner was a normal mode of transport. It took you from point A to point B. If you were traveling alone you were automatically assigned cabin-mates.

Today cruising is big business. When you board you are welcomed to your vacation. You are not going on vacation it is your vacation.
Each spring and fall cruise ships move across the Atlantic. It’s called repositioning and happens when the cruise season changes from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean and vice-versa. These fifteen day cruises are incredibly cheap. Cheaper than staying at home.
The year I retired I decided to sail home from England. It took me some time to get used to it. We sailed from Southampton, stopped into a few Spanish ports and then on to the Azores. It was in the Azores that I thought about jumping ship. I wrote this:

A cruise ship is an island of banality. I know because I’m on one right now in the middle of the Atlantic. A calypso band is playing “Yellow Bird” while septuagenarians and octogenarians line up eagerly to pile their plates high at the poolside barbecue.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t go on a cruise I’m just saying that you should do some serious thinking before booking.
What made you think about going on a cruise in the first place?
Your friends love to cruise and say you would too. Are these people really your friends or are they just neighbors, co-workers, or fellow club members. There is a difference. Friends want the best for you the others want you to be like them. Do you really want to be like them? Do you dress alike? Do you enjoy the same TV shows? Movies? Vote the same way?
You want to visit exotic places. Have you ever been to an exotic place? What did you like best about it? Was it the food? The people? The surprising discoveries? The foreignness? Remember, on a cruise you will only visit a port for a few hours. You’ll be surrounded by 3,000 other cruisers. You will either be whisked off to a shopping center or you will go in search of a wi-fi hot-spot. To be honest though some of the ports are only worth an hour or two.
Cruises are cheap. Where else could you get a room, entertainment and all you can eat for such a low price? One place would be home and it probably would be more spacious. comfortable and to your taste.

You’ll meet interesting people. You’ll meet cruisers, and cruisers live in a culture of their own. They have a pecking order based on loyalty points and captain’s table visits. Their conversational topics consist entirely of deals, ships, cruise lines, ports and grandchildren.”

Since then I’ve sailed transatlantic six times and also done a Mediterranean and a Baltic cruise so obviously I have adjusted my thinking. I was saved by sea days. A sea day is a day without a port call. On a sea day you eat, drink, participate in planned activities, read, talk to your fellow passengers, see a show, nap. Life slows down. You develop a rhythm. You start to move to the motion of the waves. You relax. Sea days roll into one another and on a transatlantic cruise there are a lot of sea days.

Eating is definitely the most important part of a cruise. Usually a ship will have one or two main dining rooms, several speciality restaurants and a self-service cafeteria. You can take all your meals in the main dining rooms or cafeteria without an additional cost. Many people like to stay casual and take all their meals in the cafeteria. Norwegian Cruise Lines seems to be moving in that direction and is abandoning formal nights in the main restaurants. I have a tux and a cruise is the only place I get to wear it.

Drinking can be expensive on a cruise. Most lines will not allow you to bring alcohol aboard except for a bottle or two of wine. People try to smuggle it aboard but the cruise lines have seen it all and will confiscate your contraband until the end of the cruise. You can buy a drink package but I have calculated that you have to down ten drinks a day to make a profit.

It’s easy to meet people on a cruise but, be warned, it’s hard to ditch them in such a confined space. Solo travelers are usually introduced to each other. Mealtimes are the best time to meet your fellow passengers especially if the cruise has an open seating policy. Everyone loves to talk at dinner and you will be meeting people you probably would never meet in your normal life. In England I’m a remainer and in the U.S. a never Trumper. The week after the 2016 election I boarded a ship in Southampton heading for Florida and discovered that all my British tablemates were for Brexit and all the Americans had voted for Trump. It made for lively conversation.

The nightly show is usually a ho-hum affair led by a hyper-active cruise director. The acts are probably at the end of their less than illustrious careers but there are exceptions. I saw a ukulele band with a large repetoire of Beatles songs and a British comic who compared the ship to prison. It’s interesting to see the different audience reactions to British and American comedians.

Transatlantic cruises are popular with the senior set who have the time for them. Most ships are wheelchair friendly. For the more active senior the late night disco can be fun. A septuagenarian can feel as though he’s back in the swinging sixties. Of course when you have so many seniors a death or two is bound to happen. On one cruise I took two men died and we had to stop by Bermuda to let them and their widows off. A friend of one of the deceased told me that a transatlantic cruise had been on the poor chaps bucket list. That made me feel better. Another passenger told us of a cruise that he had taken where eight people had died. Two by suicide.

I hope I haven’t discouraged you. You have to try it for yourself. A fifteen day cruise is a long commitment but when you get home you realize how pampered you were and how much you miss it.

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