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The long way to Europe, or how I (almost) beat jet jag

I wanted to review my recent Transatlantic cruise. I know it seems more suited to Cruise Critic, but I wanted to share my experiences with RS-style travelers, as I consider myself to be one. I participate on Cruise Critic, but too many participants over in that community are the antithesis of RS and his travel style.

We booked this cruise after a wonderful February 2015 Caribbean cruise. I always said I wouldn't cruise Europe, but I was interested in a Transatlantic. Lo and behold, I came home from work and DH, all doped up on cruise, had booked it and had convinced several of our friends to join us. We were a group of four couples.

As mentioned, despite loving Caribbean cruising, I didn't want to cruise Europe because I love my "European nights". I couldn't imagine getting to that magical time of day and heading back to a ship rather than strolling the streets or enjoying a sunset drink in a cafe with a view. I thought a Transatlantic would be nice though because I love sea days, and I could still have some European nights at the end. More on this later.

Our itinerary was: Embark in Fort Lauderdale - Six sea days - Ponta Delgada - two sea days - Lisbon - Cadiz - Malaga - Alicante and lastly Barcelona for disembarkation. We were on Celebrity Equinox. I will review some my ports separately; this review is focusing on getting to Europe by sea.

I thought I might beat jet lag, and I mostly did. We changed to European time by losing one hour at night on six different nights (including three in a row). This was a bit tiring, but nowhere near as bad as usual jet lag (which I suffer from in varying degrees).

The eight sea days went very fast. We fell into a routine of rising around 7am, and having breakfast between 8am and 9am. At 9:15, three in our group, including me, joined the "Go with the flow" class on the pool deck. This was a kind of yoga/tai chi/stretch class. There was always something to do after that until lunch. After lunch we would either go to a matinee show or some activity. We were kept busy enough that I only got through one of the books I brought along.

We had "select" dining, which meant we could show up for dinner at any time of our choosing. We met our friends for drinks at a particular bar around 5:30-6:00pm, and then proceeded to dinner. We went to the big show of the day after dinner. Occasionally there'd be some kind of big party later in the evening, and we went to three of these.

The clientele was definitely older. DH and I are 46; that made us among the youngest passengers. There were apparently 20 children onboard (I can only think of six that I saw). Also apparently there were 15 people over 100 years old (so the joke going around the ship was that we left Fort Lauderdale with 25 of them!).

We had one very rough sea day and as it happens it was the same day I was a bit hungover. I kept hoping my queasiness was the hangover and not seasickness, and sure enough the next day I was fine, as expected. The rest of the crossing was as smooth, or smoother, than any seas we've experienced in the Caribbean.

... continued...

Posted by
1348 posts

... from above...

The weather during the crossing was cooler, but we had one blazing hot day in the Atlantic where we were able to swim in the ship's pool and sit in the sun. In fact it was so hot I got a little bit of heatstroke. I think the sun beats down extra hard in the middle of the ocean.

I participated in the Cruise Critic roll calls, and through that did the following: slot pull (great fun), cabin crawl (a tour of various cabins from interior to suite - interesting but took too long), book club (I was elected facilitator, but it didn't go well), private (meaning not through the ship) day trip to Sevilla (from port of Cadiz), Connections party (b*tchfest - people who have taken way too many cruises and seem to no longer take any joy from them complaining to the officers), Bocce ball tournament with Officers (great fun). Despite this sounding like a great success, I would advise others to proceed with caution into the Roll Call.

We got a decent price on the cruise, having booked more than one year in advance, but people (retirees) who could pick up and go were getting interior rooms for $499USD and balcony rooms for around $599USD around the time of final payment (the magic time when the cruise company won't honour a price reduction).

We booked one-way flights to Fort Lauderdale from Toronto for $231CAD pp (booked directly with Air Canada), and our return flight was through Celebrity and on British Airways. It was Madrid to Toronto, connecting in Heathrow, and it was $509CAD pp. Had I booked when my gut told me to, it would have been $463CAD. Live and learn. Celebrity's ChoiceAir allowed us to choose a flight home from just about anywhere in Europe, and with various connection options. As I monitored various flights home before we chose our post-cruise travel, I saw fares through Celebrity for as low as $323 pp.

Out of this experience, I am not rushing to take a Mediterranean cruise (despite some terrific pricing on interior rooms on itineraries that include Turkey). I really missed my European nights, and since we stayed for fourteen nights post-cruise, I was able to do a direct comparison. I really resented being on the clock during my day tours. I am more amenable to a Baltics cruise, since I often read they are a cost-effective way to see that part of the world (there's one itinerary that does three nights in St. Petersburg and also stops in Gdansk, that would be my choice).

I will definitely take another Transatlantic, but next time in the opposite direction. That way you get 25 hour days and the relaxing sea days come after the busy Europe time. But this is a long way off! And we put a deposit down on a Caribbean cruise for next February, but things at DH's work are tanking so we may have to take a refund on that. We have until November to decide.

All in all, I would recommend the experience, especially to retirees who could get in on a cheap fare by booking late on. You could basically have a two-week cruise for very little more than the airfare to Europe would be on its own.

Posted by
5251 posts

Thanks for this, Andrea. Sounds like it was a worthwhile part of your vacation even though it left you less Europe time than you'd have had by flying. Great airfares too, I gotta say. Beating jet lag is a bonus.

We've taken lots of cruises on Norwegian (which has nothing to do with Norway, BTW), including a transatlantic from Dover to NY by way of Shetlands, Iceland, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia, 11 days total and one of our favorites. A couple of rough days during hurricane season, and too windy and cold to spend much time out on deck. But we love sea days too. We're not much for the shows and bingo and such, but I can sit with a book by a window (or on deck if it's warm) and read a paragraph, look at the ocean, reread the paragraph, look at the ocean, and ..... you get the idea.

The no-jet-lag bonus means more to me coming west than going east, since I have a harder time with the clock returning. It helped to spend a few days in NYC area before flying home.

My wife follows Cruise Critic and we participated in the roll call and some activities, including a self-organized tour, on our last cruise (not Europe). Met some nice people but we tend to do that on all our cruises because NCL doesn't assign dining times or tables and we like to meet people over dinner -- about 50% successful and 50% we'd just as soon not have met. It would be fun to go with a larger group of friends as you did.

Anyway, thanks again. I recommend transatlantics to those who have the time to spend six days instead of six hours crossing.

Posted by
2353 posts

We loved our TA cruise - last one was EB next will be WB. Like you I can not imagine cruising Europe but it sure is a great way to get to & fro!

Posted by
1348 posts

I just recalled another interesting fact about this trip.

I'm not sure what I really expected, but it was somewhat surprising to me that we never had to show our passports until we disembarked in Barcelona. That means we got off the ship, and onto European soil, in five ports before we went through passport control.

I am sure Celebrity had informed them exactly who was on their ship in advance, but I still found that interesting.

Posted by
11805 posts

I've now been on four cruises, a west coast Mexico trip out of San Diego (as far as Aculpulco), a western Caribbean from Cape Canaveral, an eastern Caribbean from Cape Canaveral and a Baltic cruise from Copenhagen. The prices can be a real bargain considering it includes lodging, food, transportation and entertainment (some better than others). To me everything depends on the itinerary because I like the stops better than just being on the boat. I also don't spend a lot on the cabin because I only sleep and clean up there, other than that I'm out and about whether on board or ashore.

I'll never take a Mediterrainean cruise. You mention European nights, my reason is similar. Cruises are great to destinations that can be seen reasonably in a day. Stops like Rome, Nice, Barcelona, Istanbul, etc. need more time. It's much better to travel yourself and make longer stops. I can feel pretty comfortable with a one day stop in Gdansk, Tallinn, Oslo, Helsinki and even Stockholm. Sailing out of Copenhagen allowed us to spend several nights before and after the cruise in the city that needs the most time in Scandinavia.

I've done cruise critic roll call and feel the same as you. Most of the people you meet are not RS style travelers so rarely turn out to be people you have much in common with. I find the cruise critic patrons tend toward ship excursions - big bus tours that are both cumbersome and expensive - while I always make my own plans. I'll probably do roll call again, it's free, but I haven't found much value to date from them.

The rule on cruises is: the longer the cruise, the older the passengers. Most younger people don't have time to take long cruises so they take four day cruises out of Miami during spring break.

Being able to go at the drop of a hat is the best way to get a good price. The down side is the best itineraries may sell out. I think the best technique is to sail outside normal season, plan your trip as if you have booked but don't book until the last minute. Sometime in the weeks before the ship sails go to vacationstogo.com and check out last minute deals. The prices then are amazingly cheap (maybe under $50 a day per person, sometimes a lot lower). If worse comes to worse, most ports have mulitple ships going different directions. If you pick a busy port, something will be available. You have to be comfortable with Plan B though, whether it's on a ship or just near the chosen port.

The other key to cruising is to KNOW what is included and what costs extra. It's a good value if you stick to what's included, or are conscious of the extras you're buying. If you simply use your room key to get whatever comes to mind, you'll be in for a rude awakening when the final bill arrives.