Getting from Tampa to Europe well-rested can be a challenge. You can suffer the torture of an airline coach seat, including a change of planes in Atlanta or New York, and probably be there in about 14 hours for under $1,000—about $71.50 an hour. Or, you can take a cruise ship that’s doing a 14-day repositioning for about $1,200 (balcony cabin), which amounts to about $3.57 per hour. Repositioning cruises—sometimes called repo cruises—don’t begin and end at the same port, which means that most passengers fly home on a one-way ticket. But if you have the time, these Atlantic crossings are a no-brainer way to begin or end your European vacation.
Last April, I had the good fortune to travel on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas from Tampa to Barcelona, arriving relaxed and refreshed in Barcelona on May 1. Let’s allay a few misconceptions about a transatlantic crossing. First, the 14-day cruise was not 14 days at sea. After two days at sea we arrived in Puerto Rico with plenty of time to experience the Old Town part of San Juan. As the sun was setting, we bade farewell to the island and climbed aboard for our longest stretch of cruising (five days) before reaching our next port at Ponta Delgada in the Azores.
This long stretch is when you really appreciate the nature of cruising. Clocks advance at 2 a.m. every other day for one hour. You barely feel the time change. You sleep in with no obligation; a warm breakfast awaits, or, if you are like us, morning trivia at 10 a.m. after an hour in the spacious, well-equipped gym. Not a trivia fan? Visit the serene spa for relaxation and a massage.
There are daily activities galore, from how to fold fancy napkins to how to make a super cocktail. There is a casino, and first-run movies play in the ship’s theater and sometimes at night under the stars on deck poolside. Get some sun in the solarium (with a sliding glass roof in case of bad weather). Maybe a game of miniature golf or table tennis suits you mid-afternoon. How about a pick-up game of basketball on the full court aft?
A transatlantic voyage shares similarities with a week’s cruise in the Caribbean or 10 days in the Mediterranean. Dinner choices range from fixed dining at the same time nightly with the same staff to the more casual “my time” (arrive when you want between 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. and sit somewhere different every night; you get to meet lots of cool people this way). If you want an easier option (great if you have kids), there’s always the full buffet nightly. Evening dress is at best “country club casual”; nights designated as formal can be everything from fancy dresses and tuxes to cocktail dresses and coat and tie as well as the country club casual look. Shorts are always fine at the buffet.
During the crossing from Puerto Rico to the Azores, we got to read our favorite books, nap, drink, chat, make new friends, and watch the world go by. For those who need it, Wi-Fi/internet is available 24/7 (usually for a fee). After five days, a little land under our feet felt good, and we explored the charm and history of Portuguese Ponta Delgada.
As we departed the Azores on our way to the Straits of Gilbraltar, we encountered more moderate seas, a welcome change from the almost non-sailing of the previous eight days. Once in the Mediterranean we were back to smooth waters as we approached our next port of call, Malaga, Spain, to explore both Roman ruins and trendy boutiques. After Malaga, an overnight sail brought us to our final cruise port of Ibiza, where a dynamic seaside city, old castle and the “jet set” welcomed us. In the late evening we joined passengers on deck one last time to see the sun set, tip a glass of champagne to new friends, and look back on 13 glorious days.
This wasn’t my first repositioning cruise, and I discovered on a previous trip that many Europeans use these crossings for their six-month stay in Florida. It’s cheaper than flying; they can pack extra bags for which they are not charged; and they get a two-week holiday going and returning, booking the return cruise in the spring. For those of us in the Tampa Bay area, what could be more convenient?
Last thoughts: If you are watching your budget, many cruise lines offer inside cabins for a 14-day cruise for as little as $600-$700 per person. That’s $50 a day for everything. Also, most airlines are making available one-way transatlantic tickets, so flying one way can be reasonable. Enjoy.