We recently completed a 16-day transatlantic cruise that began in Rome, Italy, and terminated in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA. We never really intended to take a cruise on the Chasing Summer adventure, but it turned out to be a pleasant and surprisingly affordable way to move from Europe back to the Americas.
From Greece we wanted to cross the Atlantic westward for South America, so started researching plane fares on www.kayak.com. On a whim we also visited www.LastMinuteCruises.com to see whether travel by ship might be an alternative possibility. On the latter website we found an amazing last minute deal on a Holland America “repositioning” cruise that would get us as far as Ft. Lauderdale, and on the former website found some equally amazing plane fares from Ft. Lauderdale to Lima, Peru, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The all-inclusive cruise was about $60 per person-day, and the flights from Ft. Lauderdale to South America less than $400 each. Not bad!
RTW travelers don’t often consider cruises for long distance movements, but they really should. As we learned aboard, the major cruise lines must reposition their ships twice annually across the Atlantic in response to seasonal demand (i.e., in the summer there’s more demand for cruises in the Mediterranean and in the winter there’s more demand in the Caribbean.)
Luckily for us, there is not a lot of demand for repositioning cruises since not many folks can spend 16 days on a vacation, half of which just to cross the ocean! Literally about 95% of the passengers were elder retirees. The nightlife wasn’t much to speak of.
Though we did miss social interaction with people born after the 1930’s, the service and luxury aboard more than compensated. For two weary travelers accustomed to living out of a backpack, it was nice to settle into a private stateroom with twice daily cleaning service and free 24-hour room service.
We won’t write a full glowing review of our ship, the ms Noordam, even though it deserves one. You can easily find that with a Google search. We will say that the food and service were impeccable and the ship was comfortable and well-appointed. We ate more king crab legs, filet mignon, lobster tail and foie gras in those 16 days than the previous 16 years, and it was all of exceptional quality. Going back to the “real world” where we’re not fed like royalty and waited upon hand and foot was a shocking readjustment.
We also won’t comment on our ports-of-call because we only spent a day at each one, which isn’t nearly enough to get the flavor of a city. It is enough time to site-see though and you’ll see some photos from each port in our video though. Here was our itinerary:
Oct 18 – CIVITAVECCHIA (ROME), ITALY
Oct 19 – LIVORNO (FLORENCE/PISA), ITALY
Oct 20 – MONTE CARLO, MONACO
Oct 21 – BARCELONA, SPAIN
Oct 22 – CARTAGENA, SPAIN
Oct 23 – MALAGA, SPAIN
Oct 24 – CADIZ (SEVILLE), SPAIN
Oct 25 – At Sea
Oct 26 – FUNCHAL (MADEIRA), PORTUGAL
Oct 27 – At Sea
Oct 28 – At Sea
Oct 29 – At Sea
Oct 30 – At Sea
Oct 31 – At Sea
Nov 1 – At Sea
Nov 2 – At Sea
Nov 3 – FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA, US
Most of the other guests we met aboard the ship were experienced cruisers. One couple was on their 28th cruise! There is an addictive quality to cruise vacationing and we came to understand why. Here’s our theory:
The Ease – Those 16 days were the lowest-stress of our travels because there were no decisions to make. The itinerary was already planned, the transportation already arranged, and the meal plan already made. We didn’t have to decide where to eat each night or which hotel to book at the next destination. In fact, if felt more like the destinations were coming to us.
The Value – I don’t know the full economics of the cruise ship business, but somehow they manage to provide a luxurious guest experience for much less than a similar experience would cost on land. Had we arranged a similar itinerary with similar food and drink traveling by land, I’m sure it would have cost at least 3x as much.
The Comfort – It’s nice waking up each day to find a 5 star breakfast waiting for you in restaurant, returning to your room to find it already cleaned by the room steward, then lounging by the pool all morning as the French Riviera floats past. On a cruise ship your every need is catered to and you needn’t even break out your credit card until the end.
The Efficiency – If you want to see a lot of cities in a short amount of time, a cruise is for you. In the first week aboard we saw 2 cities in Italy, 4 in Spain, and Monte Carlo. There was no wasted time on buses, planes, or trains – while we were eating dinner or sleeping, the ship was making headway to the next port.
Despite its many advantages, there was one major disadvantage of traveling by cruise vs. by land… we never got to really know any place, just see them. At most ports the ship was only docked from around 8AM to 4PM. Several hours in a city is enough to see the major tourist attractions, but isn’t nearly enough to get the true flavor a place. Of course there’s nothing wrong with ordering a sample platter as long as you know what you’re getting.
In the end it was a great experience and a pleasant, if temporary, upgrade from backpacker-style travel (well, backpacker “plus” style.) Check out the video below to get a flavor of life aboard the ship and see some of our ports-of-call.