Looking for a totally different way to travel from Europe to North America (or the other way around) with children? Transatlantic cruises are awesome with kids. Here’s why.
It may come as a surprise, but transatlantic cruises can be just as cost-effective as flying – especially with a family. After flash-packing in the Middle East and Southeast Europe for three months as a family of four way back in 2014, we explored every way possible to get back to Canada that wouldn’t break the bank and that would also be a cool experience.
A few weeks before the sail date, we booked a simple room on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and scored very inexpensive rates. It cost the same amount for us – two adults, one child, one infant – to sail for a week on one of the world’s largest cruise ships, with all our food and accommodation included, as it would have for us to fly. Sure, it was a seven-day trip – not a seven-hour one – but we also gained the experience of cruising the North Atlantic on an ocean liner.
After months of organizing travel plans, booking hotel rooms and finding transport from one new place to another, our transatlantic cruise spoiled us with five-star dining, 24-hour buffets, and professional entertainment. There was even champagne waiting for us in our stateroom. And top it all off, the ship’s stewards turned down our beds each night and even left chocolates on our pillows.
If you’re on a particularly tight budget, look for repositioning sailings. These typically occur in the spring and offer rock-bottom prices since the ship has to get to a different port anyways.
A kid’s (and parent’s) playground
Travelling with kids is amazing and intense all at the same time. You experience the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s thrilling and exhausting and everything in between. Cruises often offer child-minding (YAY!!!!) which make it possible to take breaks from our tiniest dear ones. Catch an evening show? Take in one of the many workshops and master classes? Watch a movie? Um, yes, please!
With swimming pools, running tracks, expansive ocean views, kids play areas and programming, a transatlantic cruise leaves little room for boredom for kiddos and parents alike.
Say yes to no jet-lag
The worst long-haul flight we ever took with our kids was a red-eye from Bangkok, Thailand to Amman, Jordan. We were that family. Our kids took turns screaming throughout the whole flight. Nothing helped, not even the strawberry tart one of the stewardesses brought around at 3 am hoping the promise of sugar would quiet our kids down.
When we got off the plane in Amman, we were exhausted and bleary-eyed, and cursing plane travel.
Transatlantic cruises bypass the hell that is jet-lag with kids. Instead of trying to sleep in airplane seats that barely recline, we each had a bed to sleep in that was perfectly comfortable and horizontal.
Plus, the clocks were moved back one hour a day on the ship. By the time we disembarked in New York City, we were operating in the right time zone.
Reliving history –an experience in itself
Does a transatlantic cruise conjure up images of the Titanic? It did for me. And for good reason. Our ship left the United Kingdom from Southampton with fanfare, a live band and champagne, and set sail for New York City, just like the Titanic did 100 years before. After a few days at sea, we even sailed within a few hundred nautical miles of the Titanic’s resting place.
The ship itself was a living museum, featuring old photographs and information about the steamship era. In many ways, it felt like walking back into the roaring 20’s. There was even an evening dress code!
And much like the steamships of a century ago, we met people of every age, stripe and economic station on our transatlantic cruise. Some were doing the exact same thing as us – a bit of luxurious cruise travel on their way home after backpacking in Europe. Others hated flying so were using the transatlantic crossing as a means of getting from A to B without ever stepping foot on an airplane. Others loved cruising so much that they were doing two weeks of it – from Southampton to New York and back again.
When we arrived at dawn in New York City on the last day of our voyage, we were met by Lady Liberty and the glow of city’s skyline. It was a powerful and sobering experience, reliving that journey, and the journey of the millions of European migrants who came to North America by steamship in the 19th and 20th centuries in search of opportunity and a better life. It is the story of my ancestry and that of millions of other North Americans.
There is no other experience quite like it. It is important to remember.
Silent reflection and other scarce habits
When travelling with kids, there is little time for silence and reflection. But transatlantic cruises make it (more) possible. There’s something about the steely grey Atlantic stretching out for as far as the eye can see that inspires contemplation. And with kids’ activities and child-minding, parents can steal a few moments away to think clearly. For us, after a particularly long season of travel, taking the seven-day sea route home offered much-needed time for musing and a new perspective.