CNV00137That time of year is almost on us again; the delicious little interval between the end of the winter Caribbean season, and the start of the summer season in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. In the interim, literally dozens of vast white dream palaces will depart from their Florida playgrounds and shape a course for old Europe.

And, naturally, their owners would like to fill them en route with paying passengers. Whoa…

Hold it right there. Because a crossing is not the same as a cruise. That’s the same as saying that football and rugby are both the same, because they are played by teams of men on a pitch. With a ball.

CNV00021But they really are very different creatures. Cruises in Europe, especially, focus on port-a-day itineraries, such as the seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Rounds’ that embark in Barcelona, Venice and Rome. Sea time- the amount of actual voyaging done on the ship- is pretty minimal.

A similar sensibility exists on those winter Caribbean runs, carousing the western and eastern circuits from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Less cultured for sure, but the lure of a string of sun splashed islands, strung out like a glorious conga line, is the primary lure for sun starved hordes in the bitter winter months.

CNV00049Not so with a crossing, which always of necessity incorporates a string of between four and six straight days at sea, as the ship makes the old style voyage between two continents. Shipowners see them as a necessary evil and, in most cases, simply do not know how to market them.

The shore based revenue guys get nosebleeds thinking about what they see as lost on board spend. Days without the windfall of revenue from sales of shore excursions. And, of course, the fuel costs are that much higher. Taking a transatlantic is, effectively, the equivalent in time of two seven day cruises. You can double that when the ships return back the same way in the autumn.

It’s hard to entice passengers aboard as well, because it takes a particular type of person that can endure, never mind enjoy, several straight days at sea. And the often hideously disproportionate cost of open jaw, transatlantic return airfare can be an absolute nightmare.

CNV00105All of this explains why crossings- and, indeed, repositioning voyages in general- are usually quite amazing value, as well as being truly exceptional experiences in their own right.

For a start, passenger numbers are usually far fewer. Yet, with the same number of crew, you get a better, more personalised level of service. Those difficult to get second reservations in your favourite alternative restaurant? Suddenly, they become a breeze.

Lines desperate to squeeze any extra revenue from these trips will often run spa ‘specials’ at very attractive prices. Days become more leisurely, and less crowded. And- whisper it- unlike on a port intensive voyage, you actually do get time to simply relax.

CNV00167There is time to read a book, or even two. Time to meet and mingle with new people. Time to reconnect with loved ones.

Time to enjoy late, lazy mornings in bed and languid, outdoor lunches. Time to take up a new hobby, or rediscover an old one. The options are really only limited by your own whims and wants. For possibly the only time in your year, time actually works for you.

A crossing allows you to structure your days as much, or as little, as you please. Lazy days  afloat will free you up in a way that no conventional cruise, however fascinating and fun fuelled, can ever do.

Truth be told, crossings have far more good points than bad.

CNV00004If you can go to the expense of a balcony, then I definitely recommend one on the route from Florida to Europe. And these will usually be much more affordable than on warm weather cruises. It’s a safe bet that you’ll never forget watching a late night meteorite shower from the snug fastness of your own balcony, with a side order of starlight to go with the champagne. And yes, it is every bit as splendid and surreal as it sounds.

CNV00015Some lines are getting very good at turning crossings into themed voyages. Crystal, for instance, do these supremely well. They usually have floating jazz, big band and/or film festivals on their elegant ships, with renowned guest lecturers, as well as some truly innovative culinary classes.

For singles, check out Norwegian Epic. She crosses the Atlantic twice a year, and her chic, funky little studio cabins are usually better deals than ever on a crossing.

If you yearn for some of the old style formality without wanting to pay the six star price tag, Holland America offer some truly mouth watering transatlantic crossings each year, on some of the most stunningly appointed big ships afloat.

CNV00001And it would be truly remiss not to mention the classic, almost year round crossings between Southampton, Hamburg and New York on the monolithic Queen Mary 2. The huge Cunarder is the only true ocean liner in existence these days. Strong and sturdy, she can handle the often capricious North Atlantic with a quite magical sense of style and aplomb.

Here, you can be at sea for up to seven or eight days, but the flip side of the coin is that Cunard tie in a one way transatlantic flight at a decent cost. You can also arrange a hotel stay in either London or New York as well but, truth be told, you are probably better off doing that independently, in terms of price and choice.

In the autumn, the stream of traffic goes into reverse. As winter descends on Europe like a wet blanket, the same vast flotilla of ships shrugs off the gloom like so many exotic birds of passage, making the run back to their winter bases in Florida.

CNV00184Other fantastic bargains in autumn can be found aboard the giant seagoing theme parks of Costa and MSC, as they relocate from Italy to South America. Further afield? MSC also run voyages from Italy down to sun splashed South Africa as well, though these are few and far between compared to the transatlantic trips.

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