Why eastbound? (New York to Southampton)
· Generous luggage policy: If you're American, and traveling to Europe, the luggage allowance of Cunard ships favors bringing things to the UK. Take gifts to friends in Europe, pack extra ball gowns for the formal nights, whatever; Cunard defines their luggage policy thusly: "You may take an unlimited amount of luggage on board which must be stored in your stateroom. Each case may weigh a maximum of 20kg due to health and safety reasons."
· Easy embarkation: Boarding the ship for the start of a voyage is called embarkation, and no embarkation is smoother than that of a ship leaving from your home country. From car to ship is an easier process than car to airplane, and there's only more champagne and more space to look forward to, rather than fewer options and cramped space on an airplane.
· Keep on going: If 7 days on the ocean isn't enough, there's occasionally the option to continue on by making it an 8-day as the ship sails on to Belgium or Hamburg. If the Norwegian Fjords are on your bucket list, pair two cruises to go from the US to the UK, and seamlessly continue on to Norway.
Why westbound? (Southampton to New York)
· It's tradition: Old World to the New World is the classic route of travel, and beyond the ages of exploration and immigration, it remained a popular passenger ship leisure voyage into the mid 20th century. The concept of formal nights was actually a result of transatlantic travel, as Americans would head to Europe, fill their trunks with the latest Parisian fashions, and be so anxious to wear the new clothes that they'd turn the return voyage into something of a fashion show.
· Shop 'til you drop: Speaking of shopping, the generous shipboard luggage allowance we mentioned earlier (unlimited, so long as it fits in your cabin) is best put to use when returning from shopping in the UK or Europe. Gone wine tasting in France? Bring those choice bottles home (but know that opening them onboard can result in a corkage fee). We met several families onboard, some traveling with their dogs, who were even returning from extended stays in mainland Europe and reasoned that a ship would be an easier transition, what with gradual time zone changes (see below) and lack of excess baggage fees.
· No jet lag whatsoever: What truly sold us on a westbound crossing were the five bonus hours we'd gain while sailing through the time zones across the Atlantic Ocean. For five of the seven nights onboard, we turned back the clocks one hour. Aside from slowly transitioning passengers from Greenwich Mean Time into Eastern Standard, those extra hours became an excuse for celebration. We stayed out later, justified quaffing champagne easier, danced more cha-chas, and still awoke in time for room service breakfast enjoyed on the verandah.
If you've already chosen the westbound crossing, be prepared to turn back your smartphone clock to these timezones as the voyage progresses: London > Reykjavik > Cape Verde > Nuuk > Recife > New York.
· An arrival that'll bring you to tears: The Queen Mary 2 docks at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, which avoids the mess of Midtown Manhattan but still provides the views of navigating New York Harbor. When the funnel passes less than 10' under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge around 5am, the ships hums with the adrenaline of arrival. Shortly after, with the State of Liberty and the Staten Island Ferry off the port side, there's hardly a dry eye on deck.
Captain Kevin Oprey welcomes travelers on this westbound crossing:
After dinner dancing in the Queen's Room:
Late nights walking on deck:
An accidental early wakeup means catching a sunrise:
Bonus hours mean there's time to browse the largest library at sea:
...and for proper afternoon tea:
A Veuve Clicquot lounge is all the excuse we need:
Another night under the moon, on the ocean:
Another stunning sunrise:
We traveled as a guest of Cunard, but all photos and opinions are completely our own.
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]