Transatlantic on the cheap

I’ve just returned from my 12-day inaugural voyage on the Norwegian Bliss, and I have tons of pictures to process and blog posts to write about this fantastic ship. But first, I have a confession to make:

*whispers* I’m going on another transatlantic cruise…and I leave tomorrow.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy. But hear me out: I was able to make this cruise so cheap that I almost couldn’t afford to stay at home! Here’s how I did it.

First of all, timing was everything. I’ve written before about how to find cheap cruise fares, and about how transatlantic voyages — where a cruise line repositions its ships from the Caribbean to Europe for the season and vice versa — are often a great opportunity to play the supply-and-demand pricing game to your advantage. I booked this cruise, on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas, at the beginning of February for a May 6 sail date.

Getting this deal did require a bit of vigilance on my part. I had identified the Jewel TA (often used as an abbreviation for transatlantic, which is a bit long) as one that I was interested in because I’ve been on the ship and loved it, and it featured a lot of new-to-me ports. I wound up watching the price pretty closely for two weeks at the end of January into the beginning of February before I caught the price drop and decided to seal the deal.

Transatlantic cruises can be tricky because they involve one-way airfare between Europe and the U.S., usually, and such things can be pricey. (Working with your travel agent or the cruise lines, however, you might be able to get a reasonable deal here.) In our case, we needed two one-way flights: From our home in North Carolina to San Juan, where Jewel has been homeported, and back to the US from Europe after the cruise was over.

I’ve found that one-way tickets are maybe your best use of frequent-flier miles and points, and that’s what we did: I used American Express Membership Rewards points to buy our tickets to San Juan, and Delta SkyMiles to buy our tickets back to the U.S. Using miles especially helps you avoid the penalty that often comes with buying one way travel (although this isn’t nearly so bad as it used to be).

At the risk of being one of “those people,” I’m excited to share that the up-front cost of our 14 night cruise on the Jewel (in a balcony cabin, no less!), including taxes, fees, and airfare, was under $2000 for the hubby and I! We’ll be stopping along the way in the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, and twice in Spain (Alicante and Valencia). I’m looking forward to mornings on the balcony writing lots of blogs to share with everyone about my (nearly a) month on the high seas!

Photo Apr 25, 1 36 49 PM

Researching your port stops

There are a lot of reasons I love cruising, but one of the main ones is that I LOVE doing research on what I should do in each of my port stops. After all, I’m a nerd! As I’m planning for my upcoming transatlantic cruise on the new Norwegian Bliss, I thought I’d do a blog post to tell you about how I research and make plans for my days in port.

You always have the option to book shore excursions through the cruise line, and sometimes – when I’m in a new port or a new part of the world – I’ll do this, for a few reasons. It’s easy – I don’t have to do a lot of work; I just log into the web site and pick my trips through the online pre-cruise planner. When you book through the cruise line, you know that the ship will always wait for you if your excursion is delayed returning.

But I’ve had good and bad experiences with shore excursions through the cruise line, and for that reason, I often try to make my own plans.

If I decide to do my own research, I start with a simple Google search. For my Bliss transatlantic, I only have two stops: Ponta Delgada, Azores and Halifax, Nova Scotia. I began my research on Ponta Delgada with a Google search for “Ponta Delgada cruise port.” I find that adding the words “cruise port” to my search helps to refine the results so that I get specific advice for stopping in a location on a cruise ship vs. taking a land-based vacation.

Often I’ll find that one of the top results is a port information page from the website Cruise Critic. Cruise Critic is an excellent resource for planning your port stops and you can also visit their cruise port specific message boards to read about other people’s experiences in those ports.

Occasionally, your Google search will turn up a real gem. In this case, I found this extremely helpful Ponta Delgada guide from a website called Tom’s Port Guides. Now, being an academic/nerd, I know that it’s always important to check out your sources to make sure they’re reliable, so I looked on this site (as I always do) for an About Us page to learn more about the site. Turns out these well-done guides are created by a guy who loves to travel and likes to create travel guides for his favorite cruise ports. Thanks, Tom!

Next, I’ll do a Google search for the name of the port with the word “blog” swapped in for “port.” This will help me find blog posts from people like myself who like to write about their travels. It’s important to check the dates on these posts to make sure that they’re current, and of course with any travel blog, it’s important to remember that the author’s experiences and decisions might be different from your own. I was fortunate to find this fantastic description of Ponta Delgada from TravelShopGirl and now feel like I have a great idea what to expect from my day in Ponta Delgada!

Getting to the port: Parking for cruises out of Fort Lauderdale

I was no stranger to Port Everglades, the giant cruise port just a few miles from Ft. Lauderdale airport (FLL). In fact, I’d cruised out of it many times, and I could tell you in one sentence how to get to that port from the airport: Land, pick up your bags, get in a taxi (or Lyft/Uber), go to the port. But that wouldn’t be much of a blog post, would it?

Because I’m taking some time off work right now, I was lucky enough to go on not one, not two, but three cruises out of Port Everglades in just a couple of months’ time. Rather than make three plane trips, my husband and I decided to take some time as “temporary snowbirds,” and we drove our car down to Florida. Hey, it was February and March – we wanted some warm weather!

We tried three options for parking, and the good news is that I felt like all of them were pretty good options that I would use again.

  1. Park N Fly at the Fort Lauderdale airport was a great experience. We prepaid and used a deal on my American Express card to get $15 back on our reservation. Using the lot was simple: We entered and were directed to the side of the lot where cruisers were parked, then a van shuttle picked us up right at the car and delivered us to the cruise terminal. When we came back from the cruise, we called the number we’d been given and a shuttle came to the terminal and picked us up, then dropped us right back at the car.
  2. We arrived at the Park N Go at the airport on a particularly busy day – there were 7 ships at Port Everglades, including the Royal Caribbean mega-ship Harmony of the Seas. On that day, they were using a valet-type system where you dropped off your car at a central location, then hopped on a shuttle to the appropriate cruise ship’s terminal. When we returned from our cruise, the shuttle picked us up and dropped us right off at our car, which had been parked in the lot. One quirky thing about this lot is that an area next door is populated by monkeys, which are pretty darn cute! (but don’t feed them – for your own safety!)Photo Mar 04, 8 25 51 AM.jpg
  3. On one of the cruises, we talked to some folks who sang the praises of the on-site parking at Port Everglades, so for the final of the three cruises, I decided to give it a try. The price is a little bit higher, $15/day versus $10-$13 for the other places, so it made more sense for a shorter, 5-day cruise. My experience here was a mixed bag: Our cruise ship went out of the inconveniently-placed Terminal 29, for which we had to take a shuttle to and from the midport parking garage. However, if we’d been out of one of the closer terminals (18 and 19 are especially close), this garage would have been incredibly convenient. Here you can see the Celebrity Summit docked at terminal 19 in a picture I took from the garage where I parked our car.Photo Mar 10, 10 28 48 AM

If your cruise is leaving out of Port Everglades, you can use the Cruise Terminal app (link will take you to the Apple store) to determine what terminal your cruise will be departing out of.