Updated January 8, 2020
Whilst the de facto long-haul destination for most first-time cruisers is the Caribbean; other far-flung destinations popular with Brits include Alaska and Bermuda. Gateways for Caribbean cruises are Miami and Fort Lauderdale for most major U.S. cruise lines, as well as Barbados for cruise lines like P&O, SeaDream, Star Clippers and Windstar. Alaska-bound travellers need to head to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Vancouver. Those wanting to visit Bermuda will need to fly to New York.
Flights to Miami are always popular at weekends, especially in winter months – when Brits trade chilly pavements for chilled-out decks. British Airways has reacted to this demand by scheduling a year-round A380 super-jumbo on one of the twice-daily flights From London (Heathrow).
The increasingly popular cruise destination of Alaska has cruises that set sail from cities in the west coast of the United States as well as Canada. These cruises operate between May and September. Shorter duration cruises mostly depart from Vancouver. Occasionally these cruises operate from Anchorage in Alaska which is usually reached via a connection at Seattle or Vancouver. Longer duration Alaska cruises depart from San Francisco, Seattle and occasionally Los Angeles.
All passengers heading to the U.S. require an ESTA, which can be obtained online for a fee, and those heading to Canada need an eTA which also incurs a charge. Note: Beware of bogus websites that charge a 'processing' fee over and above the normal charge.
Time changes range from five hours for flights to the Caribbean and East Coast cities in the U.S. to eight hours for Vancouver and U.S. West Coast cities, so jet lag needs to be taken into consideration.
It is very risky to book a transatlantic flight on the same day as a long-haul cruise. The only feasible exception is an early flight to Barbados for a cruise departing late at night from Bridgetown.
It should be noted that winter flights to the U.S. can be delayed by bad weather in Europe, not to mention industrial disputes. Similarly, summer flights can also be affected by hurricanes along the east coast of the U.S. and the Caribbean. Passengers booking independent flights are responsible for getting to the departure port city in time to catch their ship, and cruise lines are under no obligation to assist if there are delays.
It is wise to spend at least one night in a hotel pre-cruise. Apart from helping with jet lag and eliminating the possibility of missing your cruise, you can often save money by opting for midweek flights instead of weekend departures which are often at a premium.
Plus, there's so much to see around Miami, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver that it makes sense to spend a night or two exploring. You could take in a Broadway show, enjoy the thrill of an airboat ride through the Florida everglades, savour the views from Seattle's Space Needle, take a selfie along Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills, enjoy fresh seafood at San Francisco's waterfront, or visit Vancouver's bohemian Gastown district. A pre-cruise stay along the Platinum Coast of Barbados affords a peep into the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
Booking flights on the internet is fairly simple, but the story of a couple heading to a cruise in Sydney, Australia, and mistakenly booking flights to Sydney, Nova Scotia, is not apocryphal. Therefore, a fly/cruise package provides peace of mind for first time cruisers. Even experienced voyagers can find the complexity of booking hotels, flights and transfers just too daunting.
Cruise lines offering fly/cruises have a wealth of options to personalise your trip, including specially-negotiated rates with hotels and airlines. Carnival Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean all provide these options, and luxury cruise companies also offer great value pre-cruise packages, which are sometimes included in the cost of the cruise.
Who flies there: British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines fly from London (Heathrow).
Flight time: Around 9 hours.
Destination: Fort Lauderdale
Who flies there: From July 2017 British Airways will start flights from London (Gatwick).
Flight time: Around 9 hours.
Who flies there: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly from London (Gatwick). Virgin Atlantic also flies from Manchester and from December 2017 will fly from London (Heathrow).
Flight time: Around 8 hours 45 minutes.
Who flies there: British Airways and Air Canada fly from London (Heathrow).
Flight time: Around 11 hours.
Destination: San Francisco
Who flies there: British Airways, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic fly from London (Heathrow).
Flight time: 10 hours 45 minutes.
Destination: Los Angeles
Who flies there: American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic fly from London (Heathrow).
Flight time: 11 hours.
Who flies there: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly from London (Heathrow).
Flight time: 9 hours 30 minutes.
Destination: New York
Who files there: British Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic fly from London (Heathrow). British Airways flies from London (Gatwick and City Airport). American Airlines and Delta fly from Edinburgh and Manchester. United Airlines flies from Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester in summer months.
Flight time: Around 7 hours 30 minutes.
Passengers on a Caribbean fly/cruise with Thomson Cruises fly from London (Gatwick), Birmingham and Manchester direct to Barbados, Montego Bay and the Dominican Republic to join their cruises.
There are many options to the departure cities listed above for passengers who prefer to fly from a convenient regional airport and connect at a European hub such as Amsterdam, Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris. Connections are generally within two hours and these routes are cheaper than flying from London. However, by their very nature connecting flights mean longer overall journey times and there is a greater chance that luggage can go astray -- especially if time is tight between connections.