Update: Stranded Fliers Flock to Cruise Ships to Cross Atlantic

April 20, 2010
Cunard Queen Mary 2 Cruise Ship Update, 3:40 p.m. EDT: A SeaDream spokesman tells us there is still space on SeaDream II's Barbados-to-Malaga cruise departing April 25 and SeaDream I's San Juan-to-Malaga cruise departing April 30.

Also, an MSC Cruises spokeswoman confirms only a small number of cabins are still available on upcoming transatlantic cruises (MSC Poesia, New York to Dover, April 30; MSC Opera, Rio de Janeiro to Dover, May 4); both were nearly full prior to the volcanic eruption, and requests have since increased.

(April 19, 5 p.m. EDT) -- Over the past five days, Iceland's volcano eruption has proven to be a pain in the, ahem, ash for travelers, what with flights grounded in the U.K. and dozens of other countries, and cruise lines scrambling to accommodate guests who can't get to their ships.

The restrictions throughout Europe have certainly posed challenges for those traveling throughout the continent, though there are viable options (if not sold out), including ferries and trains; British actor John Cleese of "Monty Python" fame reportedly hired a taxi to take him from Oslo to Brussels to the tune of $5,000. However, with transatlantic flights basically extinct until further notice, there's suddenly an increased interest in hopping the pond the old-fashioned (and, really, the only other) way -- by sea.

Enter Cunard's Queen Mary 2, which is the only ship to offer fairly regular transatlantic service, between Southampton and New York. Indeed, the call volume was so high this weekend at Cunard's reservations center -- triple the usual -- the line extended weekend hours to speak with booked and potential guests.

According to Cunard's Web site, Queen Mary 2's next three transatlantic sailings -- April 22 (Southampton to New York), April 29 (New York to Southampton or Hamburg) and May 21 (New York to Southampton) -- are sold out; May 8 (Hamburg to Southampton) is also fully booked.

Cunard is maintaining a wait list for passengers interested in sold-out cruises.

"The wait list works in the usual way: in order of requests received," spokeswoman Jackie Chase tells us. "However, depending on the stateroom category that becomes available, the first on the wait list will have to decide if they want to book in that category."

Prospects are bleak, however, for those at the bottom of the pile. The wait list for the April 22 transatlantic cruise departing Southampton is already 1,000 names strong. And other cruises will likely sell out fast -- the May 21 crossing, which had limited availability on Sunday morning (PST), sold out before noon.

So, are there other ocean-crossing options? Though some cruise ships heading to Europe for the summer have already repositioned or are in the process of doing so now (Independence of the Seas, for example, left Fort Lauderdale on April 11 bound for Southampton), there are a few late-season repositioning departures we're keeping an eye on.

Ruby Princess sets sail today on a 16-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, and a Princess spokeswoman tells us the line is working on arranging some last-minute bookings. There's also limited availability on Star Princess, which departs Fort Lauderdale on April 24 on a cruise that ends in Copenhagen, and Crown Princess, which departs Fort Lauderdale on May 1 en route to Venice. Those interested should call their travel agent or 800-PRINCESS to check availability.

Silversea's Silver Spirit will sail from New York to Southampton on April 23; a spokesman says the line took quite a few reservations over the weekend, and that there are still some suites available.

A Holland America Line spokeswoman tells us that sailings between Athens and New York (on Prinsendam, departing April 26) and Fort Lauderdale and Barcelona (on Noordam, departing May 14) are sold out; there is, however, a wait list in place.

Norwegian Cruise Line's upcoming Atlantic crossing on Norwegian Sun (Miami to Dover, departing April 26) is also sold out. (There is still space on Norwegian Epic's June 24 Southampton-to-New York cruise, but we are hopeful air travel will have returned to normal by then!)

Other cruise lines offering repositioning cruises across the Atlantic in the next few weeks include MSC Cruises, SeaDream, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Royal Caribbean. We'll keep you posted when we hear back from representatives about availability. Even if flight restrictions are lifted tomorrow, getting on a flight could prove challenging for days, so a cruise might be your best bet -- if you can find an available cabin.

Editor's note: Security regulations typically require cruise lines to provide a passenger manifest 96 hours in advance. If you're exploring this option, you'll need to provide personal information at least a few days in advance, so don't delay.

E-MAIL US: Are you traveling abroad or returning home by cruise ship due to flight chaos? Tell us.

POLL: Spa? Diverse dining options? Vote for your transatlantic cruise must-haves!

--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor

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