There are certain facts about travel to and from your European cruise or cruise tour that you should consider to ensure that it is hassle-free. In addition, whether you take a roundtrip or one-way cruise, you must decide whether to arrange airline tickets on your own or use the AIR/SEA program offered by the cruise line. Here are the main points to help you with your decision.
- Traveling to Europe involves an overnight flight; departure from the U.S. will be the day prior to the cruise departure. When flying from the U.S. West Coast, the flight could depart in the early morning the day before or possibly be a redeye flight. Be sure to pay careful attention to flight times.
- If flying in on embarkation day, always allow extra connection time in case of airport congestion, flight delays or long lines at security and/or customs.
- Consider flying in a day prior. In most cases you'll need to fly a long distance to reach your port of departure. Arriving at the port city at least one or two days in advance of your cruise will give you time to rest and get oriented before boarding the ship. Plus, it is a great opportunity to explore the departure city before boarding the ship. Most cruise lines offer pre-cruise hotel packages.
- Eastbound flights from the U.S. to Europe: If you have a direct flight from the U.S. or your connecting flight is in the U.S., you will pass through customs at your final destination in Europe. If your connecting flight is in Europe (in a European Union country), you will pass through security in the first non-U.S. airport you enter and pass through customs at your final destination. If your connecting flight is in a non-European Union country, you will pass through customs and security at the first non-U.S. airport you enter and again at your final destination.
- Westbound flights from Europe to the U.S.: If you have a direct flight from Europe or your connecting flight is in Europe (in a European Union country), you will pass through Security in your connection cities and customs in the first U.S. airport you enter. If your connecting flight is in a non European Union country, you will pass through customs and security in your connecting cities and again at the first U.S. airport you enter.
- European Union countries include: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
- Purchasing transfers through the cruise line is recommended. They are often more convenient and cost-effective than a taxi.
- For your return flight, consider booking a flight that departs later in the day. Some cruise lines offer a city tour with their transfer program that will allow you to view more of the city. For even more sight-seeing time, consider booking a post-cruise hotel package.
- Valid passports are required for all flights to Europe. Passports must be valid for a minimum of 6 months after travel is completed. In some cases, visas are required. Your Vacations To Go cruise counselor can help you determine what travel documents are required.
- Purchasing travel insurance is recommended. Be sure to read the insurance policy thoroughly and check for any flight-related restrictions.
- Arrive at least 3 hours prior to your flight for international departures, and at least 2 hours before domestic flights.
Advantages of Arranging Your Own Airline Tickets
The main advantages of securing your own airline tickets are that you will be able to select the airline you fly and you will have some control over the timing and routing of your flights. You may wish to fly a particular airline to use frequent flier rewards, or to earn frequent flier miles, or because that carrier has nonstop service to your port city. If you arrange your own airline tickets you will have more control over these variables. If you utilize the cruise line's AIR/SEA program, you may be given an air schedule with an overnight flight, multiple connections, and in some cases, a forced overnight stay at your expense.
Advantages of Using the AIR/SEA Program
The main reasons to let us book your air at the same time you reserve your cruise - through the cruise line's AIR/SEA department - are convenience, better access to flights that make easy connections to your ship, and added protection in the event of a flight or sailing delay or cancellation.
Cruise lines meet their AIR/SEA passengers at the airport and transport them to the pier. These transfers are frequently free of charge, but even if a charge is levied it is typically less than what you would pay if you arranged your own transfers.
Cruise lines monitor the status of flights carrying their AIR/SEA passengers, and might hold a ship past its scheduled departure time to wait for guests arriving on a delayed flight, but only if that flight was booked through the cruise line.
Flights with easy connections to departing and returning cruise ships often have high load factors and you could have difficulty getting a low fare - or a seat at any price - as an individual, particularly for departure ports like Barcelona, London or Rome. On busy days like Saturday and Sunday, you might have to fly into your port of embarkation a day early if you book your own tickets, adding a day's meals and lodging to your cost.
And finally, sometimes unexpected things occur that affect travel plans. Flight delays or cancellations, changes in cruise ship arrival or departure times, and cancellation of sailings altogether, are some of the things that can force you to rebook at a later time or date or seek a refund for your airline tickets. If any of these things should happen before or during your vacation, you will not be eligible for assistance from the cruise line if you arranged your own airline tickets. However, if we secure your tickets through the cruise line's AIR/SEA program, some cruise lines will assist you in working with the airline to make alternate flight plans, help you catch up with your ship at the next port, or apply for a refund. Your cruise counselor will verify the details of each cruise line’s AIR/SEA program at the time of booking.
The bottom line: Ask your Vacations To Go cruise counselor to quote air from the cruise line and compare that rate to the best rate you can find calling airlines directly. If the rates are close, you're probably better off letting us book your airline tickets through the AIR/SEA program.