The Mediterranean is the second most popular cruise region after the Caribbean. It provides warm weather; generally calm seas and you can visit different cultures and countries in a short space of time.
The core season runs from April to October, although some ships remain offering winter sun trips. Cruises get very busy and prices are highest in July and August when European schools are on vacation. The key ports where cruises start and end are Barcelona, Venice, Genoa, Civitavecchia and Southampton although some lines allow passengers to join and leave at other ports on the itinerary making Mediterranean cruises flexible and varied.
Mediterranean Cruise Types
Cruising in the Mediterranean provides many options with the following being the main ones:
- 7-night Central Mediterranean cruises. These are often circular routes calling on the same ports over the summer. The routes usually call on various places in Southern France, Italy, Balearic Islands, Sicily, Malta or Tunisia. These enable passengers to join and leave at stops closest to their hometowns. Lines like MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises offer these itineraries.
- 7-night Eastern Mediterranean cruises. These operate to and from Venice mostly and visit destinations in Croatia, Montenegro, Crete, Greece and Turkey, although some will pass around the base of Italy and visit destinations in Sicily and Italy. Many cruise lines offer this option including Cunard, P&O Cruises, Princess and MSC Cruises.
- 7-night Greek islands and Turkey. They sail out of ports like Athens and explore a number of Greek islands and different ports in Turkey. These are popular routes for some of the smaller luxury lines like Seabourn and Silversea.
- 12 to 14-night Mediterranean cruises from ports in the United Kingdom or Northern Europe. These trips are longer as they have a number of sea days to get into the Mediterranean and will often include stops in France, Portugal and Gibraltar. Lines like Fred Olsen, Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Princess and Celebrity offer this option.
- 14-night or more Repositioning cruises from ports in the United States. At the start and end of the Mediterranean season cruise lines move their ships to warmer climates like the Caribbean and South America. They combine the Atlantic crossing with time in the Mediterranean, which means that travellers coming from those regions only have one long haul flight when cruising in the region.
The following are my tips on cruising the Mediterranean region based on many cruises and different cruise lines
Choose the Right Cruise Line
Almost all cruise lines offer Mediterranean cruises, although Carnival has withdrawn from the region at various times. It is a competitive market and you can frequently find attractive deals and promotions especially at the start and end of the season. The itineraries are broadly similar as there are key destinations like Barcelona, Rome and Venice that passengers want to go to and a limited choice of ports with the infrastructure to handle large cruise ships and visitors in numbers. However when choosing the line to cruise with do not let the fare alone determine which one you select.
Every cruise line delivers a different on-board experience and caters for different types of passengers. It is important to ensure you join a line that matches your travel needs and interests, or you will not enjoy the experience. Selecting the right one is even more important that the itinerary. There are over 20 lines to choose including Princess, Fred Olsen, Celebrity, AIDA, Costa, Hapag-Lloyd, Silversea, Regent Seven Sea, Swan Hellenic, Saga, Thomson, Cunard, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Seabourn, MSC Cruises, P&O Cruises, Saga and Holland America.
Define what is important to you including the type of people you like travelling with and the facilities and activities that are essential and use this to carefully research which line is most suitable for you. This is where a cruise expert travel agent can really help. I always recommend using an agent to help you navigate and find the best option.
Choose the right ship size
As discussed above, the ports visited tend to be the same as only some can handle large ships and there are some core destinations that passengers expect to visit.
Large ships will have a large choice of on-board facilities and choices but will also be busy and so when calling on the popular ports they can get crowded when multiple ships are there.
If you want to see more unusual and intimate destinations you should consider travelling on smaller ships. These tend to be operated by the premium luxury lines like Seabourn, Silversea and Regent Seven Sea but some more affordable lines like P&O Cruises operate small ships alongside their large ones. You can also look at more specialist lines like Voyages of Antiquity and Swan Hellenic that operate cultural and historic itineraries calling on more exotic ports.
Depart from ports within the Mediterranean
This means that you are in the region and do not have sea days to start visiting ports. It also means that when coming from the UK or other parts of Northern Europe you do not have to sail through the Bay of Biscay. This is a shallow stretch of water that can be unpredictable and rough.
Pre and post-cruise stays
If you are travelling into the Mediterranean from the UK or United States arrive the day before your cruise to avoid any issues with flight delays and to explore the embarkation port before your cruise. As you may be joining the ship in places like Barcelona, Venice or Rome you will not get to see these places unless you arrive early. It is also a good idea to build in a post-cruise stay in your disembarkation port so you can see that city too.
If you book your flights and transfers to and from the ship through the cruise line they will help take care of issues if there are delays.
Do not over schedule
Don’t over schedule as it can be exhausting with ports every day and long days and nights. People can find a Mediterranean cruise tiring as they book excursions or go touring everyday and then stay up late to enjoy all that the ship has to offer in the evening. Some of the ports are far from the main cities or areas of interest and many excursions and trips will be all-day events. It is advisable to only pre-book excursions or set plans for some of the ports and allow time to relax and enjoy the ship while docked. The ship will be quiet and areas like the pool; spa and fitness center will be empty and more relaxing.
When looking at the itinerary for your Mediterranean cruise pay careful attention at how the ports of call are described. Some of the ports are some distance from the city they are billed as calling at and are freight and container ports with unappealing views. Rome, Florence, Bruges and Paris are all over an hour away from where the ship docks and you will need to plan an excursion or private tour if you want to go sightseeing. Look carefully at how the ports are described and the excursion options, if you find all day excursions dominate you will see that up to three hours will be transfers to and from the city.
Where ports are close to the city center the cruise line will usually offer a shuttle bus if it is not within walking distance. Some will charge for these.
When planning your cruise consider self-exploring and private tours over going on the cruise line arranged excursions. You can prepare by researching ports in travel guides like DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, on sites like Cruise Critic and even on Wikipedia. I recommend arriving on your cruise knowing what you want to see. Some luxury lines, like Cunard and Holland America, will provide detailed port guides, maps and talks.
There are companies like ShoreTrips.com and Viator.com that provide alternatives to cruise line tours and will guarantee to get you back to the ship before it departs or cover the costs to reunite you with the ship. Most destinations have at least one hop-on hop-off bus service and these are excellent and cost effective ways of touring cities within the Mediterranean. They usually call at or near to the port.
If you are a keen photographer I recommend self-touring as the cruise line excursions are designed to move quickly around the main sights and there is frustratingly little time to set up and take good images.
Use it as a taster for future land-based vacations
Europe is packed full of diverse cultures and history and a cruise only provides a sample of this. It is a good way to see a number of countries and experience a taste of each. Use your cruise to scope out and plan a longer and more thorough land-based vacation that gives you time to properly explore what each country and city has to offer. You cannot consider to have really seen Europe or a country in the Mediterranean via a cruise. But it will give you great insights and guidance on where to return to and really immerse yourself in.
On lines with set dining times you will have to select an early or late dining. If you are travelling with one of the Mediterranean cruises lines like MSC or Costa early dining will be at 7pm and late at 9:30pm and consider your usual dining habits when making a choice. First sitting dining on other lines is around 6:30pm, with late at 8:30pm, and it can be a rush after a full day of touring. Check the dining times and make a considered selection.
Many of the countries you visit on Mediterranean cruise will use the Euro including France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Malta. You should double-check what currency the countries you are visiting use if you plan to self-tour or go to local markets. You can check if they are using the Euro at eurozone.europa.eu/euro-area/euro-area-member-states/. It is advisable to have some cash for emergencies, refreshments, entrance fees, taxis and souvenir shopping even if going on cruise excursions.
Although you are sailing in a predominately Euro zone the ship will use the currency of their home or ownership for on board sales and gratuities. For example, Cunard and Holland America use US dollars while Costa and MSC use Euros.
Best Places to visit
The following are the ten ports I recommend visiting in the region:
4. Greek Islands
5. Monte Carlo
9. Valletta (Malta)
For more cruising tips: tipsfortravellers.com/cruising
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