Mediterranean Cruise Traps To Avoid
Mediterranean Cruise Traps To Avoid
I got a message from a friend of mine, Winnie, saying she was looking for a Mediterranean cruise for a week in July. She wanted to cruise on a mid-sized ship and in a balcony cabin. Could I help?
In that one simple request, I realised she was about to fall headlong into five traps that many cruise passengers make in the Mediterranean.
The first mistake she made was thinking that there is such a thing as a “Mediterranean cruise”. There’s many variations of this.
I told Winnie she first needs to ask herself why she is going and what she wants to see and do. In order to avoid going on the wrong itinerary.
There are three main Mediterranean itineraries.
The one that I recommend for first timers, like Winnie, is the Western Mediterranean.
These tend to call on Spain, France, and Italy. They depart usually from Barcelona, Civitavecchia, and Genoa. Calling on ports such as Marseilles, the French Riviera (San Tropez, Monte Carlo, or Cannes), Livorno for Florence and Nice, La Spezia for Cinque Terre, and some go down to Naples to visit Pompeii or Capri.
Some include historical islands with grand architecture, like Valletta in Malta and Palma de Mallorca.
It is perfect for first timers like Winnie, as she will see many of the most famous Mediterranean cities and sites in just one cruise.
The itinerary and excursions focus heavily on exploring local culture, historical sites, museums, architecture, culinary and wineries.
I suggested to Winnie that if she enjoyed the Western Mediterranean cruise, her next should be an Eastern Mediterranean one. This is probably my personal favourite.
Departing mostly from ports around Venice and Piraeus, these visit Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, and sometimes, Turkey.
The most popular ports include Split, Dubrovnik, Corfu, and Greek Islands like Katakolon, Santorini, and Mykonos.
While the itinerary and excursions also focus on culture, historical sites, museums, and architecture, they tend to be more active.
If she wanted to return to the Mediterranean after that, I recommended a Greek islands itinerary. Especially if she wanted more of a beach mixed with ancient history experience.
Mostly sailing out of Piraeus, near Athens, the islands visited vary based on the size of ship. With smaller ships calling on more out of the way ports, as well as the large and best-known ones like Santorini, Rhodes, and Mykonos.
While those three Mediterranean cruise options tend to be 7-nights long, and meet her request for a week-long cruise, there is a trap in here there I wanted her to consider.
First, whatever week-long itinerary she books will include one or two must-see cities she thinks she will see – but won’t.
For example, I showed her the 7-night Western Mediterranean cruise I was about to go on. The advertised itinerary prominently includes Barcelona and Rome as two ports. But they are where I embark and disembark.
If I hadn’t booked a pre-stay in Barcelona and a post-stay in Rome, I would see nothing of those cities. Other than from the bus or taxi window while transferring between the airport and ship.
To see the cities where Winnie embarks or disembarks, I encouraged her to add hotel stays, or she will not see anything of them.
Second, a week-long Mediterranean cruise can be tiring. Few have sea days for her to relax, as they call into ports daily.
She’ll be out exploring most of the day and enjoying the dining and entertainment onboard into the evenings.
She’ll be flying in, so likely tired and jet-lagged. Another good reason for having pre-stay and post-stay options.
And thirdly, this is all magnified, as quite a few Mediterranean ports are far from the advertised city or sights. Which means many excursions will be 8 to 10 hours long.
Look at my Azamara cruise as an example. The itinerary is advertised as Provence (Marseilles), Florence / Pisa (Livorno) and Rome (Civitavecchia).
On Eastern Mediterranean ones you will see Venice (Ravenna or Trieste), Olympia (Katakolon) and Piraeus (Athens).
The time to get to places like this on the itinerary can take a long time. Rome can take up to two hours each way based on traffic from Civitavecchia. Florence one and a half to two hours each way from Livorno. Venice (which most ships cannot sail into anymore) use Ravenna or Trieste which are two hours away.
Even places like Olympia from Katakolon, Cinque Terre from La Spezia can take up to hour or more each way.
So, with Winnie understanding the issues around week-long trips, I wanted to tackle her plan to cruise in July.
The Mediterranean cruising season runs from April to October, although a handful of ships will sail year-round.
I warned Winnie that going in July/August time is a mistake for 5 reasons.
First, it gets hot and sticky.
Second, it’s peak season and busy with both cruise and land-based travellers.
Some Mediterranean countries, including France, Spain, and Italy, close factories, and businesses in those months and all go on vacation. It’s hard to get into places, there’s crowds everywhere.
Third, it is THE most expensive of time of the year to go.
Fourth, as it’s school holidays, families will be cruising. Even on lines that usually do not have kids onboard.
I told Winnie this is important as many ships will be sailing way over capacity.
When ships declare occupancy, it is based on what is called “lower berths”. Which means two people per cabin and does not count sofa beds, pull down beds, and so on.
For example, when I was on MSC Cruises Meraviglia, they told me their official capacity was 4,500, but in July and August they often have 6,000 passengers when kids share cabins with their parents.
Other ships may not be as dramatic as that. But, all will be at higher capacity when families are on board.
Fifth, I warned her, this is the prime scam and pickpocket season due to the dense and jostling crowds.
Each time I have been in Venice, Barcelona, and Rome in July/August, people off the ship have had wallets stolen, bags snatched, and backpacks opened and items taken.
I suggested instead that Winnie look at the shoulder season, June and September are especially great months. Though May and October work too.
Everything’s open. It’s great, but not stifling weather and since Winnie doesn’t have to go in school holiday time and is going with a friend of hers, they’ll have a less costly and less crowded trip.
Winnie had said she wanted to go on a mid-sized ship, but I worried she was falling into another trap here too.
Mediterranean Cruise Traps – Trap #4 (Mid-Sized Ship)
So, I suggested she step back as there are a few considerations before settling on ship size.
There is enormous choice in the Mediterranean.
Pretty much every cruise line, ranging from the most inexpensive, like MSC, Norwegian, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean, through to THE most expensive cruise lines in the world, such as Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea cruise here. And basically offer the same itineraries and ports.
For example, Winnie could book a 7-night Western Mediterranean cruise next June for 2 on MSC Seaview in their cheapest balcony cabin for $1,750 (that’s $125 per person per night).
Or, she could book a very similar 7-night Regent Seven Seas Voyager cruise in their cheapest balcony, where one night would cost the same as that entire MSC 7-night cruise.
That’s a staggering $12,600 for two people for a week (or $900 per person per night).
Consider based on budget
First, I suggested we cut the number of lines she should consider based on her budget.
And then I asked Winnie to step back and think about what she wants those remaining lines to add to her trip. As the ports and places they will take her are largely the same.
Does she want a deep immersion into Mediterranean history and culture? Then maybe Viking with multiple daily lectures by their on-board resident Historian may be best.
Is she looking for lots of late-night partying, big glitzy theatre shows, and relaxed dress code? Then maybe MSC, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Carnival or Royal Caribbean would be best.
Does she want a more familiar British experience with dressy formal nights and live orchestra ballroom dancing? Then perhaps Cunard is the one.
To avoid the trap of going on the wrong cruise line and getting the most from her budget, Winnie agreed to draw up a list what she really wanted from the ship and line.
Ship size is, of course, a valid consideration.
But, Winnie said to me she thought a mid-sized ship would be best because she’d heard they go to more interesting ports.
In the Mediterranean, the size of the ship is less critical in terms of what ports they call on than some other regions.
While usually smaller ships can go to more out of the way ports, that only really applies in the Greek Islands than in the Western and Eastern Mediterranean.
On these most of the cruise ports tend to be used by all, big and small. So, I suggested she focus on the experience she wanted rather than the ship size alone.
The next trap Winnie almost fell into, but I think she got it right in some ways by chance, was she was looking at a balcony cabin.
Mediterranean Cruise Traps – Trap #5 (Balcony Cabin)
Winnie said she had seen online people recommending a balcony cabin because of the scenery to see while sailing in the Mediterranean.
I don’t think that is true. First, you’re going to be sailing at night and then way out at sea, and the only time you will be close enough to view scenery is at sail in and sail out. Both of which you may want to be out on deck for.
My suggestion was to choose a balcony over and Inside or Oceanview cabin only if she rated the upside and experience worth the extra costs.
Personally, I always chose a balcony when cruising in the Mediterranean, or pretty much anywhere, as I like being able to step out into the fresh air, sit there in the evenings when sailing and for the floor-to-wall windows and light.
I pointed out that on her cruise she will likely have no or few sea days. So is not going to use the balcony on a sea day to relax. Plus, as many of the Mediterranean ports, particularly in the Western Mediterranean, are working ports and not the most attractive, the views sitting out on port days may not be that exciting.
Talking to Winnie, she, like me, decided she wouldn’t be getting it for the views, but because she felt an Inside and Oceanview may feel too claustrophobic.
Thinking about the cabin experience that you will enjoy in the Mediterranean avoids the trap of falling into booking something for views that may not be there or choosing a cabin that reduces your enjoyment. A cheaper cabin may not be good value if you find it stifling.
View more of my cruising tips.
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