Mediterranean cruises are for travelers who want to get a taste of Europe without the hassles of traveling from country to country on land. Itineraries take the form of “If it’s Tuesday, we must be in Venice” as each day guests awake in a new port. If you want to spend lots of time in each city and experience European nightlife, a Mediterranean cruise is not for you. However, if you want to unpack once, have all the travel details handled for you, and see as many places as you can in one week, you might want to book a cruise to the Continent.
Another advantage of a cruise rather than a land tour of Europe is price. On a Mediterranean sailing, you pay for accommodations, transportation, food, and drinks in U.S. dollars. The only time you’ll have to deal with euros and bad exchange rates is when you book excursions independent of the cruise line or purchase snacks and souvenirs in port. If you’re worried about the possible expense of a European vacation because the dollar is soft against the euro, a cruise is an ideal way to save money while seeing the same sights.
The majority of Mediterranean cruises sail between May and October, with some lines offering itineraries in late April or early November as well. Costa is one of the few lines that offer departures to this region all year round. You may find better deals on shoulder season cruises, but before you book, make sure you look up average temperatures. A cold-weather cruise can be a lovely escape from the summer crowds or a futile struggle against rain and chill.
Where you’ll go and what you’ll do
Mediterranean cruises can take several forms. Western Mediterranean voyages visit major cities in Spain, France, and Italy, as well as more exotic locations such as Monte Carlo and Dubrovnik. Eastern Mediterranean itineraries focus on Greece and Turkey and the islands of the Aegean Sea. Longer itineraries may combine eastern and western cities, as well as Atlantic ports and North African cities.
When choosing an itinerary, it’s essential to note the actual ports where a ship will be docking. Cruise ships don’t sail to Athens, Florence, or Rome. Instead, they call at Piraeus, Livorno, and Civitavecchia, requiring a transfer to the big-name cities. For instance, travel time from Civitavecchia to Rome can take between one-and-a-half and two hours. So three to four hours of your one day in town will be spent getting to and from Rome. If you choose to see the sights on your own, rather than going on a cruise-affiliated shore excursion, you will need to be hypervigilant about leaving enough time to get back to the ship, accounting for traffic and other potential delays.
You’ll also want to decide whether to spend more time exploring cultural and historical sites or enjoying the Mediterranean sun. Cities like Rome, Florence, Athens, and Istanbul offer a wealth of ancient sites, museums, religious buildings, and other cultural institutions. Itineraries that focus on the Greek Isles or the Balearic Islands allow sun-worshippers to lay out on Mediterranean sands. Many cruises offer a combination of education and relaxation if you can’t decide what appeals to you more.
Which cruise lines sail to the Mediterranean?
Almost every cruise line sails to the Mediterranean, from lower-priced mainstream to upper-class luxury lines. Short cruises are rare with one- to two-week sailings the norm. Here’s what the cruise lines are offering:
Carnival: Carnival sails 12-night itineraries from Civitavecchia/Rome aboard the Carnival Freedom and Carnival Liberty.
Celebrity: Celebrity sails seven- to 14-night itineraries from Barcelona, Civitavecchia/Rome, Piraeus/Athens, and Venice aboard the Century, Galaxy, and Millennium.
Crystal: Crystal sails seven- to 12-night itineraries from Civitavecchia/Rome, Istanbul, London, Monte Carlo, Piraeus/Athens, and Venice aboard the Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony.
Cunard: Cunard sails 10- to 24-night itineraries from New York and Southampton aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 and the Queen Mary 2.
Holland America: Holland America sails 10- to 28-night itineraries from Civitavecchia/Rome, Lisbon, Piraeus/Athens, and Venice aboard the ms Noordam, ms Prinsendam, ms Rotterdam, ms Veendam, and ms Westerdam.
Norwegian: Norwegian sails seven- and 12-night itineraries from Barcelona, Istanbul, and Piraeus/Athens aboard the Norwegian Jewel.
Princess: Princess sails seven- to 19-night itineraries from Barcelona, Civitavecchia/Rome, London, Piraeus/Athens, and Venice aboard the Emerald Princess, Golden Princess, Grand Princess, Royal Princess, Sea Princess, and Star Princess.
Regent: Regent sails six- to 11-night itineraries from Barcelona, Civitavecchia/Rome, Dover, Funchal, Istanbul, London, Monte Carlo, Nice, Piraeus/Athens, and Venice aboard the Seven Seas Navigator and Seven Seas Voyager.
Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean sails three- to 14-night itineraries from Barcelona, Civitavecchia/Rome, Istanbul, Southampton, and Venice aboard the Brilliance of the Seas, Legend of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Splendour of the Seas, and Voyager of the Seas.
Seabourn Seabourn sails six- to 18-night itineraries from Barcelona, Civitavecchia/Rome, Istanbul, Lisbon, Monte Carlo, Nice, Piraeus/Athens, and Venice aboard the Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Pride, and Seabourn Spirit.
Silversea: Silversea sails seven- to 15-night itineraries from Alexandria, Barcelona, Civitavecchia/Rome, Genoa, Istanbul, Lisbon, Monte Carlo, Nice, Piraeus/Athens, Venice, and Villefranche-sur-Mer aboard the Silver Cloud, Silver Whisper, and Silver Wind.
Costa, Disney, MSC Cruises, Oceania, and Windstar also sail Mediterranean voyages. For more information about any Mediterranean cruises, contact the cruise line or a travel agent.