europe

It's no secret that cruising is an exceptional way to see Europe. First of all, seeing Europe by cruise is cheaper than touring by land.

Cruise fares typically cover accommodations, meals in main dining venues, kids club activities, and entertainment, from enrichment classes to theatrical performances, though it's important to note the extras, such as spa treatments, meals in boutique restaurants, fitness classes, casino gambling, and cocktails and specialty drinks.

And don't forget, too, that cruise fares include the cost of transportation between ports. On any given voyage, you'll visit a variety of European cities, in some cases covering three or more countries. Some cruises combine two regions such as Western Europe and the Baltic or the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. Most include what we classify as the “greatest hits” cities of Europe such as Civitavecchia for Rome, Venice, Stockholm, Barcelona and Piraeus for Athens. Other sailings also offer tantalizing tastes of lesser-known places, including Tunisia Tunis, Malta's Valletta and Estonia's Tallinn.

There are other challenges, too. Europe is huge, so there are a great many itineraries from which to choose. It can seem daunting if you don't know where to start. Europe's main regions include Northern Europe (Norway's fjords and the Baltic); Western Europe (England, Atlantic France, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium), and the Mediterranean.

Of all of Europe's cruise regions, the Western Mediterranean offers the most of everything.  Arts and culture, surf and sand, cafe hopping and boutique shopping. It encompasses the absolute best variety of sights, attractions and activities.

Itineraries that sail the Western Mediterranean typically emphasize ports of call in Spain, France and Italy with a few interesting detours along the way. These could also include stops in Portugal (primarily Lisbon, though Porto is occasionally featured), Canary Islands, Morocco (Casablanca and Tangier), Tunis (La Goulette), Monte Carlo and Gibraltar. Within these choices, however, actual ports of call vary wildly and can include everything from France's oh-so-chic Villefranche to Italy's open-air museum of Florence.

Because the euro's value can fluctuate wildly against the U.S. dollar, it can be much cheaper to cruise to Europe than plan a land-based trip. For value-conscious U.S. travelers, a cruise helps to soften the blow of big-ticket items like hotels and restaurants.

It used to be that most Western Mediterranean cruises set sail during spring, summer and fall. These days, however, cruise lines are offering year-round programs in the region. Costa and MSC Cruises are two lines that sail year-round voyages, and, while Barcelona and Marseilles remain on itineraries, the ships often move farther south to Morocco and the Canary Islands (technically in the Atlantic) during the cooler months.

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western mediterranean cruise lines

When sailing the Western Mediterranean, one of the toughest choices for cruise travelers can be ship size. Big ships tend to visit big ports with the "greatest hits" of the Western Mediterranean destinations, such as Florence, Rome and Barcelona. Almost all major lines offer such sailings, including Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Disney.

For a more European feel, consider cruising the region with a company based on the continent. Costa and  MSC Cruises, both headquartered in Italy, offer shorter and often cheaper itineraries. British lines P&O, Thomson and Cunard have numerous sailings, while the German line Hapag-Lloyd provides the ultimate in luxury.

Other luxury vessels, including Regent Seven Seas, Azamara, Crystal, Silversea, Oceania and Seabourn, also ply this region of the Mediterranean. Often, these voyages not only visit smaller ports like Portofino, Cannes and Capri, but they are longer in duration and also travel to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Early spring and late fall sailings offer the advantage of more competitive fares, fewer crowds in port and more pleasant temperatures. Plus more things are open; Europeans notoriously take the entire month of August off, and many restaurants are closed in the middle of summer. Conversely, families might want to cruise from mid-June to mid-August, when ship's children's facilities are running at full speed. The one drawback is fares may be pricier and ports most definitely will be more crowded, many with Europeans taking their own holidays. 

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western mediterranean itineraries

Less than Seven Nights - Costa has typically been one of the few lines to offer Western Mediterranean cruises that are less than a week in length, with some sailings only lasting three days. Embarkation is usually out of Genoa or Barcelona, with a stop in Marseilles, Mallorca, Corsica or Tunisia. Disney, Royal Caribbean, Azamara and Oceania also have a few four and five-night offerings. Expect less time in port and few, if any, sea days.

Seven to 12 Nights - The more typical Western Mediterranean cruises are between seven and 12 nights, leaving from major ports like Rome, Barcelona and Marseilles; Costa is an exception, with departures from Genoa and Palermo. On a cruise that long, expect to hit the highlights, plus have a day or two at sea. These itineraries can also include stops in the Canary Islands, Morocco and Tunisia.

Western Mediterranean cruises also depart from U.K. ports, such as London's Harwich, Dover and Southampton. One potential disadvantage to departing for a Western Mediterranean itinerary from one of the United Kingdom's three ports is that ships have to cross the Bay of Biscay, which can be smooth as glass or rough depending on time of season.

As a cruise region, the Eastern Mediterranean encompasses a broad range of territories that include the Adriatic coast of Italy and make stops in Dubrovnik, Croatia;  the islands of Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, Greece. Some cruises dip down into what's called the Holy Land, with stops in Cyprus, Haifa and Jerusalem, Israel and when it's safe enough to do so, Egypt.

This region is increasingly one of the most popular in Europe. Its blend of ancient histories and antiquities along with more laid-back treasures, such as beaches and villages, offers a fantastic array of holiday options. It's the kind of getaway that can appeal to almost everyone in a diverse group, from kids who will love donkey rides in Santorini to history buffs who will go on and on about their stops in Ephesus.

The cornerstone ports for most Eastern Mediterranean voyages are the cities of Athens, served by the port of Piraeus, Venice and Istanbul. In other instances, cruise lines mix a bit of the Western Mediterranean with the Eastern and may start or end voyages in Rome, served by Civitavecchia, Barcelona or Genoa.

best time to cruise eastern mediterranean

Generally speaking, most Eastern Mediterranean cruises set sail from spring through fall, with the summer high season hosting the largest number of sailings and people. Prices are also generally higher, due to demand. Summer's the time, as well, when the region gets hot, hot, hot. Spring and fall offer lower temperatures, better prices and fewer crowds.

Winter cruising in the Mediterranean has become more popular, particularly on European lines like MSC and Costa, because sunny skies predominate, and temperatures are moderate, ranging from the 50s to 70s instead of the 80s and higher. You won't have to jostle with peak-season crowds, cruise lines feature longer itineraries with more leisurely schedules, and prices offer more value for your money.

When sailing the Eastern Mediterranean, cruisers are spoiled for choice. Eastern Mediterranean destinations, such as Venice, Athens and Istanbul. Almost all major lines offer such sailings, including Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Disney.

Luxury vessels also travel to this region of the Mediterranean including Regent Seven Seas, Azamara, Crystal, Silversea, Oceania and Seabourn. Often, these voyages not only visit smaller ports like Hvar, Split, Mykonos, Santorini and Cyprus, but they're longer in duration.