Exploring Southern Europe from another continent can be very costly and involves making hotel reservations in several different cities, depending on where you wish to travel. You will also need to move your luggage with you from city to city and in some cases may need to take flights or long train rides to get from place to place.
Road-trips and trains are both popular choices, but for people looking to see a lot of different cities on a budget, and without the fuss of constant travel, a Mediterranean cruise can be the perfect choice.
Benefits of Taking a Cruise
The biggest benefit of taking a cruise is not worrying about how to get from city to city. The cruise ship will move you from port to port and you will enjoy the same accommodations throughout the entire trip.
Seeing Europe can be very expensive. Not only do you need to pay for entry into the biggest landmarks and destinations, but the meals and drinks are also quiet pricy, particularly in the bigger cities. With a cruise all your meals are included and alcoholic drinks may also be provided free of charge, although this depends on the company and the service you choose. For instance, Celebrity Cruise Line offers a beverage package as an option and includes it in the price of the cruise.
Knowing roughly what your cost will be for food/beverages and lodging ahead of time will allow you to budget the rest of your funds for excursions, or for staying a few nights in some of the cities on your travels.
Selecting a Cruise Line
There are typically two options when selecting a Mediterranean cruise. The first will include stops in places like Spain, France and Italy. The second will include places further east like Greece and Turkey. There are plenty of web sites that offer reviews of various ships and cruise lines. One of the most popular sites for cruise line reviews is cruisecritic.com. Here you will find reviews and comments from people who have been on the ships and in many cases participated in the same itinerary that your cruise will have.
Be sure you study the routes as well as the cruise line and the ships, as you want a route that will stop at the places you want to go. If you are looking to get a few extra days in a city like Barcelona or Rome, try selecting a cruise that begins or finishes there. This way you can add a few extra days to the front or back end of your trip and spend more time seeing all the beauty and splendour that a city like Barcelona or Rome has to offer.
When to Go
Mediterranean cruise season typically runs from spring through late fall. The most crowded and popular time to cruise will be during the summer months, which is when most people are on vacation or holiday. The weather in many of the cities during the summer can be very hot and the wait times to see many of the attractions in major cities like Barcelona, Rome and Florence can be very long.
If you can arrange your schedule to travel between mid-September and mid-October you will still have good weather and the lines will be much shorter, giving you a chance to spend more time in the places you visit or time to see a few extra sites you may not have had time to visit during the peak tourist season. Don’t forget that the further north you go, the colder it all be during these months; stop-offs in France, for instance, might be rather brisk at this time of year.
Planning your Excursions
The ship you are on will typically spend between 8-12 hours in port at each stop. This will give you the day to explore the area and see some of the major attractions of the city. Occasionally the ship may dock overnight in the port, giving you more time to see the city and enjoy an evening on the town.
The ship will offer a wide variety of excursions at each port. This will give you the opportunity to decide which sites you would like to see or what activities you would like to participate in. The drawback of taking an excursion with the cruise line is that the groups can be rather large and you will pay more than if planning excursions on your own.
There are many reputable companies that offer a variety of excursion options for you to choose from. Cruise Critic offers a message board area where you can talk to other passengers that will be on your ship. This gives you the opportunity to find other people who are interested in taking excursions outside of those offered by the cruise line. While many of the sites you will visit on these excursions will be the same as the ones you would visit on an excursion with the cruise line, the group size will be much smaller and will allow you to move more quickly. Also, many times the tour guides on these small excursions will have some excellent restaurant recommendations or will be able to take you to a few places off the beaten path, places that are not included in a typical cruise line excursion. This will give you an opportunity to experience Europe as it should be experienced.
In addition to smaller tour sizes, the prices will also be cheaper on these private excursions. These private companies will still pick you up directly at the ship and make sure you make it back before the ship departs for its next destination. You can use sites like TripAdvisor to read reviews of the various companies that offer private excursions for cruise passengers.
What to do While at Sea
While the majority of your time on the cruise will be spent off the ship seeing a variety of different cities in Europe, there will still be plenty of time to enjoy all that your ship has to offer. When you are at sea you can enjoy a cold drink by the pool or a nice relaxing massage, and all the while you’ll be able to admire the view of the Mediterranean.
In the evening the ship will offer a variety of different shows, from musical acts to comedy, to keep you entertained. And if you like to gamble you can try your luck at the ship’s casino, just make sure you don’t blow your holiday fund.
There are also a variety of bars onboard that will allow you to enjoy the amazing night sky or a quiet drink with someone special.
Dining on the Ship
Breakfast and lunch will be served in the buffet area of the ship on a daily basis, and if you are spending time by the pool you can grab a burger or hot dog from the grill. Most ships offer room service as well. This will allow you to have a quick breakfast delivered to your room so you can eat before heading out.
Dinner is served in the main dining room, which will usually have a dress code, but this all depends not he cruise line and the ship. Most ships also have a variety of a la carte restaurants to select from. Typically there is an extra fee for these restaurants, but you can buy a package to try several of them at a reduced cost. The a la carte restaurants are usually worth the price you pay.
In the main dining you will usually be sitting with a group, while in the a la carte restaurants you will be able to enjoy more privacy at a table for two.
Disadvantages of Seeing Europe by Ship
While seeing Europe by cruise is very economical and convenient, there are some drawbacks.
First, you will be limited to what you can see by the itinerary of the cruise ship. The cruise ships will only allow you to see cities close to the water. Some of them of offer trips further in land, but these can be costly, eating up a lot of time and ensuring that you spend most of your trip on the road.
You will also have a very limited amount of time to spend in each of the cities you visit. Most cities along the cruise itinerary offer lot to see and do, and you will probably miss most of these despite the fact that you will spend all of your time trying to do them all. You could spend three or four days in a city like Rome visiting many different museums and historical sites, but the ship may only be docked in Rome for twelve hours and that won’t give you nearly enough to see everything Rome has to offer. That is why if there is one particular city you wish to spend more time in, you should try to find a cruise that starts or ends in that city. A cruise can also be seen as a “sampler” holiday, allowing you to pick and choose destinations for future holidays.
Europe also offers a ton of great food that you may miss out on by being on a cruise. Typically, cruise ships leave port before dinner and you won’t have the opportunity to enjoy the great food on offer in the countries that you visit. One way to alleviate this problem would be to eat lunch on land. This will give you an opportunity to experience some of the great foods available. The only drawback of eating lunch on land is it will cut in to the already limited time that you have to sightsee.
Another problem with seeing Europe on a cruise is that you may not feel as relaxed as you would on a typical Caribbean cruise. Ships usually dock early in the morning and you will need to be up and off the ship very early in order to maximize your time in each city. There are usually a few at sea days built in to the itinerary though to allow for some rest and relaxation.
As you can see, there are many pros and cons to seeing Europe on a Mediterranean Cruise. However, if you are on a budget, cruising is definitely the way to go.