A Mediterranean cruise offers an alluring combination of travel to some of Europe’s most romantic and culturally rich cities, with a diverse range of cruise ships and itineraries. Mediterranean cruises are ideal for cruise beginners, with shorter cruises of seven days offering a whistle-stop tour of historic destinations such as Venice, Rome, Barcelona and islands such as Sardinia and Sicily.
Add in reassuringly predictable weather that is warm and sunny from May to early September with the call of winter sun in Canaries post-September, and it’s little wonder that a Mediterranean cruise is the most popular cruise destination for Brits. With the added benefit of home-port access, such as 14-day cruises from Southampton and cheap flights to join cruises leaving from cities such as Rome.
Look further afield to the Eastern Mediterranean and you can immerse yourself in a world of archaeological treasures and oriental splendour. From being transfixed by the waters of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast to wandering around the ruins of the Palace of Knossos in Crete or visiting the minarets of Istanbul, it’s little wonder that a Mediterranean cruise offers such a wide range of options for all cruise budgets and tastes.
Mediterranean cruise 2019
Once you’ve decided on a Mediterranean cruise for 2019, your next decision is whether to cruise the Western Mediterranean or the Eastern Mediterranean. We’ve pulled together insider cruising tips on how to choose the best cruise location, so you can get ahead for booking a Mediterranean cruise 2019.
Western Mediterranean cruises – how to choose
Cruise itineraries that take in the Western Mediterranean are incredibly popular – meaning you have lots of choices when it comes to the cruise line, ship and itinerary. You’ll find cruises that visit of the major Mediterranean ports and attractions as well as smaller, less-known destinations. There’s a dizzying array of cities to visit, such as Rome, Seville, Nice, Florence, Venice and Barcelona, as well as smaller European islands such as Sicily and Sardinia.
With so many cruises on offer, prices are competitive and you may be able to bag a bargain. It’s little wonder a Western Mediterranean cruise is the most popular for Brits – though river cruising in Europe is witnessing a surge in popularity.
Read our guide to river cruises Europe to discover luxury and cheap river cruises in Europe with itineraries to help you choose the best river cruise for you.
There are plenty of round-trip Mediterranean cruises departing from Southampton and other UK ports. Or you can take a cheap flight to departure points such as Rome, Barcelona or Venice to start your cruise adventure.
Western Mediterranean cruise – what to consider
Sailing time – While short Mediterranean cruises of less than seven days are a perfect introduction for cruise novices, be wary of those that offer a packed itinerary. Sailing down a tick-box list of destinations, overnighting in a different port can be a little joyless. The tight turnaround means onshore excursions or visits to a city such as Barcelona can be limited to just a few hours. For a more relaxing experience and chance to explore the Mediterranean, opt for a longer cruise of 14-nights.
Ship size – Cruise ship size matters as it can impact the ports and tourist destinations you visit on your Mediterranean cruise. While Barcelona and Venice are undoubtedly must-sees, during the summer months visitors from all the docked cruises ships simply swelling the throng of tourists crowding the streets. Smaller ships can dock in smaller ports, offering a more off-the-beaten-track itinerary. Check a Mediterranean cruise line’s itinerary carefully before booking. Some cruise destinations, such as Rome, actually involve docking at a port such as Civitavecchia and require a one-and-a-half-hour coach trip to Italy’s capital – leaving precious little time for sightseeing.
Time of year – Peak season for Western Mediterranean cruises 2019 is April to October. Be aware that June to August is very busy, with full cruises that are booked early and packed ports that may make sightseeing less pleasurable. Instead, consider a Western Mediterranean cruise in the shoulder periods of April or late-September onwards. They benefit from slightly cheaper cabins and fewer crowds. In winter, many cruise lines sail south to the Canaries, but all-year-round cruises are available.
Western Mediterranean cruises – which cruise lines sail there?
You’re spoilt for choice in terms of Mediterranean cruise lines. Most cruise lines offer Mediterranean cruises, including Fred. Olsen, Cunard, Saga, P&O, Viking Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines. Increasingly, Mediterranean cruises are attracting larger ships. If you’re looking for a large ship, floating hotel experience, the Royal Caribbean’s Harmony Of The Seas hosts 6,000 passengers, while the Holland America’s Line Koningsdam has room for over 2,600 passengers.
Western Mediterranean cruises – worth knowing
While large ships offer a hotel experience, cheaper cabins and an itinerary that takes in the major cities – ideal for those new to cruising – they do have limited port access. For the widest range of ports, look for cruise ships that host few than 1,500 passengers.
As with all Mediterranean travel, summer is hot. Use plenty of sunscreen, wear a hat and limit exposure to the sun between 12noon and 3pm. The sea breeze can be deceiving and it’s possible to burn quickly. When onshore, take bottled water. It’s also worth thinking about tacking on a few extra days in the departure or last port city to soak up the local atmosphere.
Eastern Mediterranean cruises – how to choose
For an amazing cultural experience, an Eastern Mediterranean cruise is hard to beat. Eastern Mediterranean cruises can take in Israel and Lebanon, sailing up the Eastern Mediterranean via the Turkish coast and up via the Ionian Sea to the Adriatic. The scenery is jaw-dropping: from the sparkling blue waters of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast to the crystal-clear waters of the Greek islands. Historical and archaeological treasures abound from classical Athens and the Minoan ruins in Crete to Jerusalem’s golden Dome of the Rock. Typically, cruise ships depart from Rome or Venice and head south east or from Athens or Istanbul, which means you’ll need to arrange flights to the departure destinations.
Eastern Mediterranean cruise – what to consider
Time of year – As with Western Mediterranean cruises, the month of travel makes a difference. Peak season is June to September when you’re guaranteed endless sun and clear skies. However, July and August’s high temperatures can make onshore excursions arduous, and crowds of holidaymakers can make enjoying the sights harder.
Consider booking at the very start or end of the season for an Eastern Mediterranean cruise 2019. The weather in May and late-September is still warm and crowds are fewer. Many cruise lines operate throughout the year, so if you’re not a sun worshipper, you can enjoy winter sightseeing in peace without the crowds.
Ship size – Look, too, at the size of the ship on the Eastern Mediterranean cruise you are considering booking. Larger ships ply specific, popular routes including Athens, Venice and Rhodes. Smaller ships may lack the floating hotel feel but have the benefit of sliding into less accessible ports particularly on the smaller Greek islands.
Costs – Don’t forget to factor in the cost of flights. Typically, flights to departure ports aren’t included in most Eastern Mediterranean cruise deals, although some cruise lines do sell inclusive fly cruise packages with scheduled flights. Flights can add considerably to the cost so book early to secure a good deal.
Book your cruise as soon as details of the itinerary are released to get the best price and secure the cabin you want. Be sure to book with a price guarantee so if the price drops you can get the difference refunded.
Alternatively, if you’re flexible with travel times, cabin type and itinerary, hold out for a last minute bargain. Due to the sheer number of cruise lines sailing in the Mediterranean, last minute discounts do surface just before sailing. Look out for them around 60 to 90 days before departure to grab a cruise bargain.
Eastern Mediterranean cruises – which cruise lines sail there?
Most large cruise lines operate in the Eastern Mediterranean and some offer all-inclusive fly cruise packages with scheduled airlines – taking some of the hassle out of organising your own flights. Check out some of the larger cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Cunard and P&O. Smaller cruise lines include SeaDream and SilverSea, while Swan Hellenic (now owned by G Adventures) is a good choice for cultural buffs with its emphasis on culture and tailoring excursions to offer a more detailed exploration of cultural history for each of its onshore excursions.
Eastern Mediterranean cruises – worth knowing
The political climate in some Eastern Mediterranean destinations can see sudden itineraries changes. Check foreign travel advice before travelling and use official excursions when onshore.
Summer can be extremely hot in the Eastern Mediterranean – pack sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses. The sea breeze is deceptive and you may burn before you know it, especially early on in a cruise which can make the remaining cruise unpleasant. Take bottled water when on excursions to help prevent dehydration.
Read our guide on avoiding heat stroke and heat exhaustion.