How to choose your very first Mediterranean Cruise

Choosing among the many Mediterranean cruises is no easy task, especially if this is your first Mediterranean cruise, or indeed your first cruise ever.

In this article we look at what to be aware of and the most important things to consider before deciding which cruise is right for you and your family.

The different types of Mediterranean cruise

Let’s start off by looking at the 3 main regions to choose between when looking at choice of Mediterranean cruises.

Western Mediterranean Cruise

You will find most Western Mediterranean cruises port intensive – that is to say you most often will visit a new port each day of your cruise. This is a great way to see the countries of Spain, France and Italy and many major tourist cities in one and the same trip.

Most often western Mediterranean cruises start from Civitavecchia port near Rome, or from the port of Barcelona .

Ports you will visit in the Mediterranean sea may include Marseilles (France), La Spezia (Italy), Palma de Mallorca, Naples (Italy), Livorno (Italy), Nice (France) and Sicily (Italy) amongst others.

A Western Mediterranean cruise sets sails every week with all the major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and MSC Cruises during the cruise season of April to October.

Eastern Mediterranean Cruise

A Eastern Mediterranean cruise sets sail most often from the Italian ports of either Trieste, Ravenna -both are which are being used as an alternative to Venice – and Bari or Rome.

Ports stops will include those along the Adriatic coast and include ports such as Split and Dubrovnik (Croatia), Koper (Slovenia), Corfu (Greece) and Kontor (Montenegro).

This cruise offers stunning destinations in Italy and on the Adriatic coast.

Greek Isles

Most cruises that are focussed on the beautiful Greek Isles will leave from the port of Pireas, outside of Athens. These cruise give more of a relaxed, beach vacation. You visit small islands such as Santorini and Mykanos, as well as the larger islands of Corfu and Crete.

And of course you should begin your cruise vacation by spending time in the ancient city of Athens.

Our favorite option is to actually choose a cruise that include the Greek Isles with the Adriatic coastal ports of Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia.

On a Greek Isles cruise expect white-washed villages, ancient sights, and fantastic beaches.

Consider the origin and destination of your cruise

When the cruise line states the starting point of your cruise, for example in Barcelona, remember that this is your embarkation day port. If you want to explore the city of Barcelona you need to arrive several days before the start of your cruise.

Otherwise you may only get a glimpse of your embarkation city on your way from the airport. So whilst the embarkation port is listed as part of your cruise itinerary, it is up to you to ensure you book extra days to enjoy the city.

And this is a good thing, as we always recommend that you arrive at least 2 days before the start of your cruise. This will help avoid problems created by possible missed flight connections, delays or cancellations which could result in your arrival being delayed. You do not want to miss your cruise departure.

If your cruise ends in a different city, give yourself time to see the city before heading home. If you book a shore excursion with the cruise line, often this will just be an excursion which ends at the airport. Plan to stay at least one night in a hotel so you have time to see and explore the final destination on your cruise itinerary.

Distance from the actual port to the city

This is one of the most often overlooked facts when booking a cruise. The location of the port may be quite a long way from the actual city your are visiting.

This means making your own transport arrangements or booking a shore excursion with an independent supplier or with your cruise line.

We also recommend taking a backpack with you in your luggage. Shore excursions are often a long day taking into consideration the time it takes to get from and to the cruise ship. It’s a good idea to include sun protection and a water bottle on your cruise packing list.

Here are some examples of some of the most popular cities where the ports are located quite far from the city itself. You will need to plan your transportation, whether it’s with the cruise line, an independent tour operator or by yourself using local transport.

  • Venice – you are probably aware that new regulations now prohibit many cruise ships from docking in Venice itself. Many cruise lines are using the ports of Trieste and Ravenna, both of which are located a couple of hours outside of Venice. The good news is there are good rail connections.
  • Florence & Pisa – Livorno is the port that welcomes cruise lines visiting these beautiful destinations. Florence is particular is stunning and on many a bucket list. It takes around 40 minutes to get to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower, and at least 90 minutes to get to Florence from the port of Livorno.
  • Rome – cruise ships departing from or visiting Rome actually use the port of Civitavecchia, located about 1 hour northeast of Rome. There are good transport links including rail options to help you get to and from the Civitavecchia port.
  • La Spezia – this is a popular northern Italian port situated on the west coast of Italy. La Spezia is around 1.5 hours to idyllic Portofino, and a visit to the stunning coastal region of Cinque Terre takes about 50 minutes.
  • Athens – the port is called Piraeus and is located a 40 minute ride from Athens itself. We usually recommend a taxi or ship transfer.
  • Provence – if you have always dreamed of visiting Provence, you can get the chance on a Western Mediterranean cruise by ensuring your itinerary includes a port call in either Marseilles or Toulon. Port excursions from either of these places take at least an hour’s transfer time to Provence.

How to choose the right cruise ship with the right itinerary

Our recommendation is to look first at the itinerary. Look closely at the places you will be visiting. Some of these at least have most likely been on your bucket list for a long time.

You will find when comparing cruise ships and cruise lines, many of them offer similar stops and routes in the Mediterranean. Check how long the cruise ship plans on staying in the port. A closer look at your itinerary will reveal if you have only a half day or a full day to explore on land. Some cruise ships even stayed docked in port overnight so you can enjoy the city by night too.

Then turn your attention into finding the ship that offers the cruise you want at the right price.

If you can afford a luxury cruise on a top class cruise line such as Regent or Viking cruises, then you will travel in luxury. Otherwise compare lines such as MSC Cruises with Royal or Celebrity.

Tips for choosing the best cabin that suits you

Many cruise guests who cruise time and time again choose only balcony cabins, or if their budget allows, suites.

A balcony can enhance your cruise in giving you extra square meters living space. It’s also a place to sit out and enjoy the sunny mornings or an evening drink. And a way to get some fresh air in your very own living space.

But be sure you are choosing a type of cabin for the right reasons. If you genuinely think you will be spending quite a bit of time in your cabin, or you want to keep costs down and are a family of 4 sharing one cabin and you want the additional space, then these are very valid reasons.

You may want to bear in mind though that if you are choosing a port-intensive Mediterranean cruise, there may not have one full day on board. There will be many sights you’ll want to visit when the ship is in port. And therefore you may be in your cabin much less than you think.

If you like to be up early to use the gym or enjoy breakfast before the crowds, then you perhaps won’t use your balcony so much. Sail away parties are great and whilst you can enjoy the view of leaving or arriving in port from your balcony, the views are often better up on the top deck.

So think hard about how you would use a balcony before paying out the extra expense. Better still, look out for special campaigns prices or bid for an upgrade. Look at programs such as Royal Caribbean’s Royal Up.

Inside cabins without a window are the least expensive. Perhaps you are on a budget or just plan to use your cabin to sleep in? Then an inside cabin may be just what you’re looking for. However outside cabins with windows do make a big different as they let natural light into your room. And you may find the price difference between the two different categories is not that much.

When is the best time to cruise the Mediterranean?

It may be difficult if you are travelling with school-age children, but we recommend avoiding the peak of summer for a Mediterranean cruise.

Our tip is to travel in May or September, these are shoulder months and both the weather and the cost will be in your favor. It even works to cruise in the Mediterranean during April and October, however the weather can be more unpredictable. But if this doesn’t bother you then you can often save big on your total costs.

What to expect in the peak summer months of July and August:

Your cruise vacation will still be wonderful if you travel in July or August, but beware of the following:

  • Children will be on summer vacation. That means bigger crowds – everywhere.
  • The weather is at it’s hottest in the Mediterranean during July and August. Expect to swelter, especially in Greece.
  • Flights, hotels and cruises are all more expensive during these peak months.

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..