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.

This article highlights the most important things to consider before deciding which cruise is right for you.

The different types of Mediterranean cruise

There are three main regions to choose between when looking at Mediterranean cruises.

Western Mediterranean Cruise

You will find most Western Mediterranean cruises are port-intensive. That is, you will most often visit a new port each day of your cruise. It’s a great way to see key cities in Spain, France, and Italy on the same trip.

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

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

A Western Mediterranean cruise is possible with all the major cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, and MSC Cruises. The cruise season is from April to October.

Eastern Mediterranean Cruise

An Eastern Mediterranean cruise sails from the Italian ports of Trieste, Ravenna, Bari, or Rome.

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

Eastern Mediterranean cruises offer stunning destinations in Italy and on the Adriatic coast.

Greek Isles

Most cruises focused on the beautiful Greek Isles will leave from the port of Pireas, outside Athens. These cruises give more of a relaxing beach vacation. You visit small islands such as Santorini and Mykonos and 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 choose a cruise that includes 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. If you want to explore the city of Barcelona, you must 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 while 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. We always recommend that you arrive at least two days before the start of your cruise. This helps to avoid problems of possible missed flight connections, delays, or cancellations. You do not want to miss your cruise departure.

If your cruise ends at a different port, give yourself time to see the city before heading home. A shore excursion with the cruise line is often just a city tour that ends at the airport. Plan one night or more at a hotel so you can 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 port’s location may be quite a long way from the actual city you are visiting.

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

We also recommend taking a backpack with you in your luggage. Shore excursions often are a whole day, including the time it takes to get from and to the cruise ship. Including sun protection and a water bottle on your cruise packing list is a good idea.

Here are the most popular cities where the ports are located quite far from the city. 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 use the ports of Trieste and Ravenna, which are located a couple of hours outside 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, in particular, is stunning. It takes around 40 minutes to get to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. Allow at least 90 minutes to get to Florence from the port of Livorno.
  • Rome – cruise ships departing from or visiting Rome use the port of Civitavecchia. Civitavecchia is located about 1 hour northeast of Rome. There are good transport links, including rail options to help you get to and from the port.
  • La Spezia – this is a popular northern Italian port situated on the west coast of Italy. La Spezia is around 1.5 hours from idyllic Portofino. And a visit to the stunning coastal region of Cinque Terre takes about 50 minutes.
  • Athens – the port is called Piraeus, a 40-minute ride from Athens. We usually recommend a taxi or ship transfer.
  • Provence – if you have dreamed of visiting Provence, ensure your Western Mediterranean cruise 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 have most likely been on your bucket list for a long time.

When comparing cruise lines, you will find that many 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 stay in port overnight so that you can enjoy the city by night too.

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

If your budget allows for an ultra-luxury cruise with Regent Seven Seas or Seabourne, go for it. Otherwise, compare lines such as MSC Cruises with Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruises.

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 by giving you extra square meters of 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 living space.

But be sure you are choosing a type of cabin for the right reasons. That is if you genuinely think you will spend a lot of time in your cabin. Or if you are a family sharing one cabin and want additional space. Both of these are very valid reasons.

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

If you like to use the gym or enjoy breakfast early, you may not use your balcony so much. And you can enjoy a sail-away from the pool deck where views are often better.

So think hard about how you would use a balcony before paying out the extra expense. Better still, look out for special campaign 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 plan to use your cabin just as a place to sleep. Then an inside cabin may be just what you’re looking for. However, outside cabins with windows make a big difference as they let natural light into your room. And you may find that the price difference between the two categories is not that much.

When is the best time to cruise the Mediterranean?

It may be difficult if you are traveling 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, you can often save on your total costs.

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

Your cruise vacation will still be fantastic 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 its 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..