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European Cruises - Everything You Need to Know

European cruises have been extremely popular with travelers because they provide an opportunity to explore several European cities on just one trip without having to worry about hotels, train tickets and restaurants. Plus, they provide a lot more entertainment options than the popular-in-the-past land tours, especially for families. However, for many first-time Europe cruisers, there are too many options, and choosing one can be very confusing. We constantly get questions from our clients about European cruise options, so here is an overview of the most popular itineraries and questions.

When to go?

The European cruise season typically starts in early- to mid-April, when many of the major cruise lines move their ships from the Caribbean to Europe, and ends in November, when ships transition back to the Caribbean for the holiday season. You will find the lowest pricing in April/May and October/November, but this is also the time when weather in Europe can be unpredictable. Sometimes you may be in luck and get amazing and sunny weather in April but you may also get a lot of rainy and/or cold days to spoil some of your tours. Especially for Northern Europe, Norway and the British Isles, the best time to go is June through August.

What to expect?

European cruises are very port-intense, with many 7 or 10-day cruises having only 1 sea day. For most people, this means a great opportunity to explore as many cities as possible. However, keep in mind that most tours in Europe involve a lot of walking, so 7 days of walking around busy cities may become tiring. In some cases like Rome and Florence, the port may be 1-2 hours away from the city and you may be spending up to 4 hours in travel, so prepare for long days. Also, during the summer most European cruises are completely full, which means the tours organized by the ship may be crowded, you may have to wait in lines or not be able to hear the guide very well. That is why private tours may be a best option during those busy months.

Which cruise line and what cabin to choose?

All the major cruise lines offer cruises in Europe, so if you don’t already have a preference or loyalty to one specific line, Europe is one place where you really can’t go wrong, regardless of which line you choose. Of course, some cruise lines provide more luxurious accommodations and things like free drinks and amazing specialty restaurants. However, Europe is a place where you will most likely spend most of your time outside the ship, as you try to explore as much of the destinations as possible. Even if the food on the ship is not to your liking, one of the reasons why people travel to Europe is to try an authentic Neapolitan pizza, Spanish tapas or a French pastry.

For that same reason, Europe is probably the only place where choosing a lower-level cabin may not be so bad. Not only will you be spending very limited time on the ship, likely at night, but also the distances between the ports are so short, that most of the time the ships sail entirely at night arriving at a new port by early morning. On the flip side, many times the ships dock right in the middle of the city, so if you choose a balcony cabin, you will be able to relax on your veranda after a long day of walking and sip your drink with a view of Genoa, Barcelona or Gibraltar right in front of you.

Cruising Europe with Kids

For many families, a European cruise is a great opportunity to teach the kids some history while not having to worry about too many unknowns. While you will see kids of all ages onboard, these cruises are probably not quite suited to kids younger than 5. Because the itinerary is usually pretty intense and there is a lot of walking or long tours, younger kids may get tired or bored easily. Every parent knows their kid best, but older kids can usually get a lot more out of a Europe cruise.

Some of the ships sailing Europe (like the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas and the Norwegian Breakaway) are a paradise for children, offering water slides, surf lessons, zip lining and laser tag, providing great balance between history in the port and fun activities on the ship.

Most Popular European Cruises

- Mediterranean Cruises

Med cruises are perfect for first- or second-time Europe cruisers as they provide some of the best pricing, a good glimpse of history and a great variety of destinations. Also, there is a great variety of 7-day cruises, providing affordable options to see Europe on a budget.

Western Med cruises typically sail between Barcelona and Rome. They stop along the coast of Spain (Cartagena, Palma de Mallorca), Italy (Florence, Genoa, Naples) and France (Marseille). Some itineraries offer more exotic stops like Monte Carlo, Cannes and even Gibraltar. These itineraries are great for those looking at a nice mix of activities, combining history with some beach time, food-related experiences and maybe even a visit to the famous Monte Carlo casino.

Eastern Med cruises typically leave out of Rome and may end up back in Rome or in Athens. These cruises always include a few stops in the Greek Isles (Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu) as well as places like Rhodes, Crete, Croatia and even Montenegro. While some of the ports on these itineraries are lesser known than the ports on a Western Med cruise, they provide a much more relaxing option to explore the Med. With great beaches, some unique medieval-history experiences, ships docking in the middle of the ports, and a glimpse into ancient and modern Greece, these itineraries are a great alternative to the Western Med and may be a better option for families with kids.

Baltics & Scandinavia

Cruises to this part of Europe are usually longer (typically 10-14 days) and they leave out of Southampton, England or one of the Scandinavian capitals (Copenhagen, Stockholm). Because of the high port costs in this part of Europe and the length of the cruise, these sailings are more expensive than the Med cruises. However, considering the high prices of hotels and food in Scandinavia, a cruise is still a more affordable option and a chance to see the entire region in two weeks. Most of the sailings spend a day in each of the Scandinavian capitals and continue on to Berlin, Tallinn and St, Petersburg, where they usually spend at least two days. One of the benefits of visiting St. Petersburg on a cruise is that you do not need a visa to tour the city (as long as you are on a tour purchased from the cruise line) and Russian visas are notoriously expensive and hard to get.

Norwegian Fjords Cruises

Leaving out of Southampton, England or Copenhagen, these cruises spend 7 days exploring Norway’s most popular fjords. Some 14-day cruises combine the Norwegian fjords with a few days in Iceland and even a stop on the Faroe Islands. Expect to see amazing views every single day, as the ship winds its way in and out of the fjords. Balcony cabins are highly recommended on these sailings. Waterfalls, glaciers, hiking trips and hot springs and some of the amazing things you will experience on these cruises and they are perfect for families with younger kids, because most of the activities are outdoors. Weather may be chilly even in the middle of summer so prepare to dress accordingly.

British Isles Cruises

While not as popular as the Med and Baltics cruises, these 10-14 days cruises provide a great way to explore the British Isles with stops in Glasgow, Dublin, Liverpool, Waterford and even some unique places such as the Channel Islands and Loch Ness, home of the legendary monster. While weather in the British Isles is notoriously unpredictable even in the summer, these cruises are fairly affordable, in many cases selling for less than $1000 per person. Keep in mind that the passengers on these sailings tend to be older, so these are probably not a great choice for families with kids.