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By: Zach Custer, Amber Nolan & Elina Vaysbeyn
mediterranean cruise

Sailing the storied waters of the Mediterranean offers a sense of romance and adventure on the high seas that is virtually unsurpassed, with its shimmering, cerulean sea providing access to a staggering array of diversified ports, ranging from sleepy old-world fishing villages nestled by coastal cliffs to bustling and exotic metropolises that span Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. While many Americans first acquire their sea legs hopping between the island paradises of the Caribbean (see our Caribbean Cruises 101), the siren call of the Mediterranean sounds out strong, enticing U.S. travelers to traverse the Atlantic in search of the region’s treasure trove of ports steeped in rich histories and captivating cultures.


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Regardless of the amount of cruise hours you may have logged, there is a ship stationed in the tranquil Mediterranean to fit every passenger’s desire – mainstream mega-ships that are big on activities and value; intimate expedition-style vessels that focus on education; luxury liners that dole out pampering between ports; and tall ships that offer hands-on, back-to-basics sailings are just a sampling of the Mediterranean cruise experiences on hand. In fact, with the Mediterranean now the third most popular cruising destination in the world (following on the heels of the Caribbean and Alaska), the cruise industry has heartily responded to the demand: Since 2000, the number of cruise ship berths in the region has more than tripled (with more than 18,000 available in 2010).


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In order to help you plan your perfect Mediterranean cruise vacation, our cruise experts have rounded up answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, as well as some useful tips for booking Mediterranean cruises. We’ve also broken down the cruise offerings into two main regions: the more popular Western Mediterranean cruises, which largely cover Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, and Morocco, and the more exotic Eastern Mediterranean cruises, which typically take in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Israel, and Egypt. Once you’ve got your feet wet, head over to our Cruise News blog for the latest updates on the industry, or check out our Mediterranean cruise deals section for ways to stretch your travel budget a bit further.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When is Mediterranean cruise season?
How long do Mediterranean cruises last?
What ports do Mediterranean cruises leave from?
What kind of cruise lines operate in the Mediterranean?
How much do Mediterranean cruises cost?

When is Mediterranean cruise season?
Cruising in the Mediterranean is possible year-round, though the peak season lasts from late May to early September. The weather at this time averages highs from 80 to 90 degrees (though temps can spike considerably in ports in Northern Africa and Israel), with a consistent humidity that makes for warm waters (primed for swimming) and little-to-no rain. During the winter months, bargain shoppers will find the lowest rates for Mediterranean cruises, with temperatures hovering in the 50s and ports largely devoid of crowds. But during the fall and spring “sweet spot” months of April, May, September, and October, the lines of high and low season blur, and travelers can find not only good deals, but sublime weather and sightseeing conditions, as well.

High Season: Late May−early September
Low Season: November−March
Sweet Spot: Late April−early May; late September−October

How long do Mediterranean cruises last?
Mediterranean cruises typically last between 5 and 14 nights, and with countless ports to choose from in close proximity, one can expect destination-intensive itineraries, with not too many days spent at sea. On a typical one-week sailing, cruisers can expect to effortlessly experience three or four countries in a single trip. Cruises lasting up to 12 nights are typically classified as Western or Eastern Mediterranean itineraries, with Rome, Italy, serving as the unofficial dividing line between the two. It is not uncommon for lengthier sailings to cover both regions, particularly with some of the luxury cruise lines.

What ports do Mediterranean cruises leave from?
Mediterranean cruises typically depart anywhere from Atlantic-facing Lisbon, Portugal, to the west to Istanbul, Turkey, to the east, with literally hundreds of ports (some points of embarkation) in between. Not surprisingly, ships tend to embark from some of the region’s most popular and accessible tourist destinations, with Western Mediterranean itineraries typically launching from ports like Barcelona or Rome (Civitavecchia), while Eastern Mediterranean sailings usually depart from Athens (Piraeus), Istanbul, or Venice. However, Savona, Genoa, and Bari, in Italy; Malaga, Spain; and Monte Carlo, Monaco, also see their fair share of action throughout the season. And, despite not being in the Mediterranean, England’s Dover and Southampton (just outside of London) are popular jumping off points for Western Mediterranean itineraries.

What kinds of cruise lines operate in the Mediterranean?
There are over 30 cruise lines plying the waters of the Mediterranean, ranging from tall ships with billowing white sails that carry a just a handful of privileged cruisers to mega-ships that entertain thousands with over-the-top amenities. Whether you are expecting the royal treatment, seeking a low-frills budget vacation, or opting in for an educational adventure, you’ll find it in the Mediterranean. Cruises are generally placed into one of four categories: mainstream, premium, deluxe/specialty, and luxury, with each category carrying a corresponding price tag (with some overlap):

Mainstream The typical mainstream cruise ship carries anywhere from 2,000 to more than 5,000 passengers and features a wealth of onboard activities to keep passengers entertained at sea (this is particularly true of lines like Royal Caribbean and Costa). Itineraries tend to be largely cookie-cutter, with ships calling on the largest and most popular ports of call. Families will appreciate the kid-friendly appeal and budget price tag − with interior cabins ranging from $600 to $1,100 per person for a 7-night cruise. Special promotions and sales can bring the cruise fare down even lower; keep in mind that brand-new, buzz-generating mega-ships will be priced higher than older, time-honored vessels.

Premium Premium ships place an emphasis on off-the-path itineraries, offering lengthier cruises that allow more time to sample the region’s ports – Holland America, Princess, and Celebrity all fall into this category. Although you’ll still find casinos, theaters, and a robust schedule of daily activities, offerings are more skewed towards enrichment (think historical lectures, cooking demonstrations, and guest speakers). Premium cruise lines step things up a notch with less-crowded, mid-sized ships (averaging around 1,000 to 2,000 passengers); finer cuisine; and cultivated, yet subtle, décor. Brochure rates are priced slightly higher than mainstream lines, but bargain sales make these upscale experiences surprisingly affordable, with average rates on 7- to 12-night cruises ranging from $900 to $2,600 per person.

Deluxe/Specialty Smaller, destination-focused ships (typically carrying less than 700 passengers) that provide a personalized, high-end experience at a reasonable price are often branded as “deluxe.” These include lines like Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania, and the tall sailing ships of Windstar, which each offer upscale environs, but a relaxed, casual atmosphere onboard. Specialty (or niche) cruises like Travel Dynamics International and Voyages to Antiquity can also into fit this category, bundling shore excursions with onboard enrichment programs to give each voyage a sense of theme (history, culinary, etc.). Prices average $1,100 to $4,000 per person for a standard cabin on a 7- to 12-night cruise.

Luxury Enter butler service, stringent dress codes, and evening canapés delivered to your suite. Crew members aboard luxury lines like the Yachts of Seabourn, Silversea, and Regent Seven Seas define the term “at your service.” Prepare to be fully pampered in lavish spas and to relish exquisite cuisine designed by celebrity chefs. Luxury ships vary from mega-yachts to intimate vessels (usually carrying no more than 1,000 passengers, though Cunard’s larger-capacity classic ocean liners are often considered members of this elite group of cruise lines). These vessels sail to every corner of the globe, from short-and-sweet 7-nighters to world cruises spanning monthly durations. The price range is just as wide: Weeklong Mediterranean sailings run anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 per person.

How much do Mediterranean cruises cost?
Mediterranean cruises come with a vast range of price tags, with variables like ports of call, ships, sailing dates, and the number of nights all coming into consideration. With that in mind, figure that an inside stateroom on a 7-night, mainstream, mega-ship cruise in high season will run between $700 and $1,100, though the bargain shopper with flexibility can find price tags as low as $499 (often for last-minute sailings). If you are looking for a similar peak-season cruise but have more time to spare, a 10- to 14-night cruise will easily balloon to $1,200 to $1,800, with sale prices from $1,100. During low season, average mainstream cruise prices are usually priced $200 to $500 less than on the same itineraries in the summer months. For more details on price variations for specific types of cruise lines (mainstream, premium, deluxe/specialty, and luxury), see our breakdown above.

Western Mediterranean Cruises

Although no one definition of the Western Mediterranean’s boundaries is set in stone, one can rightly consider the region to stretch from Agadir, Morocco, and the Canary Islands to the western coast of Italy. The Western Med averages around 65 to 80 cruises per month during the summer high season, with over 20 options for embarkation – more than twice that of the Eastern Mediterranean. Travelers will encounter stunning beaches, remarkable landmarks of architecture and history, picturesque small towns, and thriving metropolises. Shorter flight times to Western Mediterranean embarkation points for U.S. travelers than to those for Eastern Mediterranean sailings contribute to its widespread appeal, and nearly all major cruise lines service this region, opening it to cruisers of varying backgrounds, budgets, and interests.

Jump to:
Western Mediterranean cruise season
Length of Western Mediterranean cruises
Departure ports for Western Mediterranean cruises
Cruise lines servicing the Western Mediterranean
Western Mediterranean ports
Our favorite Western Mediterranean cruises

Western Mediterranean cruise season
High Season: Late May−early September
Low Season: November−March
Sweet Spot: Late April−early May; late September−October

Length of Western Mediterranean cruises
Typically, Western Mediterranean cruises last 5 to 14 nights. Upscale and luxury lines also offer longer itineraries of up to 30 nights (often as a bookable leg on a longer world cruise). The most widely available cruise length is 7 nights; however 10- to 12-night itineraries are also extremely popular.

Departure ports for Western Mediterranean cruises
The most popular embarkation ports in the Western Mediterranean are Rome (Civitavecchia) and Barcelona, and daily international flights make them convenient to reach. However, many ships embarking from these ports follow similar itineraries, leading to crowding in cruise ports and at the typical “tourist traps.” For better variety and more authentic experiences, MSC Cruises, Costa, and others sail from smaller ports that are just a train ride or connecting flight away from the main hubs. Chances are, on these itineraries, you’ll visit one or more ports that you may have never even heard of. A full list of Western Mediterranean departure ports are as follows:

England: Dover, London (Southampton)
France: Corsica (Ajaccio), Marseille, Nice, St. Tropez, Toulon, Villefranche
Italy: Catania, Elba, Genoa, Livorno, Messina, Naples, Palermo, Rome (Civitavecchia), Salerno, Sardinia, Savona
• Malta: Valletta
Monaco: Monte Carlo
Portugal: Lisbon
Spain: Barcelona, Cadiz (Seville), Madrid (Alicante), Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia
Tunisia: Tunis (La Goulette)

Cruise lines servicing the Western Mediterranean
Note that the following list includes major companies that cater to English-speaking guests, and is not inclusive of all cruise lines serving the Western Mediterranean. For a full description of the cruise line categories (mainstream, premium, deluxe/specialty, and luxury), see our frequently asked questions.

• Azamara Club Cruises (deluxe)
• Carnival (mainstream)
• Celebrity (premium)
• Compagnie Des Iles Du Ponant (luxury)
• Costa (mainstream)
• Crystal (luxury)
• Cunard (deluxe)
• Disney (mainstream)
• Fred Olsen (deluxe)
• Hapag-Lloyd (luxury)
• Holland America (premium)
• Louis (mainstream)
• MSC (mainstream)
• Norwegian (mainstream)
• Oceania (deluxe)
• P & O (deluxe)
• Princess (premium)
• Regent Seven Seas (luxury)
• Royal Caribbean (mainstream)
• Seabourn (luxury)
• SeaDream Yacht Club (luxury)
• Silversea (luxury)
• Star Clippers (deluxe)
• Swan Hellenic (specialty)
• Travel Dynamics International (specialty)
• Voyages of Discovery (specialty)
• Voyages to Antiquity (specialty)
• Windstar (deluxe)

Western Mediterranean ports
Although many luxury vessels and European-based cruise lines occasionally call on lesser-known ports of call, some of the most common Western Mediterranean destinations include:

France: Cannes, Le Havre, Marseille, Nice
• Gibraltar: Gibraltar
Italy: Livorno, Palermo, Rome (Civitavecchia), Savona
• Malta: Valetta
Monaco: Monte Carlo
Morocco: Agadir, Casablanca
Portugal: Funchal, Lisbon, Portimao
Spain: Barcelona, Cadiz (Seville), Ibiza, Lanzarote (Canary Islands), Las Palmas (Canary Islands), Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands), Tenerife (Canary Islands), Valencia, Vigo

Our favorite Western Mediterranean cruises
GREAT VALUE
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Jade
Length:
7 nights
Departure Port: Barcelona, Spain
Ports of Call: Monte Carlo, Monaco; Livorno, Italy; Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy; Naples, Italy; Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Book It: www.cruise.com

SMART SPLURGE
Cruise Line: Windstar
Ship: Wind Spirit
Length: 7 nights
Departure Port: Lisbon, Portugal
Ports of Call: Portimao, Portugal; Cadiz (Seville), Spain; Gibralter; Ibiza, Spain; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Barcelona, Spain
Book It: www.cruise.com

Find travel deals for Mediterranean cruises on ShermansTravel.com.

Eastern Mediterranean Cruises

Cruising the Eastern Mediterranean generally delivers balmy weather, calm seas, and epic ports of call in Italy, Greece, and Croatia, in addition to less frequent stops in Turkey, Syria, Israel, and Egypt. Most itineraries either fall into one of two categories (or a bit of both): Greek Isles and ports in the Adriatic Sea, or mainland Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Israel, and Egypt. However, several cruise lines are branching out and creating a third category consisting of fresh itineraries that combine ports in the Adriatic with those of the Black Sea – typically 12 nights in duration, passengers are likely to experience the Greek Isles, as well as Romania, Bulgaria, and the Ukraine, for a sneak peek at what may be the next hot-spot cruise region. Departure ports alternate between Athens (Piraeus), Istanbul, and Venice, sometimes sharing Rome (Civitavecchia) as an embarkation point with their Western Mediterranean-bound counterparts.

Jump to:
Eastern Mediterranean cruise season
Length of Eastern Mediterranean cruises
Departure ports for Eastern Mediterranean cruises
Cruise lines servicing the Eastern Mediterranean
Eastern Mediterranean ports
Our favorite Eastern Mediterranean cruises

Eastern Mediterranean cruise season
High Season: Late May−early September
Low Season: November−March
Sweet Spot: Late April−early May; late September−October

Length of Eastern Mediterranean cruises
Like Western Mediterranean cruises, these itineraries usually last 5 to 14 nights. Upscale and luxury lines also offer longer itineraries of up to 30 nights (often bookable as a leg on longer world cruises). The most widely available length is 7 nights; however, 10- to 12-night cruises are also extremely popular (especially considering the lengthy flight times to embarkation ports for U.S. travelers).

Departure ports for Eastern Mediterranean cruises
The majority of Eastern Mediterranean cruises depart from Venice, Rome (Civitavecchia), and Athens (Piraeus). All three historic cities are easily accessible by air and ground transportation, and draw steady, year-round tourism, with Rome serving as a home port for Western Mediterranean cruises, as well. Ships that embark from one of these three ports often call upon at least one of the others while en route to the Greek Isles, Turkey, Croatia, and Italy’s eastern coast. Certain premium (like Princess and Celebrity) and luxury (including Crystal, Oceania, and Seabourn) lines trade these standard routes for off-the-path ports in Northern African and Middle Eastern locales like Egypt and Israel. A full list of Eastern Mediterranean departure ports are as follows:

Egypt: Alexandria
• Greece: Athens (Piraeus), Rhodes
Italy: Ancona, Bari, Naples, Rome, Venice
Turkey: Istanbul

Cruise lines servicing the Eastern Mediterranean
Note that the following list includes major companies that cater to English-speaking guests, and is not inclusive of all cruise lines serving the Eastern Mediterranean. For a full description of the cruise line categories (mainstream, premium, deluxe/specialty, and luxury), see our frequently asked questions.

• Azamara Club Cruises (deluxe)
• Celebrity (premium)
• Compagnie Des Iles Du Ponant (luxury)
• Costa (mainstream)
• Cruise West (specialty)
• Crystal (luxury)
• Cunard (deluxe)
• Holland America (premium)
• Louis (mainstream)
• MSC (mainstream)
• Norwegian (mainstream)
• Oceania (deluxe)
• Princess (premium)
• Regent Seven Seas (luxury)
• Royal Caribbean (mainstream)
• Seabourn (luxury)
• SeaCloud (luxury)
• SeaDream Yacht Club (luxury)
• Star Clippers (deluxe)
• Swan Hellenic (specialty)
• Travel Dynamics International (specialty)
• Variety (specialty)
• Voyages of Discovery (specialty)
• Voyages to Antiquity (specialty)
• Windstar (deluxe)

Eastern Mediterranean ports
While smaller vessels can tender almost anywhere in the Mediterranean region, there are dozens of popular destinations frequently found on Eastern itineraries. These include:

Croatia: Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar
• Cyprus: Limassol
Egypt: Alexandria
• Greece: Athens (Piraeus), Corfu, Delphi, Katakolon, Mykonos, Rhodes, Thira
Israel: Ashdod
Italy: Ancona, Bari, Capri, Messina, Naples, Rome, Sorrento, Venice
Montenegro: Kotor
Turkey: Istanbul, Izmir, Kusadasi

Our favorite Eastern Mediterranean cruises
GREAT VALUE
Cruise Line: MSC Cruises
Ship: MSC Magnifica
Length: 7 nights
Departure Port: Venice, Italy
Ports of Call: Bari, Italy; Katakolon, Greece; Izmir, Turkey; Istanbul, Turkey; Dubrovnik, Croatia
Book It: www.cruise.com

SMART SPLURGE
Cruise Line: Azamara Club Cruises
Ship: Azamara Quest
Length: 7 nights
Departure Port: Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
Ports of Call: Sorrento, Italy; Taormina, Sicily; Chania, Greece; Mykonos, Greece; Kusadasi, Turkey; Athens (Piraeus),  Greece
Book It: www.cruise.com

Find travel deals for Mediterranean cruises on ShermansTravel.com.

Tips for Booking Mediterranean Cruises

Read on for our expert tips on booking Mediterranean cruises:

Jump to:
Getting the best price on Mediterranean cruises
What the fare covers on Mediterranean cruises
Picking your Mediterranean cruise cabin wisely
Tips for traveling alone on Mediterranean cruises
Other things to watch out for

Getting the best price on Mediterranean cruises
Buy early or late. Prices can fluctuate a lot between the sale date and the sail date (usually a 6- to 12-month span). The sweet spots for purchasing are early in the process, when prices are generally favorable and availability is high, and late, when prices decrease but availability may be limited.

Use a cruise-only agency to make the purchase. Online travel engines may be the easiest way to book most trips these days, but when it’s time to buy a cruise, make sure to also try a cruise agent. They can offer you unadvertised discounts, group rates, and personalized service in case anything should go wrong.

Check out newsletters with cruise-bargain listings published by the cruise lines themselves, travel agencies, and online resources like our Europe Cruise Deals page and Cruise News blog.

What the fare covers on Mediterranean cruises
On mainstream cruise lines, the fare includes meals, room service, entertainment, and aside from a handful of special pay-for activities, the run of the ship. Not covered are tips, alcoholic beverages, soda, special dining venues, and shore excursions. Most ships have alternative dining venues, and service charges can range from $10 to $20 on most mass-market cruise lines. Leave room in your budget for shipboard expenses, because those extra costs – like paying for espresso with dinner, or a service charge for pizza delivery to your stateroom – can quickly add up.

Luxury lines like Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, and SeaDream Yacht Club include gratuities and all beverages in their fares, in addition to meals and entertainment.

Pre- and post-cruise land packages are not included but are very popular with Mediterranean cruises. These often include several nights’ accommodations and tours that complement the itinerary. Prices vary based on cruise line.

Airfare is not included in a cruise rate unless it’s specifically advertised. Some cruise lines may include airfare as part of a promotion, which will be very clear in the wording of the price quote.

Transfers to and from the airport are not included in a cruise price unless it’s noted.

Picking your Mediterranean cruise cabin wisely
Almost all advertised cruise prices are for the cheapest (often inside) cabins, so don’t be roped in by the first-glance fare if you are looking for an oceanview or balcony stateroom experience.

Inside These have no windows but offer the same room service and room stewards as other cabins. Families often book these for the kids (many include additional pull-down beds at a lower fare).

Oceanview Also called an “outside cabin,” these have non-opening windows. The windows in “obstructed view” rooms are partially blocked by lifeboats or beams and sell for less.

Balcony or Veranda The most popular choice: A sliding-glass door opens to a private deck with a table, chairs, and a safety railing.

Junior Suites These are balcony cabins with more square footage, larger bathrooms, a separate seating area, and larger closets.

Suites These come in several configurations but usually include separate bedrooms, larger bathrooms, walk-in closets, and extra services like butler, concierge, and Internet access. Some even have dining rooms, butler’s pantries, hot tubs, and baby grand pianos.

Location, Location, Location The smoothest sailing part of a cruise ship is on the lower decks, midship. Some ships charge more for higher-deck cabins with the same design. Book the lower deck to save money and keep seasickness at bay.

Tips for traveling alone on Mediterranean cruises
Cruising is geared towards those traveling in pairs, as the rate is for a cabin with double occupancy. A solo cruiser pays a “singles’ supplement,” usually a 50 percent markup of the per-person rate. Here are smart ways to go solo:

Get a roommate. Certain lines, like Holland America, will match you up with a cabin-mate.

Try a singles cruise. VacationsToGo.com and SinglesCruise.com bring singles groups on major boats for special activities, parties, dining, and roommate matching.

Go high-end. Several luxury lines like Silversea, Crystal, and Seabourn offer lower singles’ supplements than most other lines (averaging 10 to 25 percent extra).

Check the specials page. Peruse individual cruise lines’ websites for promotions before booking. Some small-ship companies − like Voyages to Antiquity and Cruise West − will sometimes reduce or waive the single-traveler supplement as part of promotional efforts, or to fill smaller cabins.

Other things to watch out for
Doublecheck the destination. Cruise agencies and online booking sites will usually list a major city (like the one that you’d be flying into) on the itinerary and not the actual port, which can be several hours away. Keep this in mind when planning transportation, sightseeing, and hotel accommodations.

Be an early bird. Arriving a day early for an overnight stay in your port of embarkation is always a good idea, but when you are cruising outside of the U.S., it’s a must. Even if you’re traveling during the summer months when the weather is clear, unforeseen events (volcanoes erupting, pilots striking) can cause your flight to be canceled; at a peak travel time, other carriers are likely to be booked solid. Allowing a cushion of a day or more will ensure that you don’t miss your cruise (although you can catch up with it later). Even if everything goes as planned, you’ll have a relaxing day to explore the port city without having to rush to board the ship.

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