European Cruises are a romantic and stress-free way to see Europe. Whether you choose to sail the Mediterranean or the Baltic Sea, a cruise offers a friendly, home base while you explore the history, cultural, and cuisine of this old-world continent. A variety of cruise lines, both American and European offer diverse itineraries throughout the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Atlantic Coast, and inland waterways.
When to Take European Cruises
Most European Cruises sail during the spring, summer, and autumn months, primarily due to weather. It's much nicer to stand on deck in May or July than it is in January, even in the Mediterranean. Some cold weather ports, such as Gdanzk, Poland or St. Petersburg, Russia, actually freeze over during the winter season. Cruise fares are generally the most expensive during the heart of the summer -- mid-June through mid-August. Attractive pricing can often be found on the first and last cruises of the season.
Itineraries and Ports
European Cruises tend to be longer than Caribbean or Mexican cruises, since there is so much to see in Europe. Although seven night itineraries do exist, many cruises are 14 to 21 days in length. Common European cruise itineraries include:
- Atlantic Coastal Cruises - The craggy Atlantic Coast gives passengers a chance to sample several different cultures. Many such cruises begin or end in Lisbon, home of Port wine and departure port for many 15th century explorers' journey to the New World. Other ports along the Atlantic coast include the world-famous wine capital of Bordeaux, the French seaside resort of Biarritz, and Brest, at the tip of Brittany. Some cruises continue into the English Channel, where they call at Honfleur or Le Havre in France or Dover or Southampton in Great Britain.
- Baltic Sea Cruises - The hightlight of these cruises is St. Petersburg, home of the fabulous Hermitage Museum as well as the palaces of the last Tsars of 19th century Russia. Many lines include an overnight stay here so that passengers can take advantage of all that this city has to offer. Baltic itineraries also include the capitals of Scandinavia, such as Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Oslo. Many cruises also add Amsterdam, Gdansk, and ports in Estonia, Germany, and Latvia.
- Greek Islands Cruises - These cruises, generally, depart from Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece. The calm waters of the Aegean Sea make for a romantic and scenic cruise. Common Greek Islands ports include Mykonos, a sunny, picturesque town with excellent beaches; Santorini, a volcanic island thought by some to be the lost city of Atlantis; Crete, the largest of the Greek islands and home to the ancient Minoan people; and Rhodes, a vibrant island studded with ancient ruins. Some itineraries also include Istanbul, Turkey and the coastal city of Kusadasi, a gateway to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus.
- Mediterranean Cruises - The Mediterranean has been a playground for the "see and be seen" crowd since the late 19th century. It is also the birthplace of many ancient cultures, such as the ancient Greeks, the Roman Empire, and the Phoenicians, to name a few. Mediterranean cruises are generally divided into eastern and western Mediterranean cruises. Eastern Med cruises depart from Lisbon, Barcelona, or Venice and call at Monte Carlo; Livorno, the port nearest to Florence; Naples; Malta; Mallorca; and Marseille. Some lines also include a stop on the north coast of Africa, such as Tunis, Tunisia. Western Med cruises sail from Venice or Athens, and call at Dubrovnik, Corfu, Capri, and Sardinia, to name a few.
Advantages of a European Cruise
European Cruises allow passengers to visit several different countries and cities without packing and unpacking, checking in and out of hotels, and enduring endless bus tours. The ship simply sails to your next destination while you are sleeping.Another advantage to European Cruises is that, with a cruise, all accommodations, food, entertainment, transfers to and from the airport, and often some sightseeing is included in one price that is paid before you ever leave on your vacation. With a cruise, there are no unpleasant surprises with unfavorable exchange rates or confusion about foreign money. All of the major components of your trip are paid ahead of time.
Extending European Cruises
Virtually all cruise lines offer packages to extend your European cruise with a hotel stay for one or several nights, either before or after your cruise. The major port cities of Europe, such as Barcelona, Venice, Athens, and Lisbon, are fascinating places and well worth exploring for an extra day or two. In addition, some ports, such as Athens, lend themselves to multi-day interior tours, such as a tour from Athens to the oracle at Delphi, Mt. Olympus, and Cornith. These packages, generally, include hotel accommodations, transfers to and from the airport, taxes, and sometimes breakfast. Other meals are usually not included. Like the basic cruise package, these pre and post-cruise packages are pre-paid and usually offer a substantial discount over making similar arrangements on your own.