Come sail away: Cruising through Europe

Come sail away: Cruising through Europe

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Waking up in a glamorous European city, gliding along the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean or on the scenic and equally beautiful Douro River in Portugal, having an itinerary and meals already planned, and housekeeping service including turndown service? It sounds downright heavenly. Cruising in Europe is fantastic, all-inclusive way to discover spectacular cities in a short amount of time. However, planning a cruise can feel overwhelming and the choices seemingly endless. Whether you’re an old pro or planning your first one, here’s help to get you on your way.

Ocean Cruises

When it comes to booking a cruise, there is no shortage of cruise lines. Some of the more well-known companies include Costa, MSC, Holland America, Princess, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Norwegian and even Disney. Often, it will come down to what amenities you want, size and, of course, price. If you’re looking for something that won’t break the bank, Costa and MSC are budget-friendly and offer a lot of sailings all around Europe. Their ships are quite large and would be comparable to Carnival cruises in the U.S. (Costa is a subsidiary of Carnival). Holland America and Princess are slightly smaller in size and are geared toward an older demographic. With its trademark magic, Disney is known for being family friendly. However, they’re also on the pricier side and book very quickly.

There is a plethora of sailing routes throughout Europe including the Western Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean, Adriatic, Baltic, Scandinavia, Greek Isles and transatlantic. Popular port destinations include:

  • Barcelona
  • Marseille and Monaco
  • Dubrovnik and Kotor
  • Venice and Citavecchia (Rome)
  • The Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza)
  • Santorini and Mykonos

River Cruises

If the thought of rollicking on the open sea makes your stomach churn, consider taking a river cruise instead. Riverboats accommodate a much smaller number of passengers — usually 200 or less. Staterooms tend to be smaller compared to their ocean-faring brethren, but you’re also on the ship less. The majority of sailing is done at night, with port calls usually every day. “At sea” days are rare, and you may visit two ports in one day. It’s a great way to see sights you may not have otherwise visited.

Some larger cruise companies such as Norwegian are beginning to break into the river cruise market, but you’ll find reputable operators such as Viking, Tauck and Uniworld have an established foothold with river destinations. Many river cruises are directed toward couples or more mature passengers, but there are also many offering itineraries for families. The cost of sailing on the river can be pricier than ocean cruises; however, most shore excursions are included in the price.

River cruises are a great way to see interior parts of Europe. Some fantastic routes include:

  • Douro River Valley in Portugal
  • Danube River, with ports in Austria, Hungary and Romania
  • Rhine River, with excursions in Cologne region and Heidelberg
  • The Dutch Waterways, stopping in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, as well as Arnhem and Ghent in Belgium
  • The Seine, which flows far beyond Paris through the French countryside to the English Channel.

Know before you go

  • Do your research. Sit down and figure out what you want, and more importantly, what your budget is. Each cruise line offers different experiences and prices. Cruisecritic.com is a great website to search for itineraries, cost and reviews of cruises. Also be aware of the itinerary. Some may include stops in Russia (St. Petersburg) or Turkey, which are currently restricted for active-duty members.
  • Book in advance. The earlier you book, the better the discount. Some companies, such as Disney, offer limited sailings in Europe each year and sell out very quickly. However, sometimes you can catch a break with last-minute reservations at the end of the season.
  • Go early. If you’re traveling to your port of departure, why not go a few days early and wander through the city? It also gives you another chance to pick up items you may have forgotten at home.
  • Choose your stateroom wisely. Take a look at your ship’s deck plan ahead of time. If you’re prone to motion sickness, you’ll want a room located toward the middle of the ship and on a lower deck. Likewise, you may want to avoid rooms close to the casino or entertainment areas.
  • Be sure to check your documents. Some destinations may require visas or special inoculations depending on the location. Ensure the validity of your passport is good for six months past your travel dates, as many countries require this upon entry.
  • Invest in travel insurance. With the unpredictability of the military and unforeseen circumstances, consider purchasing travel insurance should you need to cancel for any reason. Check with your credit card company, as many will offer certain financial protections should the need arise.

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