Europe Cruise Guide
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Thanks to the many romantic cathedrals, museums, and cobblestone streets, cruising in Europe is a way to speed-date fine art, music, food, natural beauty, and ancient history. With Europe’s most diverse collection of ports on the planet, it’s possible to visit a different country every day in a weeklong cruise.
Civilizations have been rising and falling on the continent since the beginning of time, so the glories of the past stand side by side with thriving cities of the 21st century.
In the Mediterranean, the fallen empires of Greece and Rome accompany flawless beaches and wine-infused feasts. In the Baltic, fairy tale capitals such as Tallinn and Stockholm lead to the ornate palaces of the czars and the fiercely beautiful fjords of Norway. River cruises down the Danube and Rhine take visitors to the very heart of the continent, while new itineraries in the Adriatic boast a little-explored world of feudal ruins and all-night party towns. After a day of tromping around castles in the British Isles, you can warm your bones with a dram of whiskey in a pub full of raucous song and stories.
Enriching for both the historian and the adventurer, Europe’s sheer variety makes it a benchmark for travelers. From humble village bakeries to museums teeming with great art, to urban fashionistas on mopeds, Europe is a walking parade of the good life.
When to go
Summer offers the broadest selection of European cruise itineraries from May through September, when the days are long and the weather ranges from a balmy 65 F to a steamier 85 degrees.
Ships are found in most European waters in summer but migrate to the islands of the Mediterranean in cooler months. The North Sea and the Baltic have long endless nights during their short summer, May through September. The popular Med is a packed party in summer months when the weather is sunny and dry, but temperatures can soar well past 90 degrees. Deep winter itineraries take intrepid travelers to offbeat destinations such as the Canary Islands, Morocco, and Egypt.
August is a traditional vacation month for Europeans, so expect stores and restaurants to be closed, and beaches and museums to be packed.
To save money, look for deals in the shoulder season months, March through May or October and November, when children are in school and the locals are at work; the days may be a little wet, but the discounts are enticing.
The Eastern Mediterranean covers the territory that was once ancient Greece: Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus.
Good For: In the Greek Islands, remote coves with turquoise waters and epic history can often only be reached by boat.
Downside: If you aren’t a fan of crowds, the best time to be in the Mediterranean is also the most populated.
The romantic Western Mediterranean includes Spain, Italy, Southern France, and Morocco.
Good For: The Western Med offers a buffet of shore excursions for culture vultures, foodies, and history buffs. It’s typically easy to find flights, with several major cities for cruise embarkation.
Downside: Some Mediterranean highlights aren’t actually on the coast, so visitors whose itineraries include Rome and Florence, Italy, can expect to spend time on a bus.
The summer routes of the Baltic take in Scandinavia, Germany, the Baltic states, and Russia.
Good For: Baltic itineraries tend to attract seasoned travelers who’ve already had their first heady European experiences.
Downside: The window for cruising is May through September, and at the end of August the weather can be capricious, from frigid rain to blistering sun, all in the same day.
British Isles and Western Europe
Take in the rough-hewn beauty of coastal Ireland, England, and Scotland. Many itineraries jump the puddle to France, Belgium, or Holland.
Good For: While circling the British Isles, everyone will speak English — but never with the same accent.
Downside: Itineraries tend to be on the longer side and might not be great choices for those with less than two weeks to explore.
Cruise Lines That Sail Europe
28 Ships - 1 Cruises
37 Ships - 10 Cruises
3 Ships - 96 Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises
29 Ships - 9 Cruises
Carnival Cruise Lines
15 Ships - 91 Cruises
8 Ships - 52 Cruises
Compagnie Du Ponant Yacht Cruises
18 Ships - 53 Cruises
4 Ships - 89 Cruises
3 Ships - 65 Cruises
4 Ships - 13 Cruises
Disney Cruise Line
15 Ships - 150 Cruises
Holland America Line
16 Ships - 6 Cruises
17 Ships - 120 Cruises
17 Ships - 62 Cruises
Norwegian Cruise Line
6 Ships - 152 Cruises
20 Ships - 110 Cruises
5 Ships - 117 Cruises
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
27 Ships - 113 Cruises
8 Ships - 74 Cruises
2 Ships - 28 Cruises
SeaDream Yacht Club
11 Ships - 122 Cruises
23 Ships - 4 Cruises
Uniworld River Cruises
6 Ships - 89 Cruises
Viking Ocean Cruises
89 Ships - 10 Cruises
Viking River Cruises
6 Ships - 62 Cruises