Cruising around Europe is a good way to start learning about the old continent. Cruises let you visit several different destinations in a short time span and then decide where you’d like to return someday. If we exclude hitchhiking and sleeping on a bench in the park, cruising is probably the most affordable way to see Europe. On the cheapest cruises, you can travel for less than $100 per night, with an included accommodation, transportation between multiple destinations, and three meals per day. But is a cruise a good way to see Europe?
There are certainly some advantages and disadvantages to it. In this article, we’ll take a look at both and tell you everything you need to know before going on a cruise in Europe.
Cruising is efficient
Most cruise ships sail at night and reach the next port early in the morning. This allows passengers to spend a full day in every port on the way. This is a lot more efficient than trying to navigate through the streets of an unknown town or struggling to find a parking spot for your rental car.
Cruising is comfortable
On a cruise, you only have to unpack once. Additionally, while you’re exploring the ports where your cruise ship stops, you don’t have to worry about where will you keep your luggage. It will remain in your cabin the whole time.
The comfort factor is also important for people who aren’t very good with their English and are reluctant to travel in places where people don’t speak English. Even though most people in Europe do speak English, knowing the native language of a country is not as important when you’re cruising as it is when you travel on your own.
Important Sites Are Accessible
Most of the popular tourist sites are accessible to cruise travelers. Most of the big cities in Europe were built on the water (near the sea or near a big river) and seeing them from the deck of the ship can oftentimes be an impressive sight. Even the few cities that weren’t built on a water are only a bus ride away once you get off the boat.
Despite some of the obvious advantages, cruising around Europe has its downsides too. Firstly, you will not have much interaction with local citizens. You’ll spend most of your trip eating and sleeping on the ship and touring the ports with other passengers.
Another downside is that despite seeing many cities during the cruise, you will not have enough time to spend in any of them. 8-10 hours isn’t enough to even scratch the surface of a city, especially when it comes to Europe’s historic capitals. Don’t try to experience too much because you might get a vacation burnout. Instead, look at this cruise as a box of chocolate candy. Enjoy the lots of small bites and save the memories.
What’s the best time to go cruising in Europe?
Generally, the best time to go cruising in Europe is between April and November. The high-season is from June through August. If you want to avoid the tourist crowds, that leaves you with April, May, and October. However, nowadays there are ships that cruise all-year long and if you want to go for a cruise in the winter, you can.
With that being said, choosing the best time to go cruising is tightly related to the destination you’re going through.
For the Atlantic Islands, Portugal, and Western France, the best time to go is during late fall or early spring. Temperatures in the winter here are moderate and that’s why there are boats cruising throughout the year.
The same applies to the Mediterranean. The summer on Crete, in Turkey, the, and southern Italy, Spain, and the Canary Islands are really hot during the summer, while the spring and autumn are much more pleasant.
If you’re planning to go on a cruise in Scandinavia and the Baltics, cruises here run from late May to early September. However, if you want to visit in the winter and see the Northern lights in Scandinavia, the Norwegian Coastal Voyages cruises throughout the year.
If you’re interested in cruising around the UK or are planning your Ireland itinerary, the best time to go is late summer/early fall. However, keep in mind that the temperatures will be a lot cooler than the rest of continental Europe.
Cruising the rivers of Europe can be a spectacular experience too. You will find river cruise ships operating on the great rivers of Europe starting from early spring until November and during the Christmas season. Most tourists indulge in this activity during the spring and summer but in my opinion, autumns are nothing short of spectacular. Finally, if you’re looking for a cruise for people with disabilities, check out this list of wheelchair-accessible cruises.
Things you should know before going on a cruise in Europe
If you have aseasickness, don’t worry- most of the boats sail during the night and there’s less chance you’ll get seasick when you’re asleep.
Be careful when you choose your cabin. If you’re traveling with your partner, double-check if the cabin has a double bed because a lot of them don’t. If you’re traveling with 2 or more children, book in advance because the number of five berth cabins is very limited.
Alcohol and soft drinks are really expensive to purchase on the boat and many cruise lines ban passengers from bringing alcohol on board. If you don’t want your beverage tab to rise quickly, check the alcohol policy of the company you’re thinking to book with.
Take good care of your cruise card that you’ll receive upon boarding. This is the only “currency” you will need and use while on the boat. All additional charges will be added to your cruise card and you can settle your account the night prior to disembarkation.
If you want to use an ATM, do it on the ground, not on the boat. The ship isn’t a bank- it’s there to make money. Most ports have a lot of ATMs where you can withdraw your funds without having to pay a hefty commission.
Don’t forget to research the ports. Most ports are far away from the city and you will need a ride just to get into the city. That’s why you should…
Use the cruise line transfer. Avoid using cabs, especially in countries where you’re not familiar with the language. A lot of taxi drivers can take you for more than just a ride if you’re not being careful. For this and some other difficult situations you might come across while crusising, having a good travel insurance is key. I used numerous different travel insurance providers throughout the years, but only one good enough to recommend it to others- World Nomads.
How much can you see from the shore excursions?
One of the biggest optional expenses you might come across on a cruise are the shore excursions. The shore excursions can make sightseeing much more efficient and easier because you don’t have to worry about getting lost and navigating around the city. However, there are a lot of cities in Europe which you can explore independently and aren’t worth the expense.
For example, there are cities like Istanbul, Dubrovnik, Venice, Nice, and Barcelona in which the ports are so close to the city you can easily reach all major tourist sights on your own. In Barcelona, the famous Ramblas is only a 15-minute shuttle bus away from the port. In Venice, you can reach St. Mark’s square in less than 20 minutes with a speedboat.
Some more ports which are easy for independent exploration are Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, and Stockholm. These cities all have equipped tourism offices that will provide with all the necessary information for organizing an independent walk around the city.
Another city that’s easy to explore independently is St. Petersburg. However, keep in mind that if you want to do this, you require a visa because Russia has a different visa policy from the other countries in Europe. So, if you take the shore excursion, you don’t need a visa. If you want to explore independently – you do. Keep this in mind.
Despite whether you take a shore excursion or decide to go independently, you can’t see too much in a day. In some cities, you can’t even cover the major tourist attractions. That’s why it’s important to…
Don’t try to do too much
With rare exceptions when cruise lines stop for overnights, you will only have one day in each destination you visit. This is obviously not enough to cover an entire city. Not even close! Accept this before you leave and use this cruise to see which places you want to see and which don’t.
So, is a cruise a good way to see Europe?
Well, yes and no. Yes because it’s a great starting point to experience Europe and no because you don’t have enough time to experience any of the destinations you’re visiting. But if you like a city, you can always come back another time. And if you don’t, you only lost a few hours exploring the city. That’s much better than realizing you don’t like a city but have to spend an entire holiday there.