The Best Mediterranean Cruises
Cruising isn’t only for travelers seeking a leisurely way to flit between Caribbean islands while sipping piña coladas. The coastlines of Greece, Italy, France, and Spain, for example, boast ancient port cities and are home to a vast array of architectural sites and historic attractions. Instead of palm trees and coral reefs, cruisers can explore Athens’ Acropolis and Venice’s canals. Mediterranean cruisers may trade a day of snorkeling for a day wandering around the Vatican, or tackling Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.
Even travelers who have seen it all will enjoy Mediterranean cruises that frequent small, lesser-known ports in the Greek and Turkish isles. And after all, who said you had to forgo beach time to visit this edge of the Earth? Instead of a rum-filled coconut, you can simply sip a glass of glass of Amaro liqueur.
Mediterranean cruises can be a perfect introduction to the region for first-time visitors, or provide a deep dive into the local culture and antiquities. Of course, food lovers, sun worshippers, and shoppers won’t be disappointed with a cruise in this part of the world.
Ready to set sail? Before booking your cruise, consider how spectacular those views of Croatia and Sardinia, the Amalfi Coast and the Bosporus will be. Unlike a cruise that spends days crossing the Atlantic, you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on the passing scenery. It’s worth the splurge for a balcony.
While the vast majority of cruise lines have ships that sail here in the warm spring and summer, there are also options during the cooler, off-season period. Temperatures may drop, but as early as autumn travelers will be treated to thin crowds and far more affordable attractions and diversions. And don’t underestimate the benefit of a sunburn-free vacation. From all-inclusive luxury liners to family-friendly cruise ships, these are our favorite ships that sail the Med.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer
This just debuted, 750-passenger ship is the Regent’s first new build in over a decade. It has tons of exciting features, from a Canyon Ranch SpaClub, to Chartreuse, an impressive Parisian-style brasserie, and the most expensive suite at sea—a two-bedroom stunner with nearly 4,000-square feet and its own mini spa, naturally. Mediterranean cruisers can participate in exclusive Gourmet Explorer Tours (a pesto-making class in Portofino, shopping for olive oil in Corfu) and will appreciate the all-balcony accommodations.
Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Esprit
The 62-passenger Crystal Esprit is the first yacht from this luxury line, which is also branching out into river cruisers and private jet service. And it’s a big departure from Crystal’s two larger, 1,000-passenger ships, known for their Nobu-helmed Silk Road restaurants and elaborate poolside buffets. Instead, you trade in those options for intimacy, as well as a watersports platform with a submarine. Fortunately, the food is still as incredible as any scenery you may pass on your 7 or 14-day voyage to Greece and Cyprus or Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Italy.
Holland America’s MS Koningsdam
New for 2016, this 2,650-passenger ship offers a fresh new look and feel for Holland America. Highlights include a partnership with America’s Test Kitchen for cooking demos and hands-on tutorials, as well as a wine bar with blending capabilities. The ship, which was designed by Adam D. Tihany, is also less dark and masculine than the line’s older vessels. Highlights of the ship’s Mediterranean itineraries include stops in Santorini, Olympia, Gibraltar, and Málaga.
Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas
It would be hard for Royal Caribbean to top the level of innovation they displayed on their Quantum-class ships, from the game-changing high speed Wi-Fi and over-the-top amenities like skydiving simulators and bumper cars. Surprisingly, the Harmony of the Seas—the largest cruise ship sailing the ocean—offers one of the shortest Mediterranean cruises. Time-scrapped travelers can spend three nights hopping between Rome, Capri, and Barcelona (and dining at Michael Schwartz’s signature, on-board fine dining restaurant).
Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista
Wherever Carnival sails, the line brings with it an unpretentious vibe—too often a rarity on this side of the world. Now that Carnival is expanding to Europe, travelers can experience the brand’s all-day party attitude while enjoying a 10-day European sailing on the line’s newest ship. While floating from Athens to Barcelona, guests can listen to poolside DJ’s, dine at a seafood shack, and race down water slides that tower above the pool deck.
Hapag Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2
German Hapag Lloyd line, otherwise known for container shipping, is an unlikely candidate for the most luxurious cruise line in the world: but it’s time to drop your skepticism. This opulent ship has spectacular art collections, fine crystal and china in every dining room, and white-curtained day beds on deck that could easily compete with any five-star resort on land. Consider a 10-day voyage from Venice to Monte Carlo, with stops at the Ionian Islands, Capri, Portofino, and more.
Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess
On off weeks, this ship feels just right for couples, with a quiet adults-only pool, a cabana-filled Serenity lounge, and a Champagne bar. But when summer comes to the Mediterranean, this ship becomes full of multi-generational groups, when plenty of teens lounging with soft-serve cones in hand. At night, as the ship sails between Florence, Ephesus, Naples, and other popular Mediterranean destinations, families go from the buffet to the movies under the stars en masse.
Oceania Cruises’ Oceania Riviera
Oceania just launched the recently refurbished Sirena, but don’t forget about the line’s two purpose-built ships, Riviera and Marina. These ships have Jacques Pepin’s first restaurants at sea, with a custom-made rotisserie, imported French products, and a plucked-from-Paris cheese trolley. Oceania also boasts the first cooking schools at sea, with a roster of market-tours with chefs (in Cinque Terre, for example) that conclude with classes back onboard.
Cunard’s Queen Victoria
Cunard’s traditional ships celebrate the British perspective on cruising. Imagine afternoon tea with a full band and proper clotted cream as well as crumbly scones served by white-gloved waiters; a proper pub with room temperature beers; crisp fish and chips with malted vinegar. The only thing very un-English will be the clear, sunny days you’ll enjoy on a Mediterranean sailing.
Windstar Cruises’ Star Pride
It’s easy to see why this ship is popular. The on-deck sail away parties are legendary, and the intimate 212-passenger capacity adds to the yacht-like experience. At night, the open-air buffet is transformed into a lovely al fresco grill that feels just right as you sail past France and Italy.
Ponant Yacht Cruises & Adventures’ Le Ponant
Ponant is known for its French-style cruising, which makes it one of the most appropriate options for a trip to the Western Mediterranean. The line has partnerships with Veuve Clicquot, resulting in free-flowing Champagne, and La Durée (for pastries prepared fresh for each sailing by the Parisian bakery).
Scenic Cruises’ Scenic Eclipse
When this ship sets sail in 2018, she’ll carry with her a seven-seat submarine and two seven-seat helicopters. The line’s first ocean-faring vessel will have her maiden voyage in the Mediterranean in August. Onboard, guests can indulge at Italian and French fine dining restaurants, catch a performance in the 240-seat theater, and sip endless complimentary beverages.