Can you give me some advice about a Mediterranean cruise this spring?
September 19, 2011 5:58 AM   Subscribe

My parents (in their 60s) and my brother and I (both in our 30s) are planning to take a Mediterranean cruise this spring. However, that's as far as we've gotten in the planning! I'd love some advice, especially from people who have done this before.

We'd like to go for about a week, and we're open to both the eastern and western Mediterranean. We're more interested in the time on land than in the time on the ship, though it would be nice if the ship felt clean and comfortable. We're not big "activities" people, so we don't need organized shuffleboard or whatever. We don't want to have to dress up for dinner (at least not all of the time).

In terms of what we'd like to see on land -- beautiful scenery, interesting architecture, cool museums, good food. We don't have to hit the big cities, but are definitely up for visiting must-see sights.

I know this is very vague, but I'd love any thoughts about itineraries, cities we should definitely see (or definitely skip), or cruise lines. Anything else we should be keeping in mind? Thanks in advance!
posted by cider to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
The cruising season in the Mediterranean kicks off around April - so there is little point in looking for anything before then.

Most of the cruise ships follow the same broad routes and they basically seem to be aligned with your goals of trying to fit in as many major sites as possible in a given time span. The cruise companies make good money from charging you for shore trips so you can bet they will not want to keep you at sea for too long. The cheapest options are likely to be on somewhat large and somewhat old ships. Larger new ships sit somewhere in the middle of the market (and might meet your definition of "clean and comfortable" better than the first group). The top of the market comprises smaller boats which might be sail driven or populated by lecturers in specific subjects.

Bear in mind that if you are visiting smaller places such as Greek islands the effect of several cruise ships disgorging passengers on a given day can have the effect of swamping the place you have come to enjoy - not so much a problem with cities.

In countries like Croatia and Greece there are extensive ferry networks which you could use as an alternative to a cruise ship: you will range much less widely and you must organise your own itinerary - but you can go where you want to on your own shedule.
posted by rongorongo at 6:20 AM on September 19, 2011

We did something like this several years ago, elderly relatives, us, and our kids - 3 generations on the same vacation and it worked out pretty great. I believe it was celebrity cruises and it start off in Barcelona, and included stops fro Rome, Florence, Croatia, Greece, Venice, Pompei and some other places that aren't coming to mind.

What was great was that the older folks could just stay on the ship while the younger ones could go ashore for these (pretty rushed) packaged day trips, or just be on your own in the stopover port, as long as you were at the pickup point at the designated time.

While on the ship there was a range of activities that could appeal to any age group, and always food, food, food. Dinners with all of us at one table were very nice.

After the cruise, we worked it out so that my wife and kids spent about a week or so planted in a single spot (time in northern Italy and in Paris), which is much more our style, but wouldn't have worked at all with the elderly relatives (too much walking etc).
posted by jasper411 at 6:36 AM on September 19, 2011

On our honeymoon, my wife and I took a cruise around the Greek islands and Turkey by sailing with Star Clippers. The cruise ship is a large sailing ship, and it goes on full wind-power whenever it can. There are few activities to do on the ship as it's mainly used for getting from place to place. It's mostly casual and there was a good mix of younger and older people when we went.

One day was fully at sea, which we thought would be boring but was actually pretty awesome since we got to wander around the ship and relax. The destinations were great and we were allowed to either go on the ship-sponsored itinerary or go out on our own. Just make sure to get back to the boat on time.

I'd do it again in a heartbeat and think that a family adventure would be fun.
posted by photovox at 8:30 AM on September 19, 2011

You might want to look into Tauck World Discovery based in Westport CT. They have both eastern and western med cruise/land combos (though maybe longer than 7 days) and use much smaller, luxurious ships that can dock at very charming and interesting ports.
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 8:56 AM on September 19, 2011

I've been on three Mediterranean cruises-- when I was 13 we cruised down the coast of Turkey to Israel in lieu of a bat mitzvah party, and liked it so much we did similar things for my two younger sisters' bat mitzvahs.

Two of the cruises were in late December/early January, which is a perfectly nice time to be in the Med-- chilly, but not unpleasant, and much less crowded. You will have no trouble finding cruises at that time of year.

Try to give yourselves a few extra days in the cities your cruise starts and ends in. Cruises by their nature are a sort of travel tasting menu-- you never get a really in-depth look at any one place, and if you're anything like me, by the end of the trip you will want to stay in one place long enough to see a lot of it. My favorite parts of my sister's trips were the days we spent in Rome.

Try to eat at the best restaurants you can find. Don't waste too much time shopping in the tourist districts-- it's a lot of the same stuff over and over. If you like art and archaeology, this is a golden opportunity to see many of the greatest cultural treasures in Europe. Go to Pompeii or Herculanuem if you possibly can. Get tickets for the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in advance, or you'll spend half the day in line for them. Take your time climbing the hill to the Parthenon. When you're on the boat, rest up-- don't waste a minute of your time on shore.
posted by nonasuch at 9:01 AM on September 19, 2011

Gah. I *just* read an article about Med cruising with 2 generations and different needs, and can't find it to save my life. A couple things I do remember ... be sure to check distances from port to city you want to see (like Rome). Shop around for excursions instead of just taking the ship's. I'll keep looking.
posted by cyndigo at 10:12 AM on September 19, 2011

We did a Mediterranean cruise with Royal Caribbean last year and it was one of the best trips we've ever taken. I know some people are not big fans of cruising, but we have found that we are able to decide how relaxed, or how active, we would like to be and we can choose our shore excursions to fit our desires.

Our trip was a bit longer than what you are considering, and so we were able to see a bit more of the area. The cruise started from Civitavecchia, and so we opted to spend a couple of days in Rome before setting sail. We had two days to wander around Rome, and we were able to see quite a lot, but I plan to go back for a longer stay.

The ship's itinerary included Sicily, Athens, Ephesus, Rhodes, Alexandria, and Naples, all of which were amazing. We were most interested in the archeological experiences, so we tended to go on long treks through half-buried cities. Ephesus and Pompeii were incredible; we had no idea how well preserved these ancient cities would be. If you can make it to Egypt, seeing the pyramids in Giza is a memory I will take to my grave, and the Alexandria National Museum should not be missed.

Most of these tours are perfectly accessible for folks who are mobility-challenged, and the description of each one will explain how much walking is required. I suggest reading through some of the itineraries on the cruise web pages to see what strikes your fancy. Cruise Critic is also a useful tool to get an idea of how other people have enjoyed the specific cruise line, ship, or excursions that you are considering.

Enjoy your cruise!
posted by blurker at 11:51 AM on September 19, 2011

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