Mar 8, 2024Cruises, Travel Advice0 comments

Are you thinking about taking a cruise in the Med but unsure how it will compare to prior cruises? Or maybe this will be your first cruise and you don’t know at all what to expect? No worries, my top tips for planning (and enjoying a Mediterranean cruise) will help you avoid all the pitfalls!

The Mediterranean is one of the most popular cruise destinations worldwide. That’s no surprise – there are few other regions where you can find as much history and culture as well as delicious food and secluded beaches. But if you are planning a Med cruise there are some things you need to know to make your trip the best it can be.

Whether this is your first cruise or have been on dozens of Caribbean cruises – a Med cruise might surprise you. I have been on six cruises with different cruise lines in the Mediterranean so far, from Spain all the way to Greece and Istanbul. But there are some things all Med cruises have in common and that are quite different from the even more common Caribbean cruises.

Read on to learn what you need to know to avoid disappointment (no, your cruise will not dock in Rome, no matter what the itinerary says), save money (for once you may not need that expensive drink package), and manage expectations! From when to travel to what extras to buy to highlights and negatives – this post will help you out!

Port in Corsica

Med cruises are popular for a reason – they offer the perfect mix of history, culture, nature, and sun

Absolutely essential Med Cruise Tips

# 1: Avoid Summers at all cost

Summer is not the best time for your Med cruise

Probably the most important tip I can give you is to avoid July and August for a Med cruise if at all possible.

There are several reasons for this: Not only do you pay a premium for a cruise on an overfull ship with many families and kids (which may be a pro or a con depending on your personal situation) but in the summer months the ports are also likely to be extremely crowded.

But the biggest disadvantage of cruising the Med in summer by far is one that I experienced on my Celebrity cruise at the end of July 2022 – you are running a very high risk of experiencing a heat wave.

Now you may be used to hot days on cruises to the Caribbean or Mexico, but in general ports there involve a lot of time at the beach or engaging in water sports. In contrast, Med cruises are all about seeing ancient cites, exploring charming villages, and experiencing another culture.

All of which will be difficult in 40 °C weather!

Now, if you live in Europe (or visit often) and you just want to enjoy a fun time on the ship and spend some time at the beaches of Spain or Greece – a summer trip may work for you. But if this is a rare bucket-list trip and your one chance to see Rome, Athens, Florence, or Venice – do yourself a favour and avoid high summer.

Best Time for a Med Cruise

The best time for a Med cruise is definitely May to June with September to early October your second best option.

April and late October to early November can work well (we had a wonderful Greece cruise in November a couple of years ago), but you do run the risk of bad weather. But July and August are almost certainly going to be unpleasantly hot. The summer is much better suited for British Isles or Scandinavia cruises.

Bridge over Tiber river in Rome with dome of St. Peter's in distance

No, your cruise will not visit Rome

# 2: The cruise may not go where you think it is going

And no, I am not talking about strikes. While it is true that there tend to be quite a number of strikes in Europe and sometimes ships will visit other ports than originally planned (as happened to us on a Greece cruise that ended up skipping Athens and docking in Split, Croatia, instead), this is a much bigger issue. But luckily one you can be prepared for.

Many popular cruise destinations are far from the port

Fact 1: Some bucket-list European destinations just aren’t on the coast.

Fact 2: Some large port cities just aren’t that famous.

So the cruise lines have come up with an easy solution: They put the nearest popular city on their itinerary even if it is an hour or more from the port.

This doesn’t happen only in the Mediterranean (Paris and London are famous culprits on Western European cruises) but it is very prevalent in the Med. On some Med cruises half or more of the “itinerary ports” aren’t really the ports you will go to.

The most common case is Rome. Ships will dock in Civitavecchia instead, about 80 kilometers or one hour northwest of the Eternal City.

Now, you can fairly easily take a train (or an excursion) to Rome but it will cost you money (and in the case of a ship excursion quite a chunk) and cut into your time. Instead of 10 hours on a regular port day you will probably only have about 6 hours to actually tour Rome. Florence and Venice are similar.

What you can do about it

There isn’t really much you can do about the itinerary itself – I mean, Rome just isn’t on the coast so the ship can’t dock there.

But it is important to be aware so you can plan accordingly (those 6 hours won’t be enough time to properly see the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon and still have time for a leisurely meal.

If one of these “not really on the itinerary” cities is something you really want to see, a good solution is to choose an itinerary that starts or ends in your bucket-list destination. That way you can spend one, two or three days prior (or after) the cruise to properly explore the city instead of rushing through it.

Even though Venice IS a port city, no cruise ships are allowed to dock there anymore

# 3: Bring the right kind of cash and don’t lose it

Almost all countries on a Med cruise use the Euro as currency. Aside of extremely touristy stores and restaurants, US dollars will not be accepted.

While it is a good idea to have a credit card along, how much credit cards are used for smaller purchases can vary a lot by country. Make sure to have enough cash in Euros along to pay for snacks, drinks, entrance fees etc. to avoid disappointment or the hassle of having to exchange currency during your port visit.

And while Europe in general is quite safe, there is a risk of pick-pockets, especially in areas with a lot of tourists. So keep an eye on your money, don’t take excessive amounts of cash with you, and store your money securely in a money pouch or belt.

Town of Portofino with quaint pink and orange buildings lined up along a bay dotted with white boats and yachts.

Portofino is a great port to spend a relaxing day soaking up the Mediterranean vibe

# 4: Avoid burn-out

Yes, I know I keep on harping about how exhausting Med cruises can be. But it is nothing but the truth, especially for guests who don’t anticipate returning to Europe soon. On our first Mediterranean cruise as a family, we were all gung-ho to explore in Monaco, Florence, and Rome, but by the time we got to Naples, Pompeii took quite a bit of effort and in Palermo we had pretty much given up (and returned to the ship after an hour or two).

Include a day or two to relax

My advice: Take a careful look at your cruise itinerary and pick a port (or two) in which you do not book another exhausting full-day tour but spend a day at the beach, on a short hike, or just chilling out in the city. Yes, you may feel like you are missing out on something but better to skip a day than powering through until the entire trip turns into a chore.

Many Med cruises do include ports that make excellent chill-out days. While you can usually book longer excursions from Portofino, Ajaccio, Palma, or Villefranche, these ports are just as magical if you take some time to recharge.

Choose a good mix of excursions

And don’t forget to plan your excursions with an eye to variety. European churches are gorgeous but if you see five per day for six days in a row it may be a bit much.

So include a mix of historical sights, nature, relaxation, and other fun stuff even if it means you will miss out on a bucket-list destination (you won’t be able to see all in a week anyway).

Are you having a hard time choosing between different Med cruise itineraries? Check out my post on bucket-list Med ports you should not miss!

Manage your Expectations to avoid disappointment

Even the most scenic beaches tend to be small, crowded and full of pebbles

# 5: You don’t cruise the Med for the beach experience

Maybe you have dreamed for years of sunning yourself on the beach at Cannes or discovering Greek beaches. But please be aware that most beaches in the Mediterranean are much smaller and often much more crowded than beaches in the Caribbean or even the US.

You will rarely find the long and wide beaches with fine white sand seen on tourism websites. More likely the local beach will be narrow, full of pebbles or stones, and you may struggle to find a place to put your towel.

There are of course exceptions. Mallorca has some beautiful sandy beaches and in many countries you can find secluded coves and quiet bays with pine trees and clear blue water.

But do take a close look at your itinerary if you want to spend time at a beach and do your research. If you just assume that the beach will measure up to the beaches you are used to you may be disappointed.

Norwegian Getaway's Casino

Casinos are open only limited hours in the Med

# 6: Ship activities may be less or different from what you are used to

On port days most guests will be off the ship all day. Consequently, there will be less on offer as far as activities are concerned. Sure, there may be a trivia here or there and some other activities but not the variety of crafts, demonstrations, and lectures you may be used to from other cruises.

On the plus side, the ship tends to be pleasantly empty on port days and if you decide to stay on board you can often get a good deal at the spa and there will be plenty of loungers available at the pool.

Ships do have a regular line-up of shows in the evening but probably less late night parties than on more party-oriented cruises.

Expect a limited casino experience

You will find the biggest difference in the casino. First of all, the casino will only be open a couple of hours most days as ships are generally in port from around 8 am to 6 pm and the casino doesn’t open until after the ship is out in international waters.

Secondly, I have been told by casino workers on a prior cruise that the larger percentage of European cruisers in comparison to US guests means that there is a lot less demand for the casino.

On ships that spend the better part of the year in the Med or that cater mostly to Europeans, casinos are often small or non-existent. And on US ships with larger casinos, only some of the tables may be open and the atmosphere may be a lot less vibrant than for example in the Caribbean.

# 7: Med cruises are exhausting

Another consequence of the long excursions and exhausting touring is that fewer passengers are up for much nightlife.

This will of course depend on the cruise line and the average age of cruisers, but overall expect less late-night fun and nighttime excitement than on most other cruises.

By 10 pm most guests are done for the day and back in their cabin. After all, another exciting day is right around the corner.

Best Med cruise tips to save you money

Tropical cocktail on a table

On a Med cruise there will be less time for cocktails

# 8: Days in port are long and amenities may not be worth it

Many excursions that first-time Med cruisers are likely to want to do – destinations like Rome, Florence, Pompeii, or Venice – take all day.

Not only do they often require several hours of travel time to even get to the attraction, but there is so much to see and do that many tours do not return to the ship until after 4 pm (and if your bus gets stuck in travel you will barely make it by dinner time).

So what does that mean?

You may be better off without a beverage package

It means that the cost-benefit-ratio for on-board amenities like beverage packages may be quite different from cruises in other regions.

On a transatlantic or Caribbean cruise there are plenty of chances to use your package: You may have a fresh-pressed juice with breakfast, a cocktail at the pool, a soda with lunch, another cocktail (or two) in the afternoon, a pre-dinner drink, wine with dinner, and some more drinks in the evening. All in all, for many cruisers it is easy enough to make the hefty beverage package fees pay for themselves.

But on a Med cruise things are different. Your excursion leaves by 8:30 am so maybe your breakfast is rushed. Then you are off the ship until close to 5 pm. After a quick shower you may have time for a quick cocktail before ordering wine with your dinner. But given the exhausting nature of many excursions, you will likely be done for the day by 10 pm and your beverage package may go to waste.

Should you always skip a beverage package on a Med cruise?

This is not to say that a beverage package is always a bad idea on a Med cruise.

Sometimes special deals make the packages so affordable that they are worth it even just for a drink or two per day. On other Med cruises there may be more sea days or you aren’t planning on taking many excursions or maybe you know that you can still squeeze in plenty of drinks… so in some cases a package still makes sense.

But most Med cruisers can save money by paying out of pocket for drinks.

Beverage packages are not the only amenity this applies to

The same reasoning as for beverage packages also applies to most other on-board amenities. Spa passes, room upgrades, dining packages, and retreat fees may not be worth it on a port-intensive Med cruise.

Again, everyone is different and these amenities do still make sense for some cruisers. But seriously evaluate how much use you are likely to get out of them – there is a good chance you can save some money!

Church in Valldemossa

Cruisers can easily explore Mallorca on their own

# 9: Europe is easy to do on your own

While there are some exceptions, for the most part Europe can easily be explored on your own, even if you are not a seasoned traveler.

Most people will speak at least some English, safety is usually no issue, and there is plenty of inexpensive public transport available.

I do recommend either ship tours or independently arranged excursions in ports that require a long drive between port and destination or if you have limited mobility.

But in many or even most ports, you can basically walk of the ship and are right in the middle of town. There is no need to spend hundreds of dollars for a ship tour if you can see the same for a fraction of the price.

You will have to do a bit of research to decide which ports fall in which category but I rarely take ship excursions in the Mediterranean and save hundreds of dollars per trip!

Actually, taking a full-day excursion per port would often cost the same or more than the entire cruise did to start with.

Barcelona, Athens, Naples, Dubrovnik, Portofino, Villefranche, Cagliari, and Kotor are just some of the ports that can easily be done on your own.

Some ports will require some sort of shuttle transfer between ship and city. Sometimes these are free but more often they will cost a smallish fee. But once you are in town, an excursion is really not necessary.

Relaxing solo on the balcony

On a Med cruise you may not have a lot of chances to use your balcony

# 10: Balconies may not be a must-have

I know many cruisers don’t dream about traveling without a balcony and of course a balcony is always a plus.

But due to the long days you may not have many chances to sit and enjoy it. So while it is a nice to have, I feel a balcony can be foregone if you are on a budget.

This is especially true if travelling in the off-season.

On my Royal Caribbean cruise in October I was lucky enough to get an upgrade to a balcony cabin. I was excited as I hardly ever book anything higher than an Oceanview. But even though the balcony was great with a wonderful view of the boardwalk, the Aqua Theater and out to sea, it was just too chilly out there.

I went out a couple of times to enjoy the fresh air but it was just too cold and I went back inside after just a short while.

In addition, in many Med ports your ship will be docked in the industrial port so the views might be less than you would hope for!

So my recommendation is to think carefully whether you need a balcony if your budget is tight.

Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas


The Mediterranean is a top cruise destination and you are sure to have a blast. However, a bit of research ahead of time can avoid major disappointment and help you to plan the trip that is right for you.

And being aware of some of the unique aspects of a Med cruise (especially if you are used to cruising in the Caribbean) can help you to save serious money!

Summary of my best tips for your Mediterranean Cruise

    • Avoid the summer months of July and August and travel in May/June or September/early October instead
    • Double-check your itinerary and make sure you know where exactly the ship will stop 
    • Bring both a credit card in Euro in cash and secure your valuables when out and about
    • Schedule one or two more leisurely days without long excursions to avoid burnout 
    • Don’t expect spectacular beaches like in the Caribbean
    • Be prepared for a limited activity program – Med cruises are more about the destination than the ship
    • Don’t expect very lively nighttime entertainment – most cruisers are exhausted after a long day in port
    • Save money by carefully considering which amenities you need if you spend only limited time on board
    • Save money by exploring ports on your own instead of with ship tours
    • Like other ship amenities, balconies are less important on Med cruises than on many others

Hi, I am Kitty and I love to travel! Welcome to my blog, where I share all I have learned on my trips - good and bad - to help you have a better, cheaper, and more perfect vacation!


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