There’s no doubt that cruising is one of the most relaxing ways to spend your holiday. You board the ship, unpack your suitcase and then your every whim is catered for during the duration of your cruise.
Cruising has, unsurprisingly, surged in popularity over the last few years, and ocean cruising in Europe is no exception.
A cruise is a great inclusion in a longer European holiday. You can break your itinerary up with a cruise or add on a cruise at the beginning or end of your trip. Either way, you’ll appreciate some of the benefits of cruising:
• Great value with accommodation, meals, transport and activities included
• Majority of costs pre-paid
• No need for cash on a daily basis
• Hassle free
In this article I’ll focus just on ocean cruising but if river cruising is more your thing, you can read this article.
Ocean cruising in Europe
Before you go: Start planning your European ocean cruise to the Mediterranean, Greek islands, Northern Europe and the Baltics
To start planning your European cruise, first you’ll need to decide where you’d like to visit. Choose from the East and West Mediterranean (including the Greek islands), the Baltic, and Northern Europe. Then you’ll need to decide which port of embarkation suits your travel plans best.
Some of the most popular ports include Barcelona, Genoa and Venice for Mediterranean cruises and Kiel and Copenhagen for Northern Europe and Baltic cruises.
Once you have determined where you’d like to visit and which port you’ll depart from, you can then determine which itinerary suits you best.
There are a huge number of ocean cruise lines operating in Europe and they all offer a varied range of itineraries. Cruise lines include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Cunard, Silversea, Azamara, MSC, Norwegian, Holland America, P&O, Disney and Viking, to name just a few.
Generally speaking, cruise itineraries range from 7 days to about three weeks, although there are longer cruises available. In many instances, the majority of sailing takes place overnight with the ship docking in a new port each morning.
This was one of the things I really liked about the two Greek islands cruises I have done.
If you are at all apprehensive about seasickness, I’d be inclined to choose a cruise that sails from port to port mostly overnight. There’s less chance you’ll get seasick when you are asleep! Having said that, on both occasions I have cruised in the Mediterranean, the waters have been very calm.
When to cruise the Mediterranean and Northern Europe
Northern Europe and Baltic cruises operate mostly from April to August, whilst Mediterranean and Greek island cruises mainly operate from April to November. A limited number of cruise lines offer sailings from December to March – early booking is essential, particularly for December and January departures.
Choosing your cabin
After deciding on your cruise itinerary and departure date, you’ll need to choose a cabin type. As a rule of thumb, the least expensive accommodation will be in an inside cabin. Keep in mind that inside cabins have no portholes or windows – therefore no natural light.
Each cruise line has its own name for outside cabins (i.e. those with a porthole or window) and some also offer cabins with a private balcony. If budget isn’t a consideration, suites are also available on most ships.
Another thing to consider is the type of bed you require and the number of people who will be sharing your cabin. Not all cabins have a double bed (many have two single beds that can be pushed together) and cabins accommodating four are limited.
If you are travelling with children, a VERY limited number of five berth cabins are available on some ships so early booking is essential. Some ships also offer interconnecting cabins for families who prefer to have separate cabins for the children with the security of an internal doorway.
The location of your cabin is also worth considering. If you are a light sleeper, you might prefer a cabin away from the lifts, whilst some guests prefer a cabin more towards the front of the ship rather than one at the rear. Again, you might have a preference for a higher or lower deck.
If you’re unsure what type of cabin would suit you, a specialist cruise agent like Cruise Agency can help you decide.
Other things to arrange before you leave home include nominating your preferred ‘sitting’ for dinner and pre-booking the shore excursions you’d like to do. You’ll find more info on these below.
Onboard your cruise
The big day has arrived and you’re ready to board your ship so what happens now?
Onboard currency – cashless cruising
When you receive the documentation for your cruise you’ll be advised what time you can board the ship.
Upon boarding, you’ll be checked in and will be issued with a cruise card. This is the only currency you’ll need onboard the ship for the duration of your cruise so there’s no need to carry around cash.
All incidental items and drinks will be charged to your cruise card and you can settle your account the night prior to disembarkation with your personal credit card.
Ship facilities and activities
You probably won’t be spending a lot of time in your cabin as the ships provide many public spaces and activities for you to enjoy. As well as swimming pools, you’re likely to find a gym, cinema, casino, games room and library.
Cruises are also well known for their onboard entertainment and there’s usually an evening program full of international musicians, comedians, etc. as well as activities that guests can take part in such as shuffleboard tournaments. Most ships deliver a program for the following day’s activities to each cabin the night before.
In addition to all the activities, there are shops, bars, lounges and restaurants.
Speaking of restaurants, these are one of the reasons many travellers are repeat cruisers. As well as three meals per day, many ships provide all-day dining so whatever time of night or day you are feeling peckish, there’s something available.
Meals are plentiful and the biggest problem many people have on a cruise is not over indulging!
Due to the large number of passengers onboard, the evening meal is usually offered at two different times. These dinner sittings are normally at around 7pm and 8.45pm and guests nominate their preferred sitting time when making their cruise reservation.
In addition to the ‘included’ meals, guests are able to enjoy different dining experiences at specialty restaurants on board many ships at an additional cost.
Passengers with special dietary requirements are well catered for on most cruise lines but if you have any concerns, you should check well in advance to satisfy yourself that your needs will be catered for.
Drinks are not included in your cruise fare and must be budgeted for. Some cruise lines offer the option to pre-purchase a drinks package and this is worth considering if you are likely to consume more than a couple of glasses of alcohol, particularly cocktails, each day.
Probably the main reason most people choose to go on a cruise holiday is to visit the various ports that are featured on their itinerary.
In almost all instances, the ship’s activities team will offer at least one shore excursion at each port. These might be a walking tour or even a coach tour to a nearby attraction or natural wonder, for example.
Due to limited space, these usually have to be booked ahead of time.
Shore excursions a good way to get an overview of your destination from a knowledgeable guide in a group environment, but some travellers prefer to explore the destination at their leisure.
Don’t feel you have to do every single shore excursion (or any), but if you do decide to explore on your own, be sure to check what time you have to be back onboard the ship. The ship won’t wait for you if you’re late!
To eliminate the need to tip the staff onboard your ship, each cruise line imposes a service charge, often referred to as a gratuity. The amount of gratuity payable is usually based on a daily rate of around €9 to €10 (approximately A$12 to A$15) per adult per day.
It is the norm to pay the gratuity at the time of making the final payment for your cruise however some cruise lines give you the option to pay it onboard prior to disembarking.
I recommend pre-paying the gratuity – it’s a compulsory expense so you might as well pay it upfront and then you don’t have to budget for it at the end of your cruise. (Gratuities also apply to children, although at a lesser daily rate.)
Keep in mind …..
Cruise ships are BIG with some accommodating over 3,000 passengers! That’s a lot of people so if you’re not into crowds, consider your cruise ship carefully and choose a smaller ship with fewer people.
This article was brought to you by the friendly team at CruiseAgency.com.au but all words and opinions are my own!