THE MEDITERRANEAN IS THE second-most popular cruise destination in the world, and for good reason. Nowhere else on Earth combines such an array of stunning marine settings with so many iconic, cultural and historic treasures. Cruise passengers can comb the ancient ruins of Greece and Italy, party on the Riviera, sip the wines of southern France, island-hop along the Iberian Peninsula or explore the walled cities of the Dalmatian Coast.
Sea-going travelers seeking to make their own odysseys in the Mediterranean have a full berth of choices among international cruise lines, with ships ranging from large resort vessels to small luxury ships. High season for Mediterranean cruises commences in June and tapers off by November. Experienced cruisers often prefer autumn or spring sailings when temperatures are milder and ports less crowded. Winter sailings are sparse, although the Mediterranean is inching toward becoming a major year-round cruise destination.
Cruises in the Western Mediterranean are four times as popular as cruises in the Eastern Mediterranean, where smaller luxury lines predominate, offering educational voyages to the Greek Isles; the Adriatic coastline of Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro; and, until recent political problems flared up, the treasure houses of Turkey and Egypt. Italy hosts the most cruises, followed in order by Spain, France and Greece. Eight Mediterranean ports served more than 1 million passengers each last year, led by Barcelona, Rome (Civitavecchia) and Veanice. Marseille and the Balearic Islands of Spain (including Majorca and Ibiza) also topped the million-passenger mark, as did Athens (Piraeus) and two more Italian ports, Naples and Genoa.
Picking a Mediterranean cruise depends in part on selecting an itinerary with the ports, major and minor, that interest you most, whether they be Rome or Athens, Gibraltar or Santoríni, Florence or Monte Carlo. Another determining factor is which cruise line to book. Nearly 50 cruise lines deploy at least one of their ships to the Mediterranean this summer. Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, Disney, Cunard and Carnival are among the largest operators with the largest ships, while Silversea, Seabourn, Viking, Crystal, Windstar, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas and Azamara Club Cruises lead the ranks of smaller luxury options. For Mediterranean trips year-round or shorter than a week’s duration, there are several international, European-based lines to choose from, including Costa Cruises (an Italian cruise line headquartered in Geneva), MSC Cruises (the world’s fourth-largest cruise company) and Variety Cruises (an Athens-based operator of boutique ships and mega-yachts).
Enclosed by Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the wide Mediterranean has plenty of space to accommodate the world’s major cruise lines while packing enough attractions to reward a lifetime of sailings, whether you yearn to see Vesuvius or Venice, Capri or Crete.
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