by John Wilmott, The Telegraph, March 1, 2017
Whether it's a summer "fun and sun" cruise with all the family, a late-season cultural cruise around some of Europe's key sights or a holiday under sail to ome of the continent's smaller, unhurried ports - the Mediterranean is one of the best destinations for those looking to explore by ship. With cruises catering to a wide range of budgets and itineraries to suit all tastes, the hardest part is deciding which one to plump for.
1. Family fun on MSC Cruises
Young, old, fitness fan or sybarite – there’s something to please everyone on MSC Splendida. Passengers on a week-long cruise from Valencia will find four pools plus volleyball and squash courts, a state-of-the-art gym and a running track. The spa has a Turkish bath and offers Balinese massages, while on the top deck staff will deliver refreshing fruit skewers.
At the other end of the scale is the casino, glitzy shows, a nightclub and multiple dining options. The itinerary will satisfy most tastes, too, with stops at Marseille, Genoa, Civitavecchia (for Rome), the Sicilian capital Palermo, Cagliari in Sardinia and Palma, Majorca.
Various departures in June 2017, from £699 per person excluding flights (020 3426 3010; msccruises.co.uk).
2. Try a Disney cruise
No one knows how to keep children happy quite like Disney. The ship Disney Magic not only offers the chance to meet Mickey and other characters but also has features that will appeal to older children, such as waterslides and Marvel’s Avengers Academy, where budding super heroes can embark on secret missions.
Facilities for all the family, such as the stage shows and even some of the restaurants, widen the ship’s appeal. During the school holidays, Magic leaves Barcelona on a seven-night round-trip calling at Naples (Pompeii is a hit with most age groups) and the respective ports that serve Rome, Florence and Nice, so that parents can find time for culture or shopping.
From £4,837 per person for a family of four sharing a cabin, departing in August, 2017. Excludes flights (0800 171 2317).
3. Luxury in Amalfi with Oceania
The Amalfi Coast is widely regarded as the most spectacular in the Mediterranean, yet many cruise ships do not schedule port stops here. Oceania visits both Amalfi and Positano this summer. Amalfi has a distinctive 11th-century cathedral, while Positano’s attractive, flower-covered buildings tumble down the mountainside to the sea. A visit to hilltop Ravello, with its incredible coastal views, is a must. Venice and Barcelona book-end this 11-night voyage that calls at Split, Kotor, Taormina, Civitacchia (for Rome), Monte Carlo and Marseille. Note that Oceania’s Riveria has several gourmet restaurants at no surcharge, plus a cookery school.
From £2,289 per person departing on May 16 2017 (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).
4. A three-week cruise with Holland America Line
Holland America Line excels at long and leisurely cruises. If you fancy a 24-night midsummer sojourn, consider this western Mediterranean departure from Rome. The itinerary includes a few grand cities – there’s an overnight in Barcelona and visits to Livorno (for Florence), Monte Carlo, Marseille and Palma – but it ticks off a range of smaller ports. Cueta is a Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco, Ajaccio is a gateway to Corsica’s splendid scenery, while at Gibraltar you could ascend the rock itself to see the Barbary macaques. The ship, Westerdam, has a Culinary Arts Centre bound to excite foodies.
From £2,899 per person departing on June 4 or September 8 2017 excluding flights (0843 374 2300; hollandamerica.com).
5. Ultimate luxury on Regent Explorer
Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ all-suite vessel Explorer was one of the most talked-about launches of 2016. The 750-passenger ship will be sailing the Mediterranean in November on a Rome to Lisbon voyage. If that seems a strange time for a Mediterranean cruise, remember there will be fewer crowds at the ports of call – Barcelona, Palma and Málaga among others, with the bonus of Portofino on the Italian coast and an overnight stay in Cádiz, within reach of Seville.
The 12-night Plazas and Cathedrals cruise costs from £6,069 per person all-inclusive (02380 682 280; rssc.com).
6. Off-season Catalonia with Costa Cruises
Barcelona makes a splendid off-season city break option. Why not add a week’s cruise to your Catalan trip? Costa Cruises has a variety of options from Barcelona, including a seven-night voyage that visits Rome (from Civitavecchia) and Marseille but also adds intriguing La Spezia and Savona. The former allows access to Italy’s marvellous Cinque Terre villages, the latter boasts the 16th-century fortress of Priamar. The ship, Diadema, is new and has a 500m promenade designed to resemble the Italian Riviera.
From £440 per person departing April 3 2017. Excludes flights. Other seven-night spring cruises are available (023 8202 4754; costacruises.co.uk).
7. See the hidden Mediterranean with Seabourn
Florence; Rome; Nice... been there; done that? How about Ciutadella, Santa Margherita, Bonifacio and La Spezia? Seabourn’s Autumn Isles voyage concentrates on lesser-known ports in the western Mediterranean accessible only to smaller ships.
Its brand-new ship Seabourn Encore sets out from Barcelona to explore them. Ciutadella, where fishing boats bob in a narrow inlet, is one of Menorca’s many charming finds. Santa Margherita near Genoa has an equally alluring harbour while Bonifacio teeters on a cliff top in Corsica. La Spezia in Italy has inspired poets from Dante to Byron. The Provencial port of Bandol and Malta’s satellite island of Gozo are also on the route.
The 19-night cruise departs September 14 2017 and costs from £7,299 per person, excluding flights (0843 373 2000; seabourn.com).
8. Fly from a regional airport with Thomson
If you don’t associate Thomson Cruises with off-the-beaten-track holidays, the cruise on the mid-sized Thomson Majesty on October 24, 2017 should come as a pleasant surprise. The itinerary, a round-trip from Palma, Majorca, features only one large port – Civitavecchia (for Rome).
From Trapani, Sicily, you could visit the captivating hilltop town of Erice or the Doric temple of Segesta. Sorrento is a delight in its own right – but is also close to Pompeii and Vesuvius. Propiano is a gateway to Corsica’s mountain scenery and pretty beaches and from Mahon, on Menorca, you could take a trip to a fishing village or even go horseriding.
From £856 per person including drinks on board and flights from regional airports (020 3451 2682; thomson.co.uk/cruise).
9. Cruise under sail with Noble Caledonia
Sea Cloud II makes a strong case for being one of the most beautiful passenger ships in the world. During a circumnavigation of Sicily in October, the captain will set the 27 sails of this three-masted barque as often as wind permits. Noble Caledonia has chartered this magnificent vessel for a journey that takes in many of the island’s treasures, such as the Unesco-listed baroque towns of Noto and Ragusa, the Greek theatre at Taormina and the string of Doric temples at Agrigento. Scenic Lipari in the Aeolian Islands is also included on this round-trip from Malta. The nine-night voyage is preceded by two nights in a top hotel.
From £6,495 per person, departing on October 17 2017, including excursions (020 7752 0000; noble-caledonia.co.uk).
10. A cruise for golfers with Azamara
The combination of tasty tapas, regional wine and golf will prove irresistible for some. On an eight-night Azamara cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon passengers have the option to buy a golf package that includes the famous Valderrama course in Spain and top-class greens in Valencia, Majorca and the Algarve. Along the way there will be plenty of opportunities to sample local dishes and regional wines (plus a visit to farm on the line’s Insider Access programme). Less-visited ports on the itinerary on Azamara Journey include Alcúdia, Alicante and Portimao, and there is time to explore in Cartagena, Gibraltar and Seville.
The Iberian Adventure cruise costs from £1,679 per person departing on April 20 2018. Excludes flights (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk).
11. See Corsica under sail with Star Clippers
Guests never tire of Sailaway on Royal Clipper. More than 40 sails unfold to the strains of Vangelis’s Conquest of Paradise. This graceful recreation of a tea clipper is the only five-masted, full-rigged ship on the seas today. The flagship of the Star Clippers fleet only takes 220 guests and has a marine deck (paddle boards, snorkels and kayaks are available) three bars, a small pool and a charming split-level restaurant. The seven-night Rome to Cannes journey focuses on Corsica, with several stops to explore the island’s verdant interior and scores of beaches. Portofino and Monaco are also on the route.
From £1,575 cruise-only, departing August 19 2017 (01756 706511; starclippers.co.uk).
12. Explore Greece and Croatia with Viking Ocean
This Empires of the Mediterranean cruise with Viking Ocean straddles the western and eastern Mediterranean. Venice is the start point for the 10-night voyage which features several intriguing stops. There’s fine architecture among the cobbled old-town lanes in Koper, Slovenia, and in Zadar, Croatia. From Dubrovnik comes a scenic cruise into the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Crossing into Greek waters, the mid-sized Viking Star visits Corfu – verdant in spring – and Katakolon, close to Olympia, where the Olympic Games had its origins in 776 BC. The dramatic Greek island of Santorini is the penultimate port of call before the cruises ends in Athens.
From £3,015 per person, including some excursions. Departs March 28 and 29 2017 (0800 014 7541; vikingcruises.co.uk).
13. See in the New Year in Madeira with Fred Olsen
Funchal in Madeira is an extraordinary location in which to be docked on New Year’s Eve. One of the world’s most impressive fireworks displays occurs just offshore in the island’s capital.
Instead of jostling for position on the waterfront however, you can be on board Fred Olsen Balmoral for a grandstand view. Balmoral leaves Southampton on December 21 2017 for a Christmas and New Year cruise to the Canaries, visiting four of the islands including lesser-known La Palma. There are additional stops at La Coruña in northern Spain (with the option of a visit to Santiago de Compostela) and Lisbon as well as Madeira.
An 18-night Canaries Christmas and Funchal Fireworks cruise costs from £1,999 per person (0845 312530; fredolsencruises.com).
14. A gourmet cruise of Spain and Portugal with Silversea
If food is one of your travel motivations, Silversea’s Monte Carlo-to-Lisbon voyage is a gourmet adventure. At Barcelona you could try the traditional Catalonian dish, escalivada, before moving on to a paella and wine excursion in Valencia guided by a chef and sommelier. Cartagena features a culinary walkabout, before a call at Cádiz that presents the enviable choice of tasting sherry in a bodega in Jerez, or tapas in Seville. Other ports include Málaga and Portimao in Portugal. One of the must-try restaurants on board the all-inclusive Silver Cloud is Le Champagne, the only wine restaurant at sea by Relais & Châteaux.
From £4,450 per person for 10 nights, departing May 19 2017 and excluding flights (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).
15. Action-packed cruising with Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean has a knack for combining inventive itineraries with its feature-packed ships. A week-long France and Spain itinerary on Independence of the Seas includes two calls on Spain’s north coast. Bilbao is famed for its Guggenheim museum, though the river walk, old town and market are worth a look, too. The seaside resort of Gijón is within reach of mountain scenery. Le Havre – for touring the Normandy coast or taking a longer trip to Paris – is on the route, as is Cherbourg. Activities on the ship range from Broadway musicals to an ice rink and wave pool.
From £749 per person for a one-week cruise, round-trip from Southampton, departing May 27 2017 (0844 493 4005; royalcaribbean.co.uk).
16. Summer holiday fun with Thomson
Want to travel to the Med during the school summer holidays at a reasonable cost? Thomson’s week-long Spanish Sunsets cruise sails from Málaga and visits Barcelona, Palma in Majorca, Ibiza, Almería and Ceuta. Barcelona and Palma are architecturally rich and Ibiza has lovely beaches. From Almería, teenagers should enjoy a trip into the Tabernas Desert and Ceuta is a Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco. TUI Discovery 2 has an indoor pool, climbing wall and a mini-golf course. Standard drinks and gratuities are included in the cruise fare.
From £906 per person (based on a family of four) for seven nights, departing on July 30 2017 (020 3451 2682; thomson.co.uk).