The Pros and Cons of Seeing Europe By Cruise Ship

by Gray Cargill on January 16, 2013

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Is Europe on your travel bucket list? How many cities in Europe? Five? Ten? Thirty?

If you’ve got a travel bucket list a mile long that includes numerous cities in Europe, you may find yourself wondering how on Earth you can visit that many places with the week or two of vacation time you get every year. If you can only afford one trip to Europe per year, it could take you decades to see all the cities you want to see!

Perhaps one day, the light bulb goes off over your head: Why not take a cruise that stops in multiple European ports? You could see several of your dream cities in the course of a week!
Seems like the solution, doesn’t it? But is that the way you want to see Europe?

This was the situation I was faced with last year when I decided to book a Mediterranean cruise. Having now tried the cruise experience after years of being an independent (land-based) traveler, I can honestly say I have mixed feelings about it. If you’re considering a cruise, here are a few things you may want to consider before you hit the “book it” button.

Florence, Italy

The Pros of Seeing Europe by Cruise Ship

1. You can maximize your limited vacation time. A week-long cruise will stop in 5-6 port cities, often in different countries. You can cover a lot of ground (so to speak).

2. It’s easy. You only have to unpack once. You sleep in the same bed every night. Instead of schlepping your luggage—and yourself–from city to city, your hotel comes with you. You don’t have to puzzle over train schedules to get from city to city; you just wake up and you’re there. I loved that part.

3. Most of your expenses can be paid upfront. This includes your room, food, and any add-ons you’ve chosen (trip insurance—highly recommended—shore excursions, even airfare and ground transportation if you’ve chosen to book that through the cruise line). You can also prepay tips if you’re unsure who to tip, or how much. For the most part, you’ll know what your trip is going to cost you before you leave.

4. Your level of independence is completely up to you. If you don’t want the hassle of planning, you can take the ship’s shore excursions. If you enjoy making your own plans, you can make your own arrangements in port. The choice is yours.

5. If you’re concerned about safety as a solo traveler, a cruise can be among your safest options.

Cannes, France

The Cons of Seeing Europe by Cruise Ship

1. It’s a bit of a tease. It can be really frustrating having less than a day to explore a city you’ve been dreaming about forever. I loved that I got to see Sorrento and Positano, Florence, Marseilles, Avignon, and Cannes—but I only had a few hours in each! (Thank God I’d already been to Barcelona.) I would have loved at least a couple of days in each–and a week for Florence.

2. This is the opposite of “slow travel”. If you like to get to know a place in-depth, spend time in neighborhoods where people live, and mingle with the locals, you may find the cruise experience a bit shallow. You won’t have enough time to interact with locals in any depth, and you certainly won’t have enough time to get a feel for what it’s really like to live in a place. You’ll barely scratch the surface.

3. For the solo traveler on a tight budget, cruises can be expensive—even without a single supplement. Especially once you add in trip insurance, shore excursions, Internet access, etc. My Mediterranean cruise was the most expensive vacation I’ve ever taken. When I travel on my own, I have more flexibility when it comes to saving money.

4. You can forget about sleeping late. Ever. Even when I’m traveling, I still like to sleep in occasionally. That was impossible aboard ship. Every single day, the ship’s crew was on the PA system starting around 7am to make announcements about what time people could disembark, what there was to do in port, etc.

5. Be prepared to miss out on the local cuisine. If part of the joy of traveling for you is sampling the local cuisine, you’ll have limited opportunity to do so when you’re in port. You will usually be dining aboard ship, especially for breakfast and dinner (after all, you’ve already paid for it and you do want to get your money’s worth).

Placa Espanya

Conclusion

Independent travel will always be my first choice. I like having control over each component of my trips, and I prefer having more than a day to explore a city. But shaking up your usual travel style once in awhile isn’t a bad thing. I have no regrets about my cruise. As I was reviewing the past year recently, I was blown away by how much I was able to do and how many places I was able to visit during 2012. This was a great travel year for me. And one of the biggest reasons for this is because I went on that cruise.

Was it expensive? Yes. Do I wish I’d had more time in each port? Yes. Was it exhausting cramming so much into one week? Yes. Would I do it again? If the ship were traveling to several places on my travel bucket list, you bet I would.

Christine @GrrrlTraveler February 4, 2013 at 4:23 am

Very legitimate pros and cons for cruises.

I like the one about only unpacking once. I took one of those 21 days tours through Europe once and that was so whirlwind. We hit something like 14 cities and 7 countries … Looking back, the pros and cons were evenly balanced too. Even though I didn’t have much time or freedom, it was travel, I got to see a lot and although I didn’t get to build a deep relationship with a country, it still felt magical.

Gray February 4, 2013 at 7:00 am

Ooh, good to get your perspective, Christine. I know you’re an independent traveler too, so to hear you describe such a tour as “magical” definitely provides food for thought.

pools January 18, 2013 at 5:07 am

I wonder how it feels to be on a cruise and go to a place that you really want, one day I can have my vacation cruise

Gray January 18, 2013 at 6:07 am

I hope you do, pools!

Eric January 16, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Make sure you take a cruise that has overnights such as Venice, Barcelona, St. Petersburg. This will really make a difference in your trip. Venice is one of my favorite spots in Europe. The overnight option is really great, because you are able to get lost for 4 hours I mean explore around the city without all of the masses of people getting in the way. Another thing, always eat off the ship. The food has sooooo much more flavor than the food on the ship. Plus it is nice to taste the local cuisine. Italian/Greek food and coffee is a win!

Gray January 17, 2013 at 6:16 am

Hi, Eric – If it overnights in, say, Venice, does that mean you get 2 days there, or is the following day a day at sea while you transition to another port? That would certainly make it easier to enjoy a nice meal in port. I actually liked the food on my ship, it was quite good, but it just wasn’t the local cuisine, you know?

Eric January 18, 2013 at 1:57 pm

One of them is usually embarkation day. 2 full nights and then leave at say 7-9 in the morning on the following day and that day would be a sea day.

Jeff @ GoTravelzing January 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I have been on one cruise and thought it was the perfect no-brainer vacation. You don’t have to think about where you are going, what you are doing or where to eat. Of course there were no announcements at 7am and we only had three stops in seven days.

I do not see myself doing a European cruise for all the reasons that you mentioned. Especially because there is not enough time in the cities.

Gray January 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Yes, Jeff, a cruise is perfect for people who want to see new places but don’t want to (or can’t, for lack of time) research what to do and where to go for themselves. And the ships these days offer so much when you’re on board that’s fun that there’s no way you’ll get bored.

Krista January 16, 2013 at 3:54 pm

You lost me when you said they wake you up at 7am. Isn’t there a law against that while on vacation :).

Gray January 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm

There is in my book, Krista. And I was wearing earplugs, too.

Don Nadeau January 16, 2013 at 1:39 pm

The limited time in each port is also a major advantage.

This lets you decide whether or not you would like to return, instead of committing significant time to a new place that you end up not liking. I’ve added many places to my bucket list based on brief visits.

Gray January 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm

True enough, Don. I’d love to go back to many of the cities I visited on my cruise.

Jason January 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm

You make a good argument for both sides. I think one day I’ll follow suit and do a cruise…one day.

Gray January 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm

It’s worth giving a try, Jason, especially with the right itinerary!

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures January 16, 2013 at 11:05 am

Missing out on the local cuisine would be the deal breaker for me!

Gray January 16, 2013 at 1:01 pm

I think it would be for many people, Andi!

Leigh January 16, 2013 at 7:26 am

Missing out on local cuisine would pretty much nix a cruise for me. It’s also probably too many people all in one place all the time.

That said, the idea of not having to plan and fend for myself as much is appealing. I can see it being something I’d do with my parents. Would be a great way to hang out with them and travel at the same time.

Gray January 16, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Yes, Leigh! Cruises can be the perfect multigenerational vacation, or so I’ve heard.

Don Nadeau January 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Actually, in many ports it’s easy to go out on your own or with a small group of new friends from the ship and dine locally. Get recommendations from a good guidebook such as Lonely Planet, in order to feel more secure.

Also, the ships I have been on (all 7 or more days) have always offered at least some shore excursions that introduce you to authentic local cuisine, in my experience ranging from Muscat, Oman, to St. Lucia.

Gray January 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Oh it’s easy during the day, for sure, Don. I found that on my cruise, though, we were expected to be back aboard the ship by around 4pm or so for sailing. Although that’s just one ship and one cruise line. I suppose there may be others that stay in port later? And you raise a good point–there must be ships that specialize in foodie shore excursions at each port. One would have to do their research, of course.

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