Cruising is a fantastic, stress-free way to see some of Europe’s most popular destinations. The advantages of taking a cruise holiday include the fact that all meals are included (and there’s no shortage of food!), you only have to unpack once as your ‘floating hotel’ takes you from port to port, and there is plenty of onboard entertainment to keep you occupied whilst you’re sailing.
With the popularity in cruising as high as it’s ever been, there’s a plethora of cruise itineraries to choose from. Whether you prefer to sail the high seas or slowly cruise along the famous rivers of Europe, there is bound to be a cruise to suit you. To help you decide which type of cruise will suit you best, here’s my guide on European cruising.
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Ocean cruising in Europe
The Mediterranean is typically the most popular destination for Australians looking for a cruise holiday in Europe.
With numerous departure ports to choose from, including Barcelona, Genoa, Venice, Rome and Athens, your Mediterranean cruise can take you to many varied ports of call. Greece, Turkey, Italy, Croatia and Egypt are just some that come to mind.
As a general rule, ships sail overnight, meaning the majority of your travelling from one port to the next is done whilst you are enjoying the onboard nightlife or sleeping. You then wake up to a new day at a new destination!
If majestic fjords and the gracious cities of Northern Europe and the Balkans appeal to you more than the azure waters of the Mediterranean, cruising is also the perfect way to discover this spectacular region. The Norwegian fjords will blow you away with their beauty, and you’ll will find plenty to like about the cities of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St Petersburg and Tallinn.
Scandinavia is one of the pricier regions of Europe for accommodation, so a cruise is a great way to explore this beautiful region without paying a fortune.
Optional excursions are offered at most ports of call or you can choose to do your own thing and explore on your own.
Fares for ocean cruises generally include meals, some beverages (such as tea and coffee in the main dining room), onboard activities and entertainment, port charges and taxes.
Once onboard, you’ll need to pay for drinks, shore excursions, meals at some alternative onboard restaurants and internet. You may also be asked to pay a gratuity to your cabin steward.
European river cruising
River cruising is now the ‘must do’ way to travel in Europe with numerous cruise lines, including Australian-owned companies Scenic Tours and APT, offering a range of first class itineraries on their purpose-built ships.
Popular itineraries include Amsterdam to Budapest, Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches and Moscow to St Petersburg, but region-specific cruises in Portugal and France are also available.
For something totally different, you can experience a white Christmas aboard a special festive Christmas cruise or join a special-interest river cruise for golf or garden enthusiasts.
The beauty of a river cruise is that you can explore Europe’s riverside cities, towns and villages without the hassle of negotiating traffic. Your ship will usually dock right in the city centre giving you more time to see the sights, and when your day’s exploring is done, simply head back to the ship at your leisure.
As well as meals, many of the river cruise companies also include drinks (including alcoholic beverages) with lunch and dinner in their fares. Also included are transfers, port charges, gratuities and sightseeing.
Whilst the initial cost of a European river cruise may seem high compared to an ocean cruise, the fact that gratuities and sightseeing (and drinks, where applicable) are included, makes them great value. Some cruise lines even include free WiFi. Rarely on a river cruise will you need to put your hand in your pocket to pay for something.
Canal and barge cruising in Europe
If you don’t mind getting behind the wheel, canal boat and barge cruising is a relaxing way to sail, offering you total freedom to stop where and when you want. Canal boats and barges are available throughout Britain, as well as France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy and Poland.
Generally, two options are available. Either book a hotel barge with your own private captain, or charter a self-drive canal boat and drive yourself.
After a lesson on how to drive your vessel, you’ll soon get used to going through canal locks and mooring your boat. Detailed navigation guides show where you can moor, shop, get fresh water or go sightseeing. The passing scenery will create a moving postcard as you glide, watching from the comfort of your deck chair.
With yourself (or a friend) at the wheel, you choose when to stop and go ashore and when to sail. You’ll never suffer from cabin fever as you are in charge! Feel like stretching your legs or dining at a local cafe? You can – the itinerary is yours to change as you please.
If you choose to take the hotel barge option, your experienced captain will guide you along Europe’s waterways. Meals and beverages are usually included as well as excursions.
Which age groups do cruises suit best?
Cruising isn’t just for grown ups! Some of the cruise lines that sail the European seas offer fantastic savings for families, with children paying only the port taxes when sharing a cabin with their parents.
Most cabins accommodate up to four people but a limited number of five-berth cabins are available on some ships, however these book out well in advance, so if you are a family of five, you will need to book early to secure one of these cabins.
Most ships (on ocean cruises) offer free kids clubs, catering for children of all ages with special children’s meals, and larger ships have separate children’s pools. Disney Cruises are popular for families and book out well in advance.
Whilst river cruising is generally suited to the 50+ traveller, a limited number of family-friendly European river cruises operate each year, too.
Self-drive canal boats can be a good option for families with older children, too. Younger children may not appreciate the smaller space on board a canal boat but if you only intend to sail for a couple of hours each day this may not be a concern.
How much do European cruises cost?
The great thing about cruising is that there are options to suit every budget. Mediterranean cruises can cost from as little as AUD$100 per adult per day in an inside cabin with premium and luxury cruises also available to suit the higher end of the market.
European river cruise prices also vary depending on the service they provide (ie 3-star or 5-star), cabin standards, etc, meaning that whatever your budget, a river cruise can be great value.
Why choose a cruise?
Cruising offers a totally relaxing, leisurely way to see the sights of Europe without having to pack up and move on each day. As your pre-paid cruise fare includes just about everything you’ll need whilst onboard, enjoying a cruise means enjoying NOT having to put your hand in your pocket for additional expenses each day.
Cruising is also a great way to meet fellow travellers and it gives you the security of leaving your day-to-day travel arrangements up to someone else.
So whichever style of cruising you prefer, it’s an affordable and stress-free way to travel.