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The Best Europe Cruises for 2021 and Beyond

By Fran Golden

Jun 3, 2021

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If you want to see the Northern Lights in Norway, Seabourn’s wintertime Norway cruises are your best bet.

Photo by Piotr Krzeslak/Shutterstock

If you want to see the Northern Lights in Norway, Seabourn’s wintertime Norway cruises are your best bet.

Whether it’s sailing around Norway’s fjords or taking a family-friendly cruise in Italy, Europe cruising is returning with ample options for those who craving a turn at sea.

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After a pandemic year without any European cruises available to Americans, sailing options are returning for the summer 2021 season. Cruise lines are testing the waters with a limited number of ships and new health and safety protocols in place with most cruises restricted to passengers who have been vaccinated.

There are benefits to being first in line postpandemic. Ships will sail at reduced capacity and popular attractions are unlikely to be crowded. You may find you have a museum or café practically to yourself. As restrictions ease, the traffic is bound to pick up in 2022, which already is looking like a year when ships will sail full due to pent-up demand.

Here are our picks for cruises this summer and beyond.

Best Norway cruises

Seeing the Northern Lights is practically guaranteed on Seabourn’s new wintertime Norway itineraries debuting in December. The 12- to 14-day sailings also introduce the line’s first purpose-built, polar-class expedition yacht, the 264-passenger Seabourn Venture, equipped with two custom, six-seat submarines, two dozen Zodiacs, and expedition kayaks for intimate exploration of Norway’s winter landscape. Excursions, which include the opportunity to camp on land overnight for optimal Northern Lights viewing, are led by a 26-person expedition team. Alternatively, you may opt to just stay cozy in your fancy suite and get a wake-up call should the lights appear. Most departures are from Tromsø, Norway, or Copenhagen, with fares for 12-night sailings starting from $10,999 per person.

Best Greece cruises

With its historic sites, whitewashed towns, the popular beaches of Mykonos, and views galore in the cliffside towns of Santorini, Greece opened its doors to international travelers in May. Nearly a dozen cruise lines are returning to the Aegean this summer and fall so there are ample options for those seeking to sail the Greek isles.

Ultraluxury lines such as Seabourn and Silversea are in the mix for summer 2021, along with boutique lines such as France-based Ponant and Windstar, with its 148-passenger, four-masted Wind Star sailing ship. Or explore for a week on Greek-owned Variety Cruises 157-foot, 49-passenger sailing yacht Galileo, going beyond the norm to lesser-known Cycladic and Dodecanese islands such as Levitha, where a summertime restaurant for sailors is run by the one family who lives on the island.

Best Adriatic cruises

Viking’s Malta and Adriatic Jewels Cruise includes port stops in Croatia.

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When Viking Ocean Cruises returns to cruising this summer, it will have three ships sailing from Valletta on Malta to Greece, Italy, and Spain. Our pick is Viking’s 10-night Malta and Adriatic Jewels Cruise, roundtrip from Valletta. The ship gets you to Kotor, Montenegro (you’ll want to be on deck as you sail through a river valley surrounded by peaks); the fairy-tale-like Old Town of Dubrovnik, Croatia; the Croatian city of Split with its 4th-century Roman palace; and Gozo, Malta, where according to legend giants built the prehistoric palace, which predates Stonehenge. There’s also opportunity in Croatia and Malta to see filming locations for HBO’s Game of Thrones. Sail on the 930-passenger Viking Venus, a new ship from Viking. Fares from $3,599 per person.

Best Basque country cruises

New from Lindblad Expeditions in April 2022 is a unique cultural exploration cruise from Lisbon to Bordeaux. The itinerary begins in Porto, Portugal, and continues through Basque country to the epicenter for French wine, Bordeaux, with a strong focus on food and drink throughout the cruise. Sail on the new, polar-class, 126-passenger National Geographic Resolution, where you can work out in the yoga studio or linger in the infinity-style hot tubs when not on shore sipping port at the wine cellars in Porto. During the cruise, you will have the opportunity to spend a day collecting mussels with local fishermen in Galicia, Spain, visit Bilbao’s Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim art museum, and sample tapas and sparkling wine in a French Basque fishing village. Fares from $6,870 per person.

Best river cruises

Get into the heart of great European cities such as Budapest on a Danube river cruise.

River cruises return this summer, with Viking, Uniworld, Scenic, and AmaWaterways among the lines relaunching ships—although not their whole fleets—on rivers that include Portugal’s Douro, France’s Seine and Rhône, and the multi-country Rhine and Danube. A great way to sail the Danube is on AmaWaterways’ impressive, double-wide, 196-passenger AmaMagna, traveling between Budapest and Vilshofen, Germany, stopping in Bratislava, Slovakia, and with an overnight in Vienna. Sip the local gruner veltliner and riesling in Wachau Valley or dance like you are in The Sound of Music in Salzburg. Back on the ship, check out in wellness classes on the  spacious roof deck or dining in onboard restaurants that include a fancy Chef’s Table venue (where you might score a taste of Siberian caviar) and a wine bar. Seven-night cruise from $3,099 per person.

Best Iceland cruises

The land of fire and ice is open for cruising this summer, and several lines will be exploring the coast, bringing guests to lava fields, gigantic waterfalls, seabird colonies, and other striking landscapes under the Midnight Sun. Luxury line Crystal Cruises is debuting its new 200-passenger, polar-class Crystal Endeavor, equipped with two six-passenger helicopters, a six-passenger submarine and the only casino on an expedition ship, on 10-night sailings (fares from $16,499 per person). Circumnavigating Iceland from Reykjavík, the itinerary includes stops on the mainland and islands including Grimsey Island, above the Arctic Circle, where you might catch sight of rare little auks with their black and white plumage.

Best Italy cruises

If the upcoming Disney and Pixar movie “Luca” has the family hankering for Italy, get the crew on a Disney cruise that includes Genoa.

Attention Disney and Pixar fans. If, after seeing the movie Luca, which debuts June 18, your family gets a hankering to visit Italy, Disney Cruise Line has you covered. The 1,750-passenger Disney Magic will sail in Europe spring and summer 2022, with several sailings stopping in Italy. A six-night departure from Barcelona to Rome on June 4, 2022 (fares for a family of four sharing a cabin start at $6,732 per person), gets you to Genoa, which is key. Scenes from the movie, a 1950s coming-of-age story, are inspired by the area southeast of Genoa. An Ultimate Italian Riviera shore excursion ($159 per person) takes you to the town of Camogli and other sites that will look familiar to Luca fans. Disney is being mum about any possible movie-related character appearances and experiences.

Best all-Europe cruises

If you are uneasy about returning to Europe this year, consider making up for lost time in one fell swoop. Ultraluxury line Silversea has assigned its 596-passenger Silver Moon to a Grand Europe itinerary embarking Athens on March 30, 2022, and hitting basically all major water-accessible attractions—72 ports of call in 22 countries in total—on a three-month itinerary that ends in Stockholm. Can’t be away that long? You can alternatively book a 37-night segment to visit 33 places in the Mediterranean, or a 53-night segment that will get you from Lisbon to Stockholm, including the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Russia. Fares for the whole shebang from $57,060 per person.

Best cruises to the British Isles and Ireland

Visit Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway on a Hurtigruten cruise.

Norwegian line Hurtigruten explores remote parts of the British Isles on a 12-night itinerary (from $6,741 per person) next spring and summer, with the recently updated 532-passenger Maud. Sailing roundtrip from Dover, United Kingdom, passengers will visit places known for Neolithic sites, bird colonies, whiskey, and woolens. Among the destinations are Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland, with easy access to the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway, and Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebrides, including the rocky and wild St. Kilda archipelago, home to the second-largest gannet colony in the world. Plan to sip on Islay Island, Scotland, home to nine distilleries, and have an opportunity to purchase crystal in Waterford, Ireland. For those looking to reduce their footprint as they return to travel, it’s worth noting that the ship was recently reconfigured to run partially on biofuel and lower emissions.

>> Next: European River Cruises Are Setting Sail This Summer

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