During the winter, many cruise lines aim their ships for the Caribbean and other warmer-weather ports to indulge sun seekers looking to escape the cold. But that’s no reason to overlook one of summer’s most popular cruising spots: the Mediterranean.
“Winter cruising in the Med is a fairly recent development,” says Judy Perl, president of Judy Perl Travel, who also serves on the AFAR Travel Advisor Council. Perl notes that winter cruises on the Mediterranean have only really started to gain traction within the past decade.
The advantages of cruising the Mediterranean during the low winter season versus the peak summer season are “definitely the lack of crowds, shorter—or even no—lines to visit the A-List attractions in the destinations, [and] lower airfares,” says Perl. And, “if you are extending your cruise by adding additional nights before or after the cruise, you can expect low-season hotel rates as well.”
After this past summer’s blazing high temperatures and reports of swarms of tourists descending on Southern Europe’s beaches and coastal communities, cruising the Mediterranean Sea during the calmer, cooler winter months offers an attractive alternative. And while there can be some inclement weather and rocky seas during the winter, the Mediterranean typically sees much less severe weather than in, say, northern Europe.
This winter, there will be more Mediterranean cruises sailing than in the past because several cruise lines have canceled their Middle East sailings and, in many cases, have repositioned them to the Med instead—opening up the opportunity to cruise the scenic sea on ships or with cruise companies that may not always offer that choice.
Among those cruise companies is luxury line Windstar Cruises, which will be sailing the Mediterranean from December 2023 to April 2024 with its all-suite, 312-guest Star Legend. Added bonus: Its cruise prices for winter sailings are up to 65 percent below what Windstar cruises in the region are priced at during the high season—cruise-only pricing for Windstar’s winter Mediterranean cruises starts at $1,499 per person.
“With a ship in the Mediterranean, we saw an opportunity to offer guests a legendary winter season in Europe,” Windstar president Christopher Prelog said in a recent release.
This winter, Windstar is sailing a series of seven-night itineraries between Rome and Barcelona with stops including Florence and Pisa in Italy and Marseille and Nice in southern France. The season will end with an eight-night cruise from Rome to Athens that will explore the Amalfi Coast and Greece.
Windstar will instead launch its Middle East season of sailings in November 2024.
In addition to Windstar, the cruise lines sailing in the Mediterranean for the 2023–2024 season include destination-focused European line Celestyal Cruises; Geneva-based MSC Cruises; Norwegian Cruise Line; foodie-driven Oceania Cruises; the chic Celebrity Cruises; and Viking with its Scandinavian-design vessels.
MSC, for instance, has moved its 3,223-passenger MSC Orchestra to the Mediterranean through mid-April for seven-night sailings that will visit Valencia, Spain; Sardinia; Civitavecchia (the port used to access Rome), Italy; Livorno, Italy; Marseille, France; and Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
Perl notes that winter cruises in the Mediterranean usually range from 7 to 10 days, “but there are also fabulous itineraries [that are] 14 days or longer, including the brand-new Viking Saturn that sails from Barcelona all the way to Istanbul in 21 days,” says Perl. The 930-passenger Viking Saturn can actually be booked for 7, 14, or 21 nights “allowing passengers to decide how long they wish to cruise,” she adds. Viking’s 2023–2024 winter Mediterranean cruises sail between Rome and Athens with an overnight each in Malta and Cyprus. The itinerary also visits Naples, Italy, and Mykonos and Rhodes in Greece.
Fran Golden contributed reporting.