What You Need to Know About European Cruises

There are many different reasons why the cruise industry has seen a spike in popularity in recent years. Their offerings are more diverse than they were a decade ago. Now, if you want to go on a family cruise, you have the entire world to choose from instead of just a narrow slice of the Caribbean.

European cruises are particularly popular with many travelers because they offer the opportunity to explore many of Europe’s most beautiful cities in rapid succession without the hassle of flights or train journeys. They also give people the opportunity to rest and recuperate from long days of sightseeing without having to check into new hotels or figure out new places to eat. Whether you head on a cruise through the sea on a larger vessel, or cruise up a river on a smaller ship, there are many options to choose from.

It doesn’t take much for people to fall in love with cruising. There are many advantages to exploring Europe by boat, even if you’re not a seasoned cruiser. The options that you have on board and in the cities would not be possible if you were traveling on land.

If you’re interested in booking your next cruise in Europe, we’ve got a few tips which will help you choose the package that makes sense for you. The choices can be overwhelming and finding a company you trust is just as important as choosing when and where you go. Read on for some of our most helpful cruising tips.

Booking far in advance

Now that cruising is such a popular option for vacations, cruises regularly sell out early. If you’ve determined the right cruise for you, you should book immediately, before it sells out. If you’re early enough, you may have access to early-bird prices and perks only available to diligent advance planners. There’s nothing worse than making a decision only to realized that it’s been sold out for weeks.

For high season cruises that depart between June and August, you’ll need to book well in advance to avoid disappointment, and the same theory applies for popular itineraries like Christmas market cruises. There are several websites like Cruise Critic that offer a daily round up of cruise sales, so you’ll never miss a great deal.

Picking the best cruise for the season

Since European cruises have become so popular, there are more sailings than ever before. It gives passengers more options, but often the increased quantity of options only makes it harder to choose.

The next time you’re planning a cruise vacation to Europe, you should think about traveling on the off-season. This means avoiding travel during June, July, and August, as well as staying away from the ever-popular Christmas market cruises, which travel to various Eastern European port cities in December. If you’re looking for a quieter and cheaper experience, cruising off-peak is ideal. This could mean visiting the Mediterranean in April, or the Baltic Sea in May. The weather might not be as ideal for sightseeing as it would during the summer months, but the prices will be more affordable, and the cities less crowded.

Not all European cruises offer the same experience

There are many different cruise lines that have an established presence in Europe. If you’re not a seasoned cruiser, it may be worth checking out a few different companies, so you can decide which suits your personality. Many of the larger companies like Disney or Princess are known for being more family-oriented, while others like Carnival, Norwegian, or Cunard are known for adventurous nightlife and fine dining, so you can choose which company is more your speed.

Cruisers also have more choice than ever before regarding what type of ship they’re interested in. Some of the larger cruise lines use massive ships that sleep thousands, while river cruises are typically shorter, and use smaller vessels that only sleep a few dozen passengers at a time.

Seek out itineraries that suit you

Once you’ve found a cruise line that interests you, the next step in organizing your trip is to choose which cities you’d like to visit. There are hundreds of different options for trips that take you everywhere from the Baltic Sea to the Loire River Valley. Some cruises set a fast pace and visit a new city every day, while others give passengers more time at sea to enjoy the ship’s amenities and relaxed atmosphere. Depending on what your preference is, you can customize your itinerary to suit your needs. Many cruise lines offer adult-only sailings, or market some weeks specifically to families. With smaller companies, you may even be able to find cruises that cater to a specific interest or hobby, like crafting, wine-tasting, or architecture.

Compare packages before you book

There are many different websites for you to comparison shop for your next cruise adventure. Sites like Groupon, Travelzoo, and LivingSocial often have great cruise deals on their sites, but they’re often last-minute, and may not offer the best options if you’re unable to be flexible.

If you’ve already booked your cruise, you can ensure you got the best deal by monitoring the price and reaching out to the cruise line if the price drops. They may be willing to credit you the difference or give it back to you as on-board credit. If you booked with a travel agent, they should be looking out for the best price for you, or you can sign up for Cruise Critic’s Price Drop alert, which will tell you if there’s a lower price available for the package you booked.

Plan excursions before you leave home

When you’re traveling in Europe by cruise ship, it definitely pays to plan your shore excursions in advance. Unlike many Caribbean cruises, which will generally only dock two to four times over a week, many European cruises dock daily. This gives you the option to see up to seven unique cities in a week but touring 10 hours a day for that long can be exhausting.

Once you’ve booked your cruise, look at the itinerary and prioritize which cities you’d like to explore on your own, and which cities would be easier to see with a group or guided tour. Many European ports are actually quite far away from nearest large city, so you’ll need to decide whether you’re happy exploring the port city and nearby smaller towns, or whether you want to organize a longer trip to the main city.

Bob Ingelhart / Getty Images

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