What You NEED to Know Before Taking a Mediterranean Cruise

Woman sitting in a chair on a cruise ship balcony looking at the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Sailing the dazzling blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea on my first ever Mediterranean cruise was such a memorable, bucket list experience! Our 7 day Western Mediterranean Cruise was based in Barcelona, Spain and we sailed to Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Marseille, France; and Naples/Capri, Florence/La Spezia, and Rome/Civitavecchia Italy. In today’s blog, I’m sharing what you need to know before a Mediterranean cruise based on my experience as a first timer. From the weather to embracing the international vibe, we’ll cover as much as possible so you can plan well, have fun, and sail the Mediterranean Sea!

How can I best plan for a Mediterranean cruise?

Arrive 1-3 days before your cruise to avoid stress in case of any transportation or flight issues, lost baggage, or transportation strikes (these things happen!) Leave 1-2 days after the cruise for the same reason. Mediterranean cruises are during the peak travel season and accommodations get booked quickly. To avoid being left with sub-par accommodations, plan your hotel stay and activities in advance. What you need to know before a Mediterranean cruise is each port will be crowded during these months, but a little less so if you book during the best time of year to visit the the Mediterranean.

When is the best time of year to book a Mediterranean cruise? The answer is during shoulder seasons from April to May or September to October. When booking your Mediterranean Cruise, keep these things in mind:

  1. There are multiple itineraries to choose from ranging from 2 nights to two weeks. You can visit two countries or seven, one city or ten. Choose the ports you are most interested in seeing and the length of time you would like to stay in each city.
  2. Book your cruise 8 months to a year in advance to take advantage of pretty good deals. Some cruise lines offer specials like 60-75% off a second guest, extra onboard credit, and holiday discounts.
  3. If you want to participate in a lot of onboard activities (zipline, mini golf, water slides, karaoke, clubs, etc.), book a larger ship. If not, book a smaller one.
  4. Remember to look at what city the cruise starts and ends at. This is very important because every cruise doesn’t start or end at the same location. I’d hate for you to book round-trip transportation to/from Rome, Italy for example, but end up in Athens, Greece at the end of your cruise!

When onboard the ship, remember to pace yourself! There will many many activities to choose from, so plan your day wisely.

Woman sitting on a cruise room couch reading an activity pamphlet.
Diligently reading my cruise compass and planning my day wisely onboard the Wonder of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world.

What’s the weather like on a Mediterranean cruise?

Since this was going to be my first mediterranean cruise, I had a lot of questions about the weather so let me answer a few of them here. Mediterranean cruises sailings are typically from Late April through October, the warmest, hottest months of the year in Europe. The temperature can reach upwards of 80, 90, or even 100 degrees Fahrenheit (26-38°C)- so expect it to be hot!

We’ll talk about what to wear later in this post, but another question I had was, “Is it cold at night on a Mediterranean Cruise?” Yes, it is! As hot as it may be during the day, at night the it can be much cooler, reaching 50 or 40 degrees, so bring a light jacket for evening activities.

Is the Mediterranean Sea rough for cruising? Are Mediterranean cruises calm? What you need to know before a Mediterranean cruise is generally speaking, sailing on the Mediterranean is pretty calm; but, with the temperature change and possibly strong winds at night, you may experience a night or two of choppy sailing. We took a 7-day western mediterranean cruise from Barcelona, Spain on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, so we rarely felt the waves. It was only when we looked out from our balcony room and when we heard the waves crash into the ship at the spa did we know the seas were rough. Thankfully, it was our last night so it didn’t impact our experience at all.

How much money should you bring on a Mediterranean cruise?

Always have small denominations of euros as some places only accept cash for tips, transportation, and souvenirs. Not every excursion offered by the cruise line includes lunch, so it’s wise to bring cash for that, too. Plus, it’s fun to try local food at each stop. I recommend at bringing least 100 euros per person in smaller bills. Try not to pay using 50 or 100 euro notes, as most places may not be able to provide change or will flat out reject the payment.

What you need to know before a Mediterranean cruise is there may be an ATM onboard and most places take credit cards (some with a minimum spend per transaction). I would pick up euros at airport ATM or a local bank for the best exchange rate. If you do this, when prompted by the ATM, NEVER accept the conversion in USD, you’ll pay more for the exchange. Arriving 1-3 days prior to your cruise is enough time to gather your funds and break larger bills before you embark.

What happens if you don’t make it back onboard the cruise ship on time?

Woman walking on a sidewalk in Marseille, France.
As beautiful as Marseille, France, we made it a priority to leave on time to not get left behind!

Don’t be a “pier runner”. Pier runners are late passengers who have to sprint down the gangway to their cruise ship in order to avoid being left behind. They typically do so at the amusement of onlookers who are comfortably onboard. Don’t be them! What you need to know before a Mediterranean cruise is if you don’t return on time, you will be left behind at your own expense per the cruise contract. Yikes!

Research beforehand how to get to city centers as ports of call may be far away and most don’t allow passengers to just walk off the cruise ship into the city. Cruise ports are similar to a airport runways in that foot traffic is not allowed. For example, Rome, Italy’s Civitavecchia cruise port is almost an hour away by car, assuming no traffic (as if that ever happens!)

Should you pay for cruise line transfers to the city center?

Taking the local train into the city is usually much cheaper than buying a transfer from the cruise line or taking taxi. We paid €3 per person from Civitavecchia port in Rome, Italy to take the bus from the port to the Civitavecchia train station. The train costs around €5 for the one hour and 15 minute ride to the heart of Rome. In total we spent €16 round trip per person. To compare, the cruise ship offered a round trip transport for $60-70 per person with taxis charging €150.

If you’re comfortable, I recommend taking the train or bus or join an excursion with drop you off and pick you services. However, I recommend this with one caveat. I would reserve DIY transportation for able-bodied and adventurous travelers and those who know how to comfortably navigate public transportation in Europe. I’ve been to Rome three times and used public transportation extensively… and we almost didn’t make it back to the port on time! Know the time you need to return to the ship, set an alarm, and add 30 minutes on top. What you need to know before a Mediterranean cruise us to take your cruise ID, license, and copies of passport and credit cards with you…just in case.

What is it like sailing to different ports on a Mediterranean Cruise?

Mediterranean cruises have a pretty intense schedule. You sail to a new country, new city, and become immersed in a new language just about every. single. day! The benefit is you get to experience a sample platter of destinations. You get a small taste of the local cuisine, customs, landmarks, and people. It’s perfect if you want to “sample” what it’s like in a particular city to return at a later date. The down side of a Mediterranean Cruise is it can be exhausting. Unsurprisingly, it is exhausting for the exact same reasons – a new country, new city, and now language every day.

My advice? What do you need to know before a Mediterranean cruise? Look for a less intense itinerary with longer stays in port if you prefer a slower pace. English is widely spoken, but consider it an exception rather than the rule. Expect to communicate the basics in different languages (hello, please, thank you, numbers 0-9, basic “where are ___ ” questions). I download offline versions of different languages using Google Translate. Google Translate is an app that will translate speech and text in many different languages. Also, don’t forget to enable international calling through your cell phone provider. You can easily get international data coverage through your provider or buy a local eSIM or regular SIM card

How Long do you spend at each port on a Mediterranean Cruise?

Woman walking in the streets of Florence, Italy, looking at large buildings.
Our Mediterranean Cruise stopped in Florence, Italy – such a beautiful place to stroll.

Mediterranean cruise port stops are all day, typically from 7 or 8am to 5, 6, or 7pm at night. You have less than 10 hours at each port so plan your time wisely. Reserve excursions and activities early in the morning or online in advance. With so much to see and do, beto sure you get enough sleep, stay hydrated, and lathered with sunblock.

Like I said before, it’s HOT and you may become dehydrated faster than you realize. This may result in the classic signs of heat exhaustion: dizziness, unexplained anger, fainting, or even heat stroke. Carry water with you. Carry a small sunblock in your day bag. Chug water WHENEVER you can and enjoy the beauty that is the Mediterranean sea!

What is the vibe like onboard a Mediterranean Cruise?

Mediterranean cruises have a more international vibe than your typical Caribbean cruises, which are mostly based in the United States. This manifests in different ways throughout your trip.

The passengers maybe a little more reserved and less load when it comes to cheering on a stellar performance. Most dress in what I like to call “European chic” clothing. Quite simply – fashion devoid of sweat pants, leggings, shorts, and flip flops. The onboard music & games play INTERNATIONAL top 40, not U.S. Top 40. Instead of having an international food station in the buffet, consider the ENTIRE buffet an international cuisine experience. Embrace the vibe and you may learn a few new words or add a few new songs to your playlist.

Other than a few minor adjustments, sailing on a Mediterranean Cruise is just like sailing any other cruise. There is something for everyone. There are spa services, multiple dining options, activities for kids, and late night fun for the adults.

What do you wear on a Mediterranean Cruise?

What you need to know before a Mediterranean cruise is to dress for the activities you want to participate in. Pack clothing that is light (both in weight and fabric color), breathable, and moisture-wicking. If you plan to eat in the main dining hall, bring at least one semi-formal to formal outfit. We already talked about how hot it can be and you will sweat through your clothing as a result. When packing, expect to bring more changes clothes and underwear than you would typically pack.

My biggest, most game changing tip… take advantage of any laundry specials on board. On the second to last night of our cruise there was a laundry special. All we had to do is fill up one large bag for $35. We paid $35, and everything was returned washed, pressed, and folded. Doing laundry after a trip sucks, but for just $35 our laundry was done for us. Plus, it was folded so all we had to do was put it directly in our suitcase to travel home. A VERY worthwhile investment!

If you want to see what it’s like onboard a Mediterranean Cruise ship and what it’s like stopping at ports in Spain, France, and Italy, you’ll definitely want to watch my “Planning and Taking a Mediterranean Cruise Playlist” on YouTube.  If you found any of these tips helpful, please share this post with a friend!

Have you been on a Mediterranean Cruise? Are you planning one this year? Leave your best cruise planning tips and questions below!


Antoinette | Frolic & Courage

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