European Lines

One of the main draws of the European cruise lines is the cost. Largely more affordable than the American mainstream lines, the ships are often decades old and have very small rooms, though some lines do have newer ships. The passenger demographic is mostly European and you will hear many languages spoken throughout your cruise. Generally, European cruises are informal, with a relaxed dress code. While you may not have a great deal of choice when it comes to dining and leisure activities, you will find the staff on European cruise lines friendly and accommodating.

Onboard activities aboard a European cruise line may be lacking compared to American mainstream cruise lines, but most passengers spend the entire day at port, enjoy dinner on the ship and call it a night. Some European cruise lines do offer exciting activities and opportunities for organized relaxation, as detailed below. But on the whole, if you are looking for nonstop fun, European-owned and operated cruise lines are not for you. If you are looking for good value for your tour of Europe’s ports of call, a European cruise line is an excellent choice.

Norwegian houses in Engevik, Saevareidfiord, West Norway, Fjords region

Norwegian houses in Engevik, Saevareidfiord, West Norway, Fjords region

Costa Cruises

This Italian-based cruise line is perhaps the most recognizable of the European cruise lines, and is now owned by Carnival. Costa Cruises boasts a new mega ship to rival any American mainstream line, the 3,700-passenger Costa Concordia. Built in 2006, the Concordia has state-of-the-art fitness facilities on two decks, an all-weather swimming pool and a luxury spa. On all Costa ships, the atmosphere is unmistakably Italian, from the ship’s décor to the homemade pasta. Older ships have smaller rooms, but the newer ships have slightly larger rooms with verandas. Costa’s fleet boasts an additional nine ships, varying from 1,300 to 2,700 passengers. Costa offers a wide variety of itineraries in the Western and Eastern Mediterranean, Northern Europe and Russia, and the Norwegian Fjords.

MSC Cruises

Also based in Italy, MSC cruises is unique in that it is owned and operated by its founder, Gianluigi Aponte, as opposed to a large corporation. This European cruise offers an authentic Italian experience, with seven-course Italian meals and world-class entertainment. The MSC Musica is the new flagship of the fleet, with tours of the Mediterranean. MSC’s other European cruise ships are the Sinfonia, Opera, Lirica, Melody, Rhapsody and Armonia. MSC offers 6- to 22-day cruises in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, as well as transatlantic voyages. MSC is a European cruise line with big plans, with a new port in Monte Carlo and the launch of the Orchestra in 2007 and the Poesia in 2008.

Norwegian Coastal Voyage

The Norwegian Coastal Voyage fleet is a European cruise line steeped in history, offering a truly unique voyage among the fjords on the west coast of Norway. Primarily a scenic cruise, the Norwegian Coastal Voyage is a journey from Bergen in southern Norway to Kirkenes in the North and back again. Along the way, each ship stops at 34 ports, most of which larger ships cannot access. The fleet also carries cargo, and some of the stops are for cargo transfer only and you are sailing again in under an hour. Book the 12-day round trip voyage, or take it one-way in 6-7 days. Norwegian Coastal Voyage is perhaps the least expensive way to cruise Norway, but you will not find much entertainment if any, nor will you have dining options or onboard activities. However, their new Millennium line of cruise ships does offer more deck space, a small pool, sauna and Jacuzzis, and a few other amenities.

Swan Hellenic

Swan Hellenic cruises are more than a vacation, they are a journey of the mind. Guest lecturers on varied topics related to ports of call provide in-depth “discovery” experiences for passengers, and often accompany them on shore excursions. Swan Hellenic sails only one ship, the Minerva II, designed to resemble a British country home. The Minerva II boasts the most extensive onboard library of any cruise ship. Beyond workshops, lectures and shore excursions, there are few activities. Spa services are available, and you will fill find evening entertainment designed more to create ambience than make you want to get up and dance. Booking with Swan Hellenic is easy – everything is included, even air transportation and shore excursions. The Minerva II cruises the Northern and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.