Ports of Call

Booking your ideal European cruise is as much about ports of call as the type of cruise line you choose – if not more so. After all, you want to cruise Europe, not the Caribbean or Alaska. With so many different European cruise itineraries, the possibilities may seem endless. When you add in the various shore excursion and port exploration opportunities, you’ll need a full-color spreadsheet just to keep track!

To help your European cruise experience run smoothly, here are ports of call tips:

  1. Make a Wish List. If you’ve never been to Europe, or if you missed some of the sights on your last visit, take a moment to jot down the places you would most like to visit. Be specific. Write down more than “visit Rome;” write what you’d like to see or do while in Rome. If you’re not sure what is available to do in Rome, check out frommers.com for some basic information about the any destination.
  2. Research Itineraries. With your list in hand, research which cruise lines have itineraries with ports of call that match your list. An excellent tool is cruise.com, where you can do a search by port of call to see which cruise lines have European cruise itineraries that meet your needs.
  3. Learn About the Port. Not all ports are made equal, in that some are simply jumping off places for major cities that require you to take a bus provided by the cruise line or public transportation. For example, most European cruises stop in Civitavecchia, Italy, and then travel on to Rome some distance away. Booking a prearranged shore excursion to Rome would be a much better choice than disembarking on and exploring Civitavecchia on your own – there is not much to see and you will soon wish you were on your way to a tour of Vatican City or the Collosseum.
    While the cruise staff will provide you with useful information about each port on your itinerary, it is a good idea to do some Internet research about each port before you begin your cruise. If you stop at a port such as Istanbul or Athens, you may want to forgo the extra fees and structure of the prearranged shore excursion, and explore the city on your own.
    Other ports may have attractions outside of the city, and in many cases, it is much easier to join other cruise passengers than it is to deal with local transportation. There is always the factor of getting back to your ship on time, and booking an excursion through the cruise line is one way to ensure the boat will not leave without you!
  4. Check Out the Excursions Online. Now that you have a few cruise lines in mind, go directly to their websites, find out what they are offering for shore excursions in the cities you would most like to visit. Do they offer a tour of the points of interest on your list? If not, will it be hard to get there on my own?
    Many European cruise lines offer exclusive shore excursions; some employ experts in local culture, food and art to join you on the cruise. You may have the opportunity to go behind the scenes at a museum or performance space, or have a tour of a legendary winery; your cruise line may arrange a meeting with famous artists, chefs, or performers.
  5. Plan Ahead. After you book your European cruise, you will receive cruise materials package in the mail. Take your time reviewing the information, and follow the instructions for setting up a shore excursion in advance. Even if you have chosen a cruise that is all inclusive, including tour fees, make sure to sign up for the excursions you want. This way, if you have chosen a port adventure that has a capacity, you will already be signed up before the ship sets sail.
    Make note of the shore excursions for which you cannot pre-register. Consult your notes when you board ship, and book any additional port experiences as soon as possible.

Carefully designing your port of call experience will ensure your European cruise meets – and exceeds – your expectations. An added benefit of your planning efforts is you will have learned something about each port on your itinerary, which can only enhance your cruise experience.