The Mediterranean has a way of calling you when you least expect it. This winter, if you find yourself fantasizing about the fresh burrata and cliffside views of Positano, or the cafes and moules frites you had in Marseilles, perhaps you should consider booking a Mediterranean cruise in the off-season—as in, right now.
Technically, the off-season in the Mediterranean is November to March, when most cruise lines move their ships to the Caribbean, South America, or Asia to meet demand for sailings in warm-weather destinations. But the temperate Med can be quite inviting—and far less crowded— during these months. Sure, some sights and businesses in seasonal resort areas will be closed or have limited hours, but the cruise lines know which ports are best to visit. Here are seven reasons to experience the off-season in the Mediterranean:
There Are More Ships in the Med Year-Round Than You’d Think
Norwegian Cruise Line has its 2,018-passenger Norwegian Spirit cruising from Barcelona to ports in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and the Canary Islands through late March 2018 (and then it heads for the Adriatic and Aegean, too). Viking Ocean calls it the “quiet season” and has its 930-passenger Viking Star sailing half-a-dozen itineraries, mostly from Rome and Barcelona. MSC Cruises has two ships in the Med this season—the 4,488-passenger Meraviglia and the 2,550-passenger Orchestra—while the 3,724-passenger Costa Diadema is hosting seven-night itineraries in the region from Barcelona, Marseilles, Savona, and Civitavecchia (Rome). By mid to late March, there will be 16-plus ships from six cruise lines sailing in the Mediterranean ahead of the mid-April-to-mid-October Europe cruise season.
Cruise Fares Can Be Up to 60-percent Cheaper
Norwegian is offering a 10-night round-trip cruise on the Norwegian Spirit from Barcelona to the Canary Islands and Morocco for $649. Or you could opt for a seven-night itinerary to ports in Spain, Italy, and France on Costa Cruises starting at $399 and on MSC starting at $539. If you love the cozy vibe onboard Viking’s new upscale, mostly inclusive ocean ships—with a covered pool, a fabulous spa, and no casino or kids under 16—perhaps a last-minute fare of $1,999 (for eight days) or $3,798 (for 15 days) for a verandah stateroom might seal the deal. Also worth noting: Airfare to Europe is cheaper in the off-season, too.
There is Often Last-Minute Availability
Have you met someone new and would love to get away for a romantic Mediterranean cruise this Valentine’s Day? Or are you looking for a way to celebrate a milestone birthday or anniversary in March? Off-season cruises often don’t sell out, so you can be spontaneous and decide to book with just a few weeks’ notice.
The Weather Is Better for Touring
If you’ve cruised the Med in the peak of summer, you know that the temperature often tops 100 degrees, making exploring a hot, stifling challenge. Yes, the mercury can dip into the 40s (January is the coldest month, yet it rarely gets close to freezing), but more likely you’ll enjoy daytime averages in the high 50s, 60s, and even low 70s—perfect for active days of touring.
Top Sights Will Be Less Crowded
Both Barcelona and Rome—two top cruise ports in the Med year-round—can be nightmarishly crowded during peak season. If you’ve ever tried to get into the Vatican Museums or La Sagrada Familia between the popular months of May and September, you’ll appreciate that this time of year the tourist hordes are noticeably thinner, lines are shorter, and you’ll be able to enjoy the sights in comfort.
There Should Be Fewer Kids Onboard
Unless you misjudge and book a cruise during a mid-winter (typically mid-February) or spring break (usually the week before or after Easter, which is April 1 this year), you should find yourself sharing the ship with more adults and fewer kids. This can’t be guaranteed, however, as both Costa and MSC are known for attracting families year-round. Still, there will be fewer children underfoot than during the summer school break period.
You’ll Get a Truer Sense of Local Flavor
Without so many tourists in the mix, you’ll be able to experience your destinations more authentically. The restaurants and bars that are open will be those frequented by locals, the pace of daily life will be a bit slower, and the low-key charms of the Mediterranean from November to March may just make an off-season cruiser out of you for good.