With a blistery winter hitting most of the U.S., flowers blooming, birds chirping and clear blue skies start to feel like an impossibility. But soon enough the chill in the air will turn to warm breezes and spring will arrive—and with it comes European cruise season. Luxury cruise lines begin to roll out some great itineraries for exploring all corners of the continent, from medieval fortresses to UNESCO World Heritage Sites to former homes of dictators and emperors. Here are ten cruises to keep on your radar this spring when you're ready to trade the cold and snow for some culture and adventure.
Photo courtesy of AMAWaterways
Compagnie du Ponant Yacht Cruises: Las Palmas to Malaga
Experience the beauty of the Strait of Gibraltar and its coastlines from the decks of the only French cruise line in the world. Compagnie Du Ponant Yacht Cruises offers a personal and intimate encounter of some of Europe’s most stunning waterfronts. The Las Palmas to Malaga voyage lasts ten days and makes stops in such iconic spots as Casablanca, the Canary Islands, and Seville. Bask in the glory of Casablanca’s incredible Hassan II Mosque—the second largest in the Islamic world—or saunter through a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bustling Medina of Tangier. Back on the ship, relax with the help of in-suite butler service and a luxury onboard spa. The cruise starts at €2666 (approx. $3,540) and promises to deliver the type of sophistication that the French are so famous for.
Photo courtesy of Compagnie Du Ponant Yacht Cruises
Crystal Cruises: Southern Spanish Sun
This spring Crystal Cruises is offering an exploration around Spain with their Southern Spanish Sun itinerary. Passengers will board the glamorous Crystal Serenity at Barcelona to begin their 9-day journey, featuring stops in Cartagena, Spain, the Rock of Gibraltar, Lisbon, Portugal, and Bordeaux, France. While in Bordeaux, passengers have the option of attending a Gala Dinner at Chateau Haut-Bailly, where they will receive a tour of the winery, samples of the products, and afterward partake in a sumptuous dinner. The trip will also give guests a series of onboard entertainment options, including the talents of Jonathan Kane, a one-man, Elton John tribute; comedy shows from Tony Daro; and even professional instruction in bridge or golf. The itinerary starts at $3,940 per person.
Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises
Avalon Waterways: Capitals of Central Europe from Budapest to Prague
Avalon Waterways’ Capitals of Central Europe tour takes passengers aboard Avalon Panorama through some of Europe’s most iconic cities. Take part in a Hungarian Dinner and Folklore show in Budapest, tour the Benedictine Abbey in Melk, or visit the Schönbrunn Imperial Palace in Vienna. While in Prague, guests will have the chance to see the Astronomical Clock and Hradčany Castle, as well as be granted access to the city's mysterious sites by a local guide. Staying off the beaten path and avoiding the crowds that flock to the popular tourist destination, cruise-goers will explore the Medieval streets in peace and quiet. The vessel also ports in Salzburg, Krems, Linz-Passau, Grein, and Bratislava, and starts at $3,069. The Capitals of Central Europe itinerary has start dates running from April 11, 2013 to September 22, 2014.
Photo Courtesy of Avalon Waterways
Regent Seven Seas: Riviera Romance-Rome to London
Hop aboard Regent Seven Seas’ Seven Seas Voyager, for a 14-day tour through Northern Europe beginning in May. Whether viewing St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Rome, touring palaces and casinos in Monte Carlo, strolling through fields of lavender just outside Marseilles, or viewing exhibits at Guggenheim Museum-Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain, guests are promised the opportunity to see some of Europe’s most famous sites. The trip will also take passengers to some roads less traveled, like Oporto, Portugal, where port wine originated. Onboard, passengers will be treated to spacious suites, a comfortably furnished library, one of the largest pool decks at sea, a casino, and theater featuring shows ranging from Cirque-style performances, to full-scale musicals. Regent’s cruises are all-inclusive, and incorporate airfare as well as in-suite mini-bars that are replenished daily to make travel as stress-free as possible. Fares start at $10,499 per person based on double occupancy, with most shore excursions included.
Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas
Windstar Cruises: Islands of Italy
Journey around the Islands of Italy aboard Windstar Cruises’ 310-passenger flagship, the Wind Surf. Once welcomed by Windstar's signature flowers and fresh fruit inside each suite, the ship will then glide passengers around the Mediterranean Sea for seven days, all spent in luxurious comfort. Setting sail late April from Rome, port of calls include Capri, Sorrento, Lipari, Stromboli, Porto Vecchio, and Portoferraio. Shore excursions are available at an additional cost and feature adventures like a boat ride to Vulcano Island to explore its fascinating craters; touring Napoleon's two residences on Elba Island, now functioning as museums; or traveling back in time to AD 79 when Mt. Vesuvius erupted, leaving Pompeii perfectly preserved. Fares range from $2,299-$4,499 per person based on cabin type.
Photo courtesy of Windstar Cruises
Seabourn: Europe and Fjords of Norway Tour
Seabourn Cruises is offering an extensive 24-day itinerary sailing from Lisbon, Portugal to Copenhagen, Denmark aboard Seabourn Sojourn. The ship has a 450 passenger capacity, with all-suite accommodations, some of which feature verandas and interactive flat-screen televisions. Notable shore excursions include experiencing Lisbon on an ancient trolley while sipping Port wine and listening to the sounds of a Portuguese guitar player; a walking tour of Ghent concluding in a visit to a Belgian chocolate factory where you'll see how the famous sweets are made; and sipping drinks at Oslo Ice Bar where you'll be offered warm clothing before stepping into the bar constructed entirely of ice—the walls, counters, decorations, and even the cup in your hand. Some other ports of call include Gijon, Hendaye, Bordeaux, St Malo, St Peter Port, Le Havre, Zeebrugge, Tilbury, Stavanger, Eidfjord, Hjelterfjord, Bergen, Geiranger, and Gothenburg. Prices range from $11,299 to $20,899.
Photo courtesy of Seabourn
Star Clippers: Rome to Athens
For those free spirits out there who aren't fond of traditional cruise ships, take note of Star Clippers cruises. Star Clippers is an informal tall-ship cruising company specializing in intimate, free-form accommodations and activities. The idea is to make passengers feel like they are on their own private yacht, only with the addition a few like-minded strangers. This spring, spend eight exciting days traveling around the Eastern Mediterranean. This itinerary will bring guests closer to some of Italy and Greece's smaller towns, like Civitavecchia, Ponza, Monemvasia, Pilos, and Taormina. In Monemvasia, visit numerous Byzantine churches and an intimidating medieval fortress. Santorini, Mykonos, and Piraeus are also on the itinerary, as well as a stop in the resort town of Capri. Trip fares start at $3,368 per person.
Photo courtesy of Star Clippers
SeaDream Yacht Club: Istanbul to Istanbul
Not your typical European cruise, (considering this one even makes a couple stops in Russia) SeaDream Yacht Club introduces guests to the beautiful cities surrounding the Black Sea. The voyage takes off from Turkey, heading to Bulgaria, then Romania, Ukraine, Russia, and back to Turkey. SeaDream will pay visit to the Danube Delta, which grows nearly forty yards of land every year and attracts the widest variety of birds in the world. In Odessa, passengers can take in an evening performance of Swan Lake at the Opera house, or go on a tour of the Massandra Winery in Yalta—birthplace of Crimean wines—where the largest collection of wine in the world can be found. Passengers may also enjoy a tour of Istanbul’s historic Ottoman sites and experience the bustle of the Grand Bazaar; visit a top-secret Soviet submarine base abandoned from the Cold War days in Sevastopol, Ukraine; or see Stalin’s former summer home in Sochi. Final stops are also made in Novorossiysk, Russia and Sevastopol, Ukraine before returning to Istanbul. Fares begin at $6,999 per person.
Photo courtesy of Seadream Yacht Club
eWaterways: Heart of the Highlands-Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness
It used to be that smaller cruise ships could offer more personalized service, but would perhaps lack in extravagant accommodations luxury travelers prefer. With eWaterways, guests can still get the feeling that they are entering a grand manor upon boarding, but aren't among hundreds of others. The 54-passenger Lord of the Glens is taking an eight-day tour of the Scottish Highlands, beginning in Kyle of Lochalsh, a village on the northwest coast of Scotland. Upon embarking, passengers will sail through the Sound of Sleat to view the picturesque Isle of Skye before heading to the remote town of Inverie in Loch Nevis. Next is a visit to the tiny island of Eigg, where the population is a mere 90 people, and later spend the night in Tobermory. The following day, guests will be given the chance to visit the Isle of Iona, the final resting place of over 60 Scottish kings. Throughout the rest of the voyage, cruise-goers will be escorted through castles, canals, tombs and lochs in Banavie, Fort Augustus, and Loch Ness, experiencing the regions’ rich histories and natural splendor. Rates start at $2,435 per person and include all meals and shore excursions.
Photo courtesy of eWaterways
AMAWaterways: Tulip Time
Experience spring in full bloom on AMAWaterways’ 9-day Tulip Time cruise through Holland and Belgium. The 164-passenger AmaCerto departs from Amsterdam, a city rich in history and contemporary appeal. The ship will continue to Arnhem and then Antwerp, where passengers will be given a tour of the city, as well as trips to Antwerp Castle and the former home of famed 17th century painter, Peter Paul Rubens. AmaCerto will also make stops in Ghent and Willemstad where guests will be treated to a walking tour of the oldest protestant church in Holland, followed by a private organ recital. Upon the ship's return to Amsterdam, passengers will be welcomed back with a scenic cruise along the Amsterdam-Rhine canal, where they can view the millions of blossoming tulips along the banks. Other viewing opportunities come on the ship, with many of the staterooms containing balconies for panoramas of the exquisite European riversides. Rates begin at $2,099.