Exper Advice: Guide to cruising the Eastern Mediterranean - Cruise International

Exper Advice: Guide to cruising the Eastern Mediterranean

By Cruise International | 21 Sep 2010

The atmosphere, beauty and spirit of the sun-drenched Eastern Mediterranean lures cruise visitors from far and wide – it’s a cultural and yet carefree destination that’s ripe for exploring.

ONE OF the most varied and exciting cruising areas in Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean has everything. Mesmerizing antiquities at Ephesus and Olympia, gorgeous beaches in Mykonos, and hidden coves along Turkey’s Aegean coastline. There are uninhabited islands peppering the coast of Croatia, formed of dazzling white stone and cloaked in pine, olive and cypress trees, and there’s mouthwatering cuisine in the chic waterside tavernas of Corfu and Cyprus. Plus there’s shopping to remember in Santorini, or haggling in the Turkish markets of Bodrum and Kusadasi.

In cruising terms, the Eastern Mediterranean is broadly defined as the Adriatic, the Aegean and the far reaches of the Mediterranean basin, towards Cyprus and the northern coasts of Egypt and Israel. Typical embarkation ports include Venice, Athens or Istanbul, and to a lesser extent, Crete (for cruises operated by Ocean Village) and Limassol in Cyprus (for the range of mini-cruises operated by Louis Cruises to the Holy Land, Beirut and Egypt)

Cruise ships of all styles and sizes sail in this sun-drenched corner of the Med. Big lines such as Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises offer mainstream ports of call and creature comforts in spades, while Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises provide a more Italian flavour, popular with Italian, French and Spanish guests exploring their own backyards as well as English speakers from further north. P&O Cruises reaches this far corner of Europe from Southampton, so British cruisers can avoid flying, while Fred Olsen has long, exploratory voyages sailing from Dover. There are winter cruises, too, with Costa, MSC, NCL and Royal Caribbean, which offer a great chance to explore when the crowds have vanished.

As this is prime yachting territory, small, exclusive lines like Yachts of Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club and Silversea Cruises operate in the Eastern Med, spending longer in ports, with late evening departures from atmospheric destinations like Split, Mykonos (which you really haven’t seen until after dark), Kusadasi and Rhodes.

Meanwhile, for the romance of sailing, Star Clippers has one ship in the area in 2009 and two in 2010, with itineraries featuring smaller Greek islands like Delos, with its beautiful temples, and arty Hydra. Windstar Cruises, which also uses sleek sailing yachts, will base two ships, Wind Star and Wind Spirit, in the Eastern Mediterranean this summer, sailing between Athens and Istanbul with a chance to extend your stay in either city.

With so many ports to choose between, it can be tricky deciding on an itinerary. Some ports (in addition to the ones we’ve highlighted on these pages), whatever your taste or interest in culture, encapsulate the beauty and spirit of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Other ports are less frequently featured on cruise itineraries but are legendary nonetheless. Ocean Village and, at the luxury end of the scale, SeaDream Yacht Club both call at the island of Crete, the largest in the Greek archipelago, for visits to the popular and important palace of Knossos, setting of the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur, or the wonderful Venetian architecture in the old port of Chania.

On the north coast of Egypt, ships call at Alexandria for day trips to Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza, or at Haifa and Ashdod in Israel for excursions to Jerusalem and Galilee. These heavily cultural tours are a complete contrast to the carefree decadence of the Greek islands, but this is what really sums up the Eastern Mediterranean: it’s cruising for absolutely every taste.

Fact File

When to go
Spring and autumn are without doubt the best times; the peak summer months of July and August are very hot and very crowded. Aim for May or early June, or mid-September to early October for the more tolerable weather. If you want to see the sights in-depth and don’t care about a tan, consider a winter cruise.

Climate
Cruises operate year-round in the Eastern Med, where you can expect daytime temperatures of 30°C-plus in July and August, with warm, balmy nights. Winters are mild and sometimes wet; anything from 10°C to 18°C is usual. Places like Jerusalem and Istanbul can get very chilly in January, although Cyprus and Cairo bask in almost year-round sun.

Currency
Greece, Italy and Cyprus use the euro. Euros are also widely accepted in Croatia, although the local currency is the kuna. In Turkey, it’s the new Turkish Lira but in the markets anything goes, euros, dollars or even pounds. Egypt is the same – although the currency is Egyptian pounds, street vendors will accept dollars or euros. You’ll need New Israeli Shekels in Israel.