Where will I go on a Mediterranean cruise?
This depends on your itinerary. Choose a cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean and you'll likely visit Turkey, Croatia and some stunning spots in mainland Greece and the surrounding isles. Opt for a Western Mediterranean sailing and you might see cities in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy.
How long does it take to get there?
Many cruises of the Western Med depart Rome or Barcelona, both accessible via an eight-hour flight from New York City. Sail the Eastern Med and you'll likely leave Athens or Venice, both about nine hours from New York, or Istanbul, about 10 hours.
When is the best time to take a Mediterranean cruise?
The high season stretches from April to October, but cruises are available here year-round. Visitors can avoid summer's sizzling temperatures and surging tourist crowds by traveling during the "shoulder seasons" in spring (April and May) or fall (September and October). Temperatures are still comfortable during these months -- the high in Cairo rises above 80 degrees, and Rome is warmed to 65 degrees or so -- and there's less competition for the beaches and top historic sites. And visitors who don't mind a bit of a chill might enjoy a winter cruise, as temperatures in the Mediterranean rarely drop below freezing.
How long do Mediterranean cruises last?
These trips typically last seven to 14 nights, but there are some shorter and longer sailings available.
Will I need a passport or visa?
Passports are required for all international visitors. Visa rules vary by country.
Is English spoken?
It is spoken and understood at most resorts, shops and restaurants connected to the tourist trade. However, visitors might learn a few basic phrases before setting sail.
What is the time difference?
Much of the Mediterranean lies six to seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
What is the local currency? Where can I exchange currency?
Currencies vary depending on your port of call, but the euro is accepted in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Currency exchange stations are available at most local hotels and airports, though many tourist destinations accept credit cards.
Is tipping a common practice?
Tipping is customary almost everywhere, but be sure to review all bills before handing out gratuities. Many restaurants in Italy and Greece tack a wait-service charge onto their meal and bar tabs, making tips redundant.
What should I wear?
Casual resort wear, including shorts and T-shirts, is the standard daytime attire for most cruises. Bring a variety of footwear, including low-heeled or rubber-soled shoes for walking on deck, sandals for beach excursions, sturdy walking shoes for guided tours and a pair of dressier shoes for formal dining. You can check your ship's dress codes for options suitable for nighttime, but most restaurants encourage slacks and nice dresses during evening meals.
Many churches and cathedrals in Europe require some degree of modest attire for visitors. You may not be permitted to enter if wearing "too short" shorts, and women may be asked to cover bare shoulders (it's a good idea to tuck a lightweight scarf into your purse or tote).
What should I pack?
Mediterranean cruises offer countless excursions in some very diverse countries. Think about the kinds of activities you will want to try -- swimming off Santorini, or visiting the Vatican, for example -- and pack accordingly. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses and swimsuits if traveling in summer; protective hats, good walking shoes and windbreakers are advisable no matter when you travel. Also, remember to pack all of your medications, prescription or otherwise, in a bag you can keep with you as needed.
Is the water safe to drink?
Most resorts and restaurants filter their tap water, though bottled water is available almost everywhere.
What sort of medical precautions do I need to take?
Shots aren't usually necessary for visitors from North America, but it never hurts to check with your health care provider and discuss the countries you'll be visiting.
What types of electrical outlets are used?
U.S. cruise companies use the standard 110-volt outlets. International guests will likely need converters and adapters; these same devices come in handy for U.S. citizens who plan to overnight in hotels at some point during their vacation, as much of Europe and Asia uses the 220-volt outlet.
How do I make a telephone call from the Mediterranean?
Resort hotels and public phone booths offer direct dialing for international calls. Calling cards also are available for sale in tourist-friendly markets. U.S.-based cell phones might not work everywhere.
Are hotel rooms outfitted with air conditioners?
In Greece, where many residents use fresh ocean breezes to cool their homes, many budget hotels might skimp on air-conditioning units. If recycled air is important to you, make sure to consult your travel counselor before booking a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay.
What is the shopping like? What souvenirs should I buy? Can I haggle over prices?
Shoppers will find a little of everything here, from high-end, hand-blown glass in Venice to cheap seashell necklaces sold along Greece's popular tourist beaches. You can choose souvenirs that capture the spirit of this diverse region -- pick up a bottle of wine or olive oil in Tuscany, for instance, or an intricately woven carpet in Turkey. Give haggling a try if you feel comfortable, but don't press your luck with a flustered shopkeeper.
How do I get around?
The Mediterranean is a tourism hot spot, chock full of experienced guides offering bus, boat, scooter and helicopter tours. Otherwise, try taxis and public transportation when sightseeing in European capitals; smaller cities might offer bicycle rentals or pedestrian-friendly town squares and streets. Shore excursions purchased through your cruise line highlight top attractions and include transportation and a guide.
Can I rent a car?
Rental rules vary by country, but most companies require renters to be at least 21 years old. However, the proliferation of public buses, trains and ferries make car rentals largely unnecessary in this region.
What can I do there?
With so many cultures and countries to experience in the Mediterranean, the potential activities seem limitless. Ancient civilizations are highlighted by historic tours of Cairo, Ephesus and Athens, while cuisine, a sumptuous centerpiece of any vacation, is best experienced in a Roman pasta shop or a Barcelona tapas bar. The beaches are a highlight for many visitors, and the shores lining France and Greece rank among the world's most beautiful stretches of sand.
What is the diving like?
The cool, azure sea surrounding the Greek Islands is ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling. Sicily also holds underwater wonders, including a series of craggy caves near Taormina. An assortment of shipwrecks along the Turkish coast play host to a variety of animal species and are best seen during the warm summer months.
Do you have any photography tips for Mediterranean travelers?
There's plenty of historic beauty to capture, so be sure to bring plenty of gear. Users of "point-and-shoot" digital cameras should pack rechargeable batteries, a charger, electric adaptors and high-capacity memory cards (1 gigabyte is recommended). If you're bringing a digital video camera, don't forget the long-life batteries, charger, adaptors and converter. Make sure photography is permitted before shooting in museums, churches and cathedrals; in some cases, you'll just be asked to turn off your flash.