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Tour Europe by Ship

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ABOVE: A Dutch crowd waves farewell to Holland America Line's ms Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Shopping for a cruise

image - DubrovnikDestination. If your objective is to tour Europe by ship (rather than to go cruising for cruising's sake), you'll need to begin by selecting a region. The busiest cruising area is the Mediterranean, where most lines have ships operating from spring through fall. The Baltic is another popular region, with many cruises heading east from Scandinavia to St. Petersburg, Russia during the summer months.

You can also book cruises along the western coast of Europe (with port calls at major cities like Amsterdam, Bordeaux, and Lisbon) or the British Isles. If you'd like to go farther afield, look for a cruise that includes the Faroes, Iceland, Spitsbergen, Madeira, or the Canary Islands.

image - L'AustralCruise line. Next, you'll have to pick a cruise line and ship. Some lines, like Silversea and Windstar, have relatively small ships that emphasize intimacy and are well suited to port-intensive cruising. Others, such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, feature "megaships" that carry 3,000 or more passengers and double as floating resorts. See our Cruise Guide to learn more about cruise lines that offer voyages in Europe.

imagePrice category. A cruise line's "per diem," or price per day for each passenger, can vary from less than two hundred dollars or euros to nearly a thousand in a standard cabin. A cheaper line is the obvious choice if you're on a tight budget, but things get trickier as you move up the scale. In the medium- to high-priced categories, you'll need to compare things such as:

Cabin size and amenities. A standard cabin on an upscale ship may be comparable to an extra-cost suite on a mass-market vessel. Fortunately, it's easy to compare cabin sizes and layouts by visiting the cruise lines' Web sites.

imageWhat's included. On most cruise lines, the fare covers your stateroom, meals, shipboard activities, and entertainment. (Air fare may also be included.) You'll pay for drinks, and some vessels levy an extra charge for meals in specialty restaurants. Tipping is another expense.

 Silversea and Seabourn, two high-end cruise lines, go to the opposite extreme by including tips, drinks, and luxury items such as French Champagne and Russian caviar in the fare. A few other cruise lines provide wine at dinner but may charge for drinks in the bar.

  • Note: Even on "all-inclusive" ships, you'll normally be expected to pay for hairdressing, spa treatments, Internet access, laundry, and optional shore excursions.

Special deals. Most cruise lines offer discounts for early booking. If you're flexible, choosing a less popular itinerary or departure date can pay off in substantial savings. And if you're able to use frequent-flyer miles for air transportation, you can request a "cruise only" fare.

imageWhere to book. Unlike the airline industry, the cruise industry still relies heavily on travel agents. Some cruise lines won't even sell directly to consumers--and, just as important, a cruise travel agent may be able to help you get the best possible fare and cabin.

(Tip: We'd suggest booking hotels and other ground arrangements on your own, since many travel agents aren't familiar with the geography of arrival and departure ports.)

Next page: Before you book

In this article:
Cruise types
Port-intensive cruises
A typical cruise day
Shopping for a cruise
Before you book

Also see:
European Cruises - Articles and Reviews Index
European Cruise Guide