Europe is a marvelous cruise destination for several reasons. A European cruise can be a great vacation option for a first-timer or for someone who has been to Europe many times. I think a European cruise is an especially good fit for travelers who want to see the history, art, and natural beauty of Europe without having to navigate the roads and train stations or spend a lot of time planning where to stay and where to dine. Let's look at why you should plan a European cruise.
Important European Sites are Accessible
First, many of the most popular sites in Europe are accessible to cruise travelers either on ocean-going or river cruise ships. Most of Europe's major cities were built right on the water and are impressive to see from the deck of a ship. The few sites not accessible from the water are usually only a short bus or train ride away.
European Cruising Is Efficient
Next, Europe is relatively compact and travelers can see many cities or sites efficiently. Most cruise ships sail at night and arrive in the next port of call early in the morning, allowing passengers a full day to sightsee. Cruise ships offer guided tours to most of the important sites in each port, or passengers can explore on their own. Either is more efficient than trying to find a place to park a car or navigate between cities on your own.
European Cruising Is Comfortable
Unlike a bus tour, independent driving vacation, or train trip, you only have to unpack once on a cruise, whether it is an ocean cruise or a European river cruise. The comfort factor also applies to those who are somewhat reluctant to tour in countries where English is not the primary language. Although I am constantly amazed at how many Europeans speak English, knowing the native language is not as important when you are cruising as it is when traveling independently.
A European Cruise Is Economical
Currently, the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Euro or British pound is not good for travelers. European hotels and restaurants are much more expensive than comparable North American accommodations or food. Since most cruise ship fares and onboard prices are based on the U.S. dollar, the cost does not seem as high as when items are priced with the local currency.
The Downsides of European Cruising
There are only three possible downsides of a European cruise vacation. The first is that you will not have much interaction with the local citizens without some effort on your part. If you are eating and sleeping on the ship and touring with the other cruise passengers, your contact and exposure to the local culture is limited.
The second downside is timing. It is difficult to go all the way to Europe (a 6 hour or more time difference) and just be away from home for one week. It takes at least one day each way to travel, and the jet lag effects on your body are tiring for most people. Most travelers going to Europe stay longer, so many cruises are 10 days or more. Even those going on 7-day cruises will usually extend their European stays or go early.
The last downside is that although you are seeing many European cities, you do not spend much time in any one port of call. Think about traveling to any major U.S. city such as New York, Washington, or San Francisco. You could not begin to even scratch the surface of things to do and see in just 10 hours! When you are planning a European cruise and realize that you cannot do all the "musts" in one day, you will just have to convince yourself to return one day. On the other hand, I like to think that a European cruise is like a wonderful little box of chocolate candy. Plenty of small bites to sample and treasure, but no opportunity to eat more if you fall in love with just one kind!
These three downsides are manageable for most travelers, and the joys of European cruising far outweigh the inconveniences listed above. Now that I've convinced you that Europe is a wonderful cruise destination, let's look at the decisions you need to make to choose the best cruise for you.
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