Best Western Mediterranean Cruise – An Enriching Experience

western-mediterranean

In an earlier post, we wrote about the unique experiences that cruise vacations (whether ocean or river) have to offer. Given our objective for a cruise vacation in 2019 and our inclinations, we chose what we thought was the best western Mediterranean cruise for us.  Here’s why:

  • Our Cruise Ship and Its Staterooms
  • Dining and Various Services
  • Fitness and Relaxation Facilities
  • The Weather and the Sailing Conditions
  • Our Itinerary & Onshore Excursions

Our Cruise Ship and Its Staterooms

Our cruise ship (Viking Star) is a relatively new vessel, having its maiden voyage only in 2015. It is also smaller compared to the other colossal ocean cruise vessels, carrying only up to 930 passengers.

In our view, the ship’s size is a tremendous competitive advantage as it was able to dock at ports that other big vessels generally cannot. We conveniently embarked and disembarked for the daily excursions directly from the ship except for our Monaco stop, where we had to use tenders.

viking-star

All staterooms have verandas, allowing passengers views of either the open sea or the shoreline depending on the room’s location.  The cabins come with features that made our onboard stay very convenient and enjoyable.  They include a king-size bed, large flat-screen TV, well-stocked mini-bar and a security safe.

Dining and Various Services

The ship has several dining options accessible to all passengers, including the more formal restaurants. The dining staff are very attentive to the passengers’ dietary requirements, asking us from day one if we had any food allergies that they need to be aware of.  The variety and quality of food and drinks served were beyond our expectations. It wasn’t easy to resist the temptation to over-indulge!

The cruise package included free wifi, which you can access from the staterooms and throughout the ship. In other cruise ships, you have to pay for this separately.  The free wifi access allowed us to remain connected with the world outside of our cruise without having to spend on roaming charges. We saved our portable wifi (we discussed in another post) for use outside of the ship during onshore excursions.

We had access to a self-service laundry and ironing facilities on the same level where our room was.   Aware of this when we were at the planning stage of the trip, we were able to pack light. Our clothes fitted in our carry-on luggage but we brought an extra suitcase as we anticipated buying items that are unique to the places we will visit.

Fitness & Relaxation Facilities

The ship had several options for passengers to stay active at its sports deck.  It had a walking track, an array of games, golf putting green, etc. We learned that yoga classes were also available when weather permitted.

Passengers had The Spa at their disposal (at a cost) to invigorate themselves or be pampered Scandinavian-style with a Swedish massage, specialty facial, sauna and other services.

The ship featured two pools.  The Infinity Pool cantilevered off the stern of the vessel gives you the feeling of being surrounded by the environment outside as you swim.  The Main Pool, with its retractable roof, allows you to go for a swim regardless of the weather.

Enriching and relaxing activities are available onboard.  The Explorers’ Lounge is a favourite gathering place for scenic sailing or just enjoying your favourite drink.  The multi-purpose theatre provides a comfortable venue for the various enrichment lectures, port talks, movies and production shows.

viking-star-atrium

The Weather and the Sailing Conditions

We typically go on vacation during the shoulder season.  At this time of the year, places of interest are less crowded and prices are relatively lower.  For this particular cruise, we initially wanted to go in mid-May.  Circumstances prevented us from doing so, and we ended up going in November. It turned out to be just the perfect timing.

We tracked the weather forecast closer to the sailing date.  Seeing a high probability of rain at our destination cities, we made sure that we had the right gear while aiming to pack light.  The rain jackets we obtained earlier for our Alaskan cruise served us well when we were at Tuscany.

Throughout the journey, the Mediterranean waters were calm.  The only exception was the night we crossed the Ligurian Sea as we sailed from Livorno to Monaco.   It was also when our jet lag caught up with us, so we couldn’t sleep, making the night relatively uncomfortable.

Our Itinerary & Onshore Excursions

Rome

We flew from Toronto to Rome, where we had to embark.  We’ve visited Rome in the past, so we headed straight to the port city of Civitavecchia, where our ship was docked. There is so much to see in this city, and we highly recommend spending a couple of days pre-cruise to explore it.  You may want to use the services of a local guide to help you get the most out of your short stay.



Tuscany

Our first port of call was Tuscany.  The ship docked and stayed for two days at the port city of Livorno, from where the famous cities of Florence and Pisa, and the medieval town of San Gimignano are only a few hours away.  As we only had limited time, we decided to focus on Pisa and San Gimignano.  We had unforgettable experiences in these places that we are excited to share in a separate post.

tuscan-farm-winery

Monaco

From Tuscany, we headed towards the French Riviera, with our first stop being the Principality of Monaco and its famous Monte Carlo district.  This glittering city of the Grimaldi family did not disappoint.  Read more about our visit to this tiny kingdom soon.

monaco-marina

Marseille

After Monaco, we headed to France’s oldest city, Marseille.  Nestled between the Mediterranean and hills of limestone, this city is rich in historical treasures.  We had a relaxing panoramic view from the comfort of our bus and later explored by foot its historic port during our free time. We also made sure we bought high quality, organic Marseille soaps, one of the things in our to-buy list.

marseille-port

Sete (Montpellier)

Our last port in France was Sete, a fishing port city in the southeast French region of Occitanie. It’s referred to as the  “Venice of the Languedoc.”  Located on a thin strip of land, Sete got its name from the many canals that crisscross it.  It has an unpretentious atmosphere, very much different from the other resort-type cities in southern France.

sete-canal

Barcelona

Our last stop was Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region. It is a city brimming with history, stunning architecture and vibrant culture.  With so much to see and experience, we decided to stay two more nights after the cruise, and we surely did not regret it.  We will be sharing our unforgettable Barcelona experience in a separate post soon!

barcelona-montjuic


Western Mediterranean is an iconic part of Europe. Its cities have plenty to offer in terms of culture, history, and nature. The cruise we took allowed us to visit some of these enchanting places in Italy, France and Spain in 8 days.  We highly recommend extending your stay a couple of days, before or after the cruise, to heighten the experience and get the most value out of your trip.  Watch out for more exciting stories we will be posting about the places we have visited!

We will be happy to see your thoughts on this post through your comments below.

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(22) Comments

  1. Lyle

    I’m filled with wanderlust reading this! I am planning a trip to Italy, and I think I may have to add a cruise into my plans. You have some beautiful pictures too.

    I hope to be able to travel and see the world as much as you. Thanks for sharing your experience and some great cruise travel tips.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Lyle,

      Thank you for your comments and feedback. We loved the Mediterranean cities we visited and chances are we will be there again in the future. There is just so much to see and experience. You may want to watch out for our follow-on articles, where we hope we can do a deeper dive into the cities we explored. Hopefully, that will help entice you to add a cruise in your travel plans in the near future.

  2. Geri

    Looks like so much fun! I would so love to take a cruise on one of my travel adventures. Your planning was well done and seamless. These are such beautiful places to explore.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Geri – Thank you for your comments and feedback. Yes, it was so much fun, enriching while at the same time relaxing. We enjoyed exploring the Mediterranean cities we visited – so much to see and experience. Credit goes to Zen who was very meticulous in planning the whole trip (most particularly, choosing the right on shore excursions). As mentioned in the post, we will be sharing follow-on articles, where we hope we can do a deeper dive into the cities we explored – you may want to watch out for them.

  3. James Kelly

    Wow, what a wonderful experience for you and what great cruise destinations! In my younger days and whilst single I did a lot of travelling myself but unfortunately not via cruise ships. However my younger sister and her husband do favour that form of holiday and next February, to escape part of the European Winter, will be setting off on a 10 Island Caribbean cruise over a 2 week period. Lucky them! The only thing that puts me off the idea of cruising is the thought of catching the gastro bugs which are fairly common these days on overcrowded cruise ships and which would ruin many a person’s holiday.

    Great article.

    Jim

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Jim,

      Thank you for your comments. A 10 island Carribean cruise seems perfect for your younger sister and hubby to escape the European winter. We found the ones we took very memorable and enriching. While there is always a risk of gastro bugs, so far we have been blessed not to have them during our cruises. A choice of a good cruise company (e.g. those particular in food quality and hygiene) and the right size of the vessel (to avoid the overcrowding) helps greatly. We encourage you to consider planning one in the near future.

  4. Thabo Khoza

    Great to see that you are well travelled. As a traveller myself I do like getting good deals like you mentioned.
    However I don’t think I would ever go on a cruise ship in my life even though the deal like yours.
    This is because I am just scared of being in the middle of the ocean in a big machine that is going slow.
    Even though it may have free WiFi but no thanx.
    Lovely post

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Thabo,

      Thank you for your comments. Yes, doing appropriate due diligence and looking for good deals always let us reap the benefits and at the same time know what to expect. We likewise were not very keen on cruises before and we had the same concern – the risk of being stuck on a ship with thousands of people. You may be delighted to know that there are cruise companies that actually specialize in small-to-medium size ships, rather than the huge/mega-ships. We have so far leaned towards these types of cruises, such as this Mediterranean cruise where we were actually cruising relatively close to shore (and not out in the open ocean). The same is true with European river cruises we referred to in a separate post. Suggest you check the various options. Who knows you may love it.

  5. Deb

    This kind of trip is on my bucket list. You don’t disappoint in re-establishing for me why I want to go visit. This is a compact way to see what you want.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Deb – Thanks for your comments. We hope this adds to your inspiration to one day check off this item in your bucket list.

  6. Kevin Fisher

    Hi guys!
    Absolutely brilliant post, I’ve done some cruising and I was looking into a med cruise for a while. This looks absolutely brilliant. I personally love waking up in a new place every day and I would love to visit Rome!
    I also enjoy the formal nights at dinner, they make me feel posh.
    What would you recommend the best time of year is to go?
    Thanks for a great post!
    Kevin

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Kevin,

      We are glad you liked our post. Waking up in a new place every day is also one of the attractions for us. And the cruise we took provided us that benefit as most of our sailings were at night. It maximized the time that passengers can spend on-shore and explore the place. As to the best time to go, we would recommend the shoulder months (e.g. May/June or October/November) depending on the place you are going. At these times, the weather is nice, the places of attraction are less crowded and generally, prices are lower. We did not spend a lot of time in Rome during this trip as we have visited it several years back. Indeed, it is one city that we loved as well. Time to plan for you!

  7. Yama

    Awesome post. Great info. I’ve been meaning to go on a cruise for the past year or so. This post helps a lot. Keep it up.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Yama – Good to know that the story we provided helped you closer to a decision to go on a cruise. We can’t wait to hear your experience.

  8. Randy

    Wow, what an amazing trip! I want to go to several of the places you have listed. I have always been a land person as I get sea sick but I’ve heard that there are ways to help with this.

    It seems that these cruises allow you to see a wide variety of places. Are there opportunities for some local experiences when you travel this way? How is the pricing as compared to land travel and were you happy with your dining options?

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Randy,

      Yes, it was an amazing trip and a truly enriching one from our perspective. Definitely there are ways to help with seasickness. Having said that, the waters of the Mediterranean during our cruise were relatively okay, except for that one night when we were heading to Monaco. Opportunities for local experience are always there. If that is a major objective, you should take particular attention when choosing and booking your onshore excursions. And we highly recommend you spend extra days on either your embarkation or disembarkation points so that you would have more time to fully immerse yourself. The dining options on the ship were excellent. Pricing for the cruise was good – the trick would be to book way ahead (as they normally offer early booking discounts). Alternatively, if your schedule is flexible, you can also watch for last-minute deals.

  9. Timotheus

    This truly is an enriching experience! The cruise ship has so much to offer! Fitness facilities, pools, lounge, restaurants and more! If I take up this cruise, I may end up not leaving it for the entire trip! hahaha

    But then again, after seeing all the amazing photos of the places you visited, I am sure I will spend some time in these beautiful cities like Rome, Tuscany, Monaco, and the rest.

    Thank you for this lovely write up. I truly gives me an idea of what to expect when I choose to do a western Mediterranean cruise.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Timotheus,

      Thank you for your comments. Yes, it was truly an enriching and at the same time relaxing experience. This is what we like in a cruise – the opportunity to see a lot of amazing places along the way, with the benefit of not having to move from one hotel to another and having to unpack and pack only once. And while we were on the ship, we had everything we needed at our disposal – even their self-service laundry facilities. Time to plan for your Mediterranean cruise!

  10. Raff

    Hey folks!

    I love seeing how much planning you put into your trips! I’ve toyed with the idea of taking a cruise in the future, but I struggle a bit with the structure – I find that as soon as I start looking into the areas that the cruise hits, I want to explore more of the surrounds!

    We are planning a trip to Italy at the end of summer 2020 for three weeks, and are wanting to do some hikes in the Dolomites and surrounding areas. I’d be so interested to hear if you’ve had any experience in the mountain regions and what you’d recommend to see! Also looking forward to the in-depth look at the cities that you stopped in on this particular cruise.

    Thanks for taking the time to give us all these wonderful travel ideas!

    Raff

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Raff,

      Thank you for your comments and insights. It is good that you are looking into your travel plan early. It should give you the opportunity to research the best cruise or land trip that will be the best fit for your objective. And if you do decide to go for a cruise, we recommend that you assess the various options that your cruise offers in terms of the on-shore excursions – they do quite have a list, albeit some you may have to pay extra.

      We have been to Italy thrice, but have not had the chance to go for mountain-hiking trips. Should opt for the mountain experience, we would be glad to hear your story when the time comes.

      Wish you a great experience in the summer of 2020!

  11. Ali

    What a nice post you wrote! I really enjoyed reading it and I could not be silent about your post so I decided to leave my comment here and say Thank You for sharing this quality post with others.
    Actually this is exactly the information that I was looking for information about the best western Mediterranean cruise and when I landed on your website and read this post, it answered all my questions in detail.
    So I’m happy that you decided to write about this topic and share it with people. It’s very useful and can definitely be used as a great source for everyone who is interested in this topic.
    I will come back to your website again for sure and I’m looking forward to reading your new posts.)

    Thanks!

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Ali,

      We enjoyed writing the post and narrating our story. We are glad you found it useful and provided answers to your questions. Yes, look out for our next posts where we will provide more stories about some of our shore excursions.

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