Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Choosing a European Cruise Itinerary

Europe is a diverse collection of countries, each with its own great cities, rich culture, scenic landscapes, and fascinating history.  Cruising is one of the best ways to introduce yourself to the many wonders of the Old World, but with so many itineraries to choose from, how does one decide? With European cruises gaining in popularity, itineraries are always changing and each year new ports are added. However, as a general guideline, most European cruises fall into the following categories.

 Northern Europe cruises generally leave from Southampton or Harwich, England or Amsterdam, Netherlands.  The itineraries encompass two distinct regions.

 British Isles & Norwegian Fjords: The British Isles is a traditional term used to identify the group of islands off the northwest coast of Europe consisting of two large islands - Great Britain (England, Scotland & Wales) and Ireland (Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), and the many smaller adjacent islands. Itineraries may include ports like Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Glasgow. It is said that Ireland is the land that boasts 40 shades of green! On to Norway; contrast the bustling cities of Alesund, Flam and Bergen with remote landscapes and scenic fjord cruising.  This is your chance to experience the astonishing natural phenomena of the spectacular Northern Lights and unforgettable Midnight Sun! Some cruises sail entirely within the British Isles while others include port calls in France or the countries of Northern Europe.

Baltic Cruises: This is the most popular Northern Europe itinerary. It sails through the Baltic Sea with ports of call in the exciting capital cities of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.  Baltic countries have rich histories that stretch back hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Each city offers treasure filled museums, fairytale-like castles, and glorious royal palaces for you to discover. Explore Scandinavia from its Viking past to its modern-day charm. For many, the highlight of this itinerary is an extended stay in St. Petersburg, Russia. You will be glad to have the extra time in order to visit the Hermitage Museum, the Peter and Paul Fortress or Catherine Palace with its exquisite Amber Room.   You have two or more days to explore this historic city while returning to sleep on the ship at night.

Mediterranean cruises are thought of as two separate geographical areas with Italy being the dividing line.  Italy is also the common link, and a focal point on almost every Mediterranean cruise.

Western Mediterranean:  The islands and ports along the southern coast of Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy are considered the Western Mediterranean.  These itineraries usually begin in Barcelona or Rome. Spending a few days in either of these cities pre-cruise is highly recommended.  Ports may include a stop in Cannes, the “star” of the French Riviera and famous for the International Film Festival. Then on to glitzy Monte Carlo!  Art lovers will look forward to admiring the work of Michelangelo and Botticelli while wandering through Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. Rome has something for everyone.  The most popular attractions are St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Roman Coliseum, or maybe just sip cappuccino in Piazza Navona. Many itineraries include Naples, a great city, or your gateway to Capri, Pompeii or the famed Amalfi Coast!  In Sicily you may want to see Palermo, Messina or lovely Taormina.  There’s no bad choice.

Eastern Mediterranean:  This region encompasses the territories that range from the eastern coastal regions of Italy to the Greek and Adriatic Isles to Turkey and Egypt. Ships leave from Rome, Venice, Athens, or Istanbul. Explore the lands where Western Civilization was born. From monumental sights such as the Acropolis and the Pyramids to the simple pleasures of a gondola ride or shopping at the Grand Bazaar, each day becomes unforgettable! Nothing can prepare you for the beauty of the Greek Isles and whitewashed villages perched high on cliffs. Santorini, Mykonos, Crete and Corfu; all so alluring. Wander through the ancient city of Ephesus, home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  If Istanbul is part of your itinerary be sure to include a visit to the Blue Mosque. There are even itineraries that cover the hallowed sites of the Holy Land.

 When you dream about a European cruise, what images come to mind?  Is it the artwork of masters, magnificent vistas, or cobblestone streets that wind through medieval towns?  Maybe its ancient archeological ruins, or open-air markets where you can do your best bargaining!  Whatever your vision, let a European Cruise Specialist from Direct Line Cruises make that dream a reality.


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