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8 lessons learned after trying a European cruise for the first time

01 May 2024
Calista Kiper

Traveling to a completely new continent is an intimidating experience.

To help you prepare for your next European cruise, I’ll share 8 things I learned through experience.

My first trip to Europe happened last November, and I learned some important lessons from that cruise.

I sailed on Enchantment of the Seas for my first Mediterranean voyage.

Not only was this my first Mediterranean cruise, but it was also my first visit to the entire continent of Europe!

The 7-night sailing traveled to exotic locations at multiple ports: Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Palma de Mallorca, and Barcelona.


As with any experience, I couldn’t have predicted the lessons I learned on this wintery cruise.

These are the 8 aspects that most surprised me, but all in all, my number one tip is to immerse yourself as deeply as possible in the culture, language, and unique sights.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t be afraid to experience everything you can!

Read more: What is the best time to cruise the Mediterranean?

1. Shore excursions are the highlight of a Mediterranean cruise

Amalfi Coast

From Alaska to the Caribbean, different cruises have different attractions.

Nature lovers might select an Alaskan cruise, while those who love beaches and culture will choose a cruise to the Caribbean.

Each location has its own set of features to draw cruisers in, but you don’t always know what to expect until you experience the cruise.

When it comes to a Mediterranean cruise, the shore excursions at historical locations are really the draw. 

A sailing to the Mediterranean is like to have more port stops than a Caribbean cruise. 

I found that the majority of my budget for the cruise went towards shore excursions, with my focus zeroed in on seeing the local architecture, history, landscapes, and monuments.

Read more: Is it worth booking an inside cabin for a Mediterranean cruise?

2. Learn a few words of the local language to be polite

This is one tip that I didn’t follow, but looking back, I wish that I had. 

American tourists have an unfortunate reputation for being ignorant and rude, and it’s something I always try to be mindful of when I travel internationally.

I noticed that some people I encountered on my cruise gave me more of a cold shoulder when they heard my accent.

Of course, almost everyone I encountered spoke English, so that I could get around Greece and Spain without any trouble.

However, I wish that I had learned a few words in Greek to be more polite.

There’s no requirement to be fluent, but just learning a few phrases such as “please” and “thank you” goes a long way.

It shows politeness and knowledge, and after my cruise there, I could tell that I would be appreciated.

3. Most shops rely on cards instead of cash

When you begin preparing for your first cruise, you’ll see that many blogs and experts recommend bringing a selection of cash onboard.

However, this doesn’t necessarily apply to a European cruise. Most of Europe has phased out the use of cash, only using credit and debit cards.

Not only that but paying with a card also means that you don’t have to exchange any bills.

Most American cards work at any hotel, shop, or restaurant in Europe.

4. When it comes to cards, don’t bring American Express

As you pack your credit cards for a Mediterranean cruise, remember that most places don’t take American Express cards.

I had to find this out the hard way, as I was attempting to pay for souvenirs at a shop on the island of Mykonos, Greece.

The shopkeeper regretfully told me they couldn’t accept any American Express cards, so I had to find a different card to use.

American Express cards

As you prepare for your cruise, try to bring a different card type, such as Visa or Mastercard.

To save yourself more time and money, look for a card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, and let your bank know that you’re traveling.

With this preparation, you’ll have quick and seamless point-of-sale transactions in any country on your cruise.

Read more: I’ve been on 3 European cruises, and I see people making the same 12 mistakes: here’s how to avoid them

5. You’ll need a good pair of walking shoes

With shore excursions being the highlight of a Mediterranean cruise, you’ll also need to be prepared for the amount of walking they involve.

Walkable cities are the norm in Europe, and sometimes your tours will consist of long walks around a historical site or shopping area.

Not only that, but sometimes taxis are harder to find, so you may need to walk to get where you need to go.

For example, at ports of call on my cruise, I found that I had to walk from the cruise port or wherever the tender boat dropped us off, to the next area of interest.


If I wanted to get to the beach on Mykonos or find a restaurant in Athens, I needed to walk.

Considering all the walking you’ll be doing, it’s important to prepare by getting a good pair of walking shoes.

Some of the roads are older and cobbled, so planning ahead will protect your feet for a whole cruise of walking tours.

6. Have modest clothing on hand

Europe family

When I researched the type of clothing I should pack for my Mediterranean cruise, I found classic lookbooks of flowing linens, wide pants, and comfortable white shirts. 

However, I also learned that packing some more modest clothing would come in handy for my cruise.

Greece is still deeply influenced by its Orthodox history and is home to many beautiful, historical churches.

No matter your religious beliefs, these locations are worth seeing, but before you enter, there are some important customs to be aware of.

To enter any church, patrons should be wearing modest clothing, with their shoulders, cleavage, and knees covered.

Even if you don’t plan on attending any churches, I recommend bringing along a shawl or jacket just in case. 

You never know when you might stumble upon a particularly beautiful or old church, and long to see the inside.

7. Try the food recommended by locals, not just the most well-known dishes

When it comes to the food in the Mediterranean, it’s hard to be disappointed.

I went crazy trying everything I could: cheeses, fresh fruit, olives, salads, and more.

But when you’re looking at the menu and deciding what to order, don’t go straight for the dish that you recognize first.

Greek pita

While the most well-known dishes are certainly good, I found that I discovered some unexpected gems when I asked the waitstaff or other locals what they recommended.

More Americanized dishes still tasted great—even the ingredients were better—but the meals that I tried based on local recommendations were heavenly.

This applies to venues onboard Royal Caribbean ships, not just land restaurants. The food onboard the ship was better than on any other sailing I’ve experienced. 

8. Download WhatsApp for the quickest communication

For Americans who may not be familiar with WhatsApp, I highly recommend that you download the app before your cruise.

A secure messaging platform, WhatsApp works to text and call your current and new contacts.

It also loads on WiFi, so this makes it a great option for travelers who don’t buy local data plans.

Additionally, many hotels, tours, and guides in Europe use a WhatsApp number for contacts.

For example, when my cruise stopped in Spain, I was left waiting for my pre-ordered taxi to arrive.

When the taxi driver was late, I began to worry that I would miss my flight home.

The website offered a WhatsApp number, which I was able to use to contact and confirm the driver was coming.

If I hadn’t already had the app downloaded, my trip to the airport could have been even more delayed!

Read more: My European cruise wasn't what I expected: here's why

8 lessons learned after trying a European cruise for the first time

Calista Kiper graduated from Wheaton College, IL, with a B.A. in English Writing. 

Growing up traveling around the world, she developed a passion for diversity and cross-cultural communication. From her first cruise on Wonder of the Seas, she has delighted in the intersection between travel, diversity, and writing in the cruising world.

Calista spends her free time reading, cooking, and researching the latest human-interest stories. 

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