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Here are 5 things I wish I'd known before sailing in the Mediterranean

26 Jun 2024
Calista Kiper

What do you need to know before cruising the Mediterranean?

Cruises are most well-known for destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean.

However, cruising the Mediterranean is a marvelous method of seeing some of the world's best art and historical sites.

The Mediterranean Sea provides access to countries like Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Croatia, and Turkey.

Read more: How much does a Mediterranean cruise cost?

I love how much is included in a cruise, and they provide the opportunity to see many unique destinations.

If you're looking forward to trying a cruise to this region, there are some important details you should know first.

After taking my second Mediterranean cruise, here are the top things everyone should know before cruising the region.

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

Know the history of your destinations

Amalfi Coast

My most essential tip is to do your research beforehand.

Don't assume that your tour guides will provide all the information to you.

Before my cruise, I checked out several library books about the countries I'd be visiting. 

These books gave me something to do on the plane and provided some helpful context to the nations and sights I was looking forward to.

Be sure to also research the ports and cities you'll be visiting on the cruise. 

Don't assume that each city within a country is the same—many regions have distinct languages and cuisines.

Doing research prepares you to understand the sites you'll be seeing. Especially in historical cities like Florence and Rome, doing proper research on the past of the area will greatly enrich your experience.

Not only that, but when you do research you'll better know the cultures and customs of the area.

Avoid being an ignorant tourist, and educate yourself to better interact with the locals.

Learn a few words in the local language 

Adding on to the previous tip, I recommend learning as many words as you can in the local language.

Even if you feel unequipped to fully study a new language, learning just a few phrases will go a long way.

I recommend teaching yourself how to greet and thank people at a minimum. You could also learn how to ask, "Do you speak English?", instead of assuming that everyone does.

While stopping at a bathroom in Italy, I saw another American cruiser walk up to the bathroom attendant and ask her a question in English.

The woman stared back blankly, refusing to respond, and finally, the American had to walk away with her question unanswered.

Politely addressing someone in the local language shows respect and knowledge of the culture.

I noticed a lot of shopkeepers and restaurant owners perk up when I first tried to address them in their native tongue. This is especially true in France.

Even though I couldn't speak much, they appreciated that I tried to, instead of assuming that everyone around me should speak English.

Not only that, but the locals I met also helped me improve and learn more new words!

It's a great way to appreciate the culture and immerse yourself in a new country.

The summer season will be unbearably packed

You've probably heard it before, but let me reiterate: summer in the Mediterranean gets very crowded.

I chose to sail the Mediterranean in June because I saw a deal on an Oasis of the Seas cruise. I heard that the cities would be busy, but assumed I could handle the crowds.

Read more: Why you need to cruise the Mediterranean in winter with Royal Caribbean

After all, it's just some tourists, right? Wrong.

The crowds were nearly unbearable, especially when it came to popular destinations like the Uffizi Gallery or the Vatican.

Some areas were so packed full of people that I felt like I could barely enjoy the destination.

Especially at the famous Uffizi Art Gallery in Florence, it was hard to even see the classical art for all the people in the way!

I had to pick my way through the throngs of tourists and keep a close eye on my belongings. 

If I could do the cruise over, I'd choose a cruise early or late in the cruising season.

Bring clothing or cover-ups that cover your shoulders and knees

Many major destinations, especially churches, require that visitors dress modestly. 

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

At a minimum, you should try to cover your shoulders and knees, and not wear anything low-cut.

To help me prepare for these requirements, I packed some pairs of pants, cardigans, and scarves.

Europe family

On days out, if I wore shorts or a tank top, I'd make sure to bring a scarf along, just in case I wanted to enter a site that required more modest clothing.

In general, I also find that Europeans dress more formally than Americans, so I'd recommend packing less casual clothing. At the very least, don't wear flip-flops or sweatpants in public.

And feel free to go all out for formal night on the cruise.

Arrive at your embarkation port early 


We recommend getting to your port at least a day before any cruise.

The same applies to a Mediterranean sailing, but I'd suggest getting to the port as early as possible.

With so much international travel and potential airline delays, you'll want to give yourself as much of a margin as you can.

On my recent Mediterranean cruise, every single flight I took was delayed by at least an hour.

I was quite grateful to arrive at my cruise port the day before but wished I had decided to arrive in the city even earlier.

One day isn't enough time to get over the jetlag you'll experience from switching time zones.

Jetlag can make you exhausted all day long, and if you don't recover quickly, it could limit your cruise experience.

Getting exhausted right before a busy, port-intensive Mediterranean cruise (where you'll also do lots of walking!) is a recipe for disaster.

To rest up ahead of time, I recommend getting to the embarkation port at least 2-3 days before the cruise.

Plus, this gives you more time to explore the area before the sailing begins. 

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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