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What it’s like to cruise in Europe right now

24 May 2022

I recently returned from an incredible week cruising on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas. We sailed the western Mediterranean with port stops in Spain, France and Italy.

Wonder of the Seas in Malaga

This was our family’s first cruise since the pandemic. My husband and I, along with our two university-age daughters, explored the region's marvelous food and historic sites. Both the ship and itinerary were fantastic, and we are already talking about another cruise, perhaps to the Greek Islands.

With a bit of planning, we were able to navigate the travel requirements and Covid testing and thoroughly enjoyed our vacation.

Here is a recap of our journey and my thoughts for those wanting to cruise in Europe.  

European travel requirements

Having never been to Barcelona, we wanted to spend a couple of days pre-cruise to enjoy the city's famous sites and legendary cuisine.

Woman taking covid test

We did not need to take a Covid test to fly into Spain but had to complete an online form through the Spain Travel Health (SpTH) portal a couple of days prior to arrival. Once verified, you receive a QR code that you need to present upon landing.

Because we flew in early, we had to do our pre-cruise testing in Barcelona. To be honest, it was a little nerve wracking flying all the way to Europe, knowing there was the possibility that we could test positive and not cruise. But after a couple years of lockdowns, we decided it was time to travel again.

Testing in Barcelona

Covid test

While exploring Barcelona and indulging in endless tapas, we did take some time out to complete our pre-cruise testing. Royal Caribbean recently added Canada’s Switch Health tele-proctored tests as an accepted testing option, so we purchased the kits in advance of our flights. They are available through Air Canada’s loyalty partner, Aeroplan (at a discount for members), or through Switch Health.

We did the tests in our hotel room, and they were quick and easy, with results in less than 15 minutes.

There are also many places around Barcelona, in central tourist areas, that do tests (around 40 euros) and can be booked two weeks in advance. I did not see any testing available at the port.

Embarkation day  

The cruise terminal is centrally located in Barcelona, and traffic was super light on a Sunday morning, resulting in a quick and easy ride.

We arrived right around our 11 am check-in time, and there were no lines. Staff completed a cursory review of our vaccines, passports, and negative Covid test results with no problems. In less than 15 minutes, we were onboard and enjoyed a delightful brunch at the Mason Jar.

This itinerary was a little unusual in that guests can join in Barcelona or Rome, so while we were getting on, some cruisers were getting off for a port day. Lucky for us, our cabins were ready before 1 pm.


How full was the ship? I spoke to the head of housekeeping and was advised that there were around 4,000 passengers on our cruise. This is well shy of the 6,988 maximum, at 57%.

Unlike many Caribbean itineraries, our western Mediterranean cruise had only one sea day at the end, which meant most days passengers were off on excursions, making it feel even less crowded.

Our only sea day was the busiest on the ship, although there were still plenty of chairs left by the pool mid-morning. As usual, there were some chair hogs onboard.

Tourists everywhere

While the cruise ship did not feel crowded, places like Barcelona and Rome were full of tourists of all kinds. I have previously traveled in Europe during the peak summer season and was surprised at how busy things were, especially in Rome.

The Vatican was like nothing I had ever seen with wall to wall people, although most wore masks. People have asked me about being nervous about traveling on a cruise ship. Cruising pales in comparison to the density of people in the Sistine Chapel and other tourist hot spots and airports,

Even the famous Trevi Fountain was swarming with people without masks. The close proximity was more alarming than anything on the ship, and with heat in the high 80s, no one wanted to wear a mask.


While masks are optional on the ship, the rules for transportation vary by country in Europe. In our first stops in Palma de Mallorca and Marseilles, Royal Caribbean offered shuttles from the ports to the city centers, We were required to wear masks onboard the busses, but this was not uniformly enforced.

While waiting in line to return to the ship, the bus driver would not let a few passengers on the bus as they did have masks. Apparently, their previous driver had said nothing about the requirements and had let them travel maskless.

I had a few spare masks that I offered to the couple behind me, but some people were left behind. There weren’t many pharmacies close by, an inconvenience to say the least.

Protocols in Italy

Italy had the most protocols for cruise passengers.  

We had booked a tour for Rome through Royal Caribbean, and as we assembled in the theatre, they advised that we needed to wear an N95 mask on transportation and in the Vatican, as well as to bring along our proof of vaccination. They provided us each with an N95 mask for our day.

Some of the guests simply walked off the ship, missing this detail, and had issues once in Rome getting on the bus as they did not have N95 masks. It is imperative to review the Cruise Compass for each port day, especially when the requirements change by port.

Staff and service

Having worn a mask during our hot day in Rome made me appreciate the hardworking staff all the more, who wear them all day long on the ship (even outdoors).

The ship was well maintained, with workers constantly cleaning, and I noticed senior crew doing inspections. I chatted with lots of crew, and many mentioned that they were looking forward to going onshore after so much time on the ship. A few commented that the lack of shore leave and expensive internet was an issue for them.

Overall, the food was excellent. We bought the dining packaging for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed trying a variety of restaurants. 150 Central Park was delicious, and we went there twice for dinner savoring beef tenderloin and lobster thermidor. We also enjoyed the Mason Jar. 


I wasn’t sure how relaxing the cruise would be if we did lengthy excursions every day, so I booked a couple of activities, and for port stops in Palma de Mallorca, Marseilles, and La Spezia we explored on our own.

For Rome, we chose a small group tour to visit the Vatican, Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum. The day started at 7 am, and it took us almost 2 hours to get to Rome, but it was an unforgettable experience. Our guide was top notch, an art historian at the Vatican Museum.

For Naples, I initially thought we would spend the day sampling pizza in the birthplace place of the famous food, but my travel agent had recommended Pompeii, which is only a 30 minutes drive away. I am glad she did, it was my favorite excursion, and again we had a fantastic guide who made the experience that much better.

Although you pay a premium to book with the ship, not worrying about time and logistics was a major benefit. Thanks to our guided tour, we skipped a lot of lines and had special access to areas at the Vatican.

Activities and Entertainment

There is currently no Broadway show on the ship, but there was plenty of entertainment as always. We really enjoyed listening to jazz in Central Park, and my family raved about the show Intense.  

My daughters enjoyed rock climbing and ice skating, and the lineups for activities like zip-lining were not long. There were fewer kids than on the Caribbean cruises we have sailed on previously.

I have to say, having back to back ports, in addition to easily walking 15,000 steps a day, evening entertainment was not the main concern for me. Sunset was as late as 9 pm, so it was lovely to sit out and savor the picturesque views of the Mediterranean coastline and islands.


The worst part of a cruise is the day you have to leave. We carried our bags off early, around 7 am. As you are still in the European Union, you do not need to clear customs/ immigration, just a simple walk off the ship.

There are plenty of taxis waiting at the cruiser terminal, although I did notice that most were not that large, We just fit out four suitcases and us in our car, so I would suggest arranging something specific if you have a large party/ lots of bags.

The airport is about 20 minutes, and check in was quick. Thankfully we did not have to do a Covid test to return to Canada. Barcelona airport has Covid testing that you can pre-book. The lines for those who did not pre-book were quite long, so it may be best to arrange ahead of time.  

Some final thoughts

  • I strongly recommend using a good travel agent. Connie, my trusted travel agent of nearly 10 years, was invaluable in planning this trip. From hotels to excursion ideas, she was a huge resource.
  • Ensure you keep up to date with Royal Caribbean’s communications, as protocols can change at any time.
  • Review all your travel requirements and arrange testing beforehand.
  • Ensure you have adequate travel and medical insurance.
  • If you do excursions on your own, be mindful of distance and traffic.
  • The cruise planner has a glitch in the system and did not work well for guests joining the cruise in Rome.
  • Many of the excursions involved lots of walking, especially on old cobblestone streets. Make sure to bring good, comfortable footwear.
  • Euros are preferred for small purchases and local vendors, especially if you are negotiating price.
  • The weather was warmer and drier than normal for May, but it cooled down quickly at night.

7 tips for a great Mediterranean cruise

21 Oct 2019

Cruising on the Mediterranean Sea is among one of the most popular cruising destinations available. With ports of call in France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and more, each port of call offers  its own incredible cuisine, architecture, historical sites and modern culture.

If you are considering your first European cruise, here are some helpful tips for an incredible first Mediterranean cruise!

1. Pace yourself

Most European cruises are at least 7-nights long and include multiple port stops. In fact, Mediterranean sailings usually offer less sea days than a Caribbean cruise, and that means lots more touring time.

Even before you step foot onboard your Royal Caribbean ship, you may be dealing with a long airplane flight to your embarkation port.  Flying across the world comes with its own challenges, such as fatigue and jet lag.  Add a busy itinerary of shore excursions and you have a recipe for burnout.

The key is to plan breaks and acknowledge you cannot do it all.  If possible, fly in a few days ahead of your cruise to adjust to the local time and recover from the lost sleep.

Once on your cruise, plan your excursions to vary the activity level.  Try alternating "culture days" spent in museums and historical sites with "sun days" spent on the beach or enjoying outdoor activities. If on one day you want to walk all around Rome, then try for a lighter activity level before tackling the mountains of Nice and Villefranche.

When it comes to nightlife onboard the ship, while heading to bed at 10pm seems sacrilegious, your body will thank you the next day when you are well-rested.

2. Try to blend in

While you are a tourist visiting these amazing countries, there are some easy ways to avoid becoming that guy and not become a spectacle.

While no one expects you to be fluent in Spanish, French, Italian and Greek, it means a lot if you can learn some basic phrases to communicate with the locals. Even a friendly bonjour, or grazie will go a long way when talking with the locals (especially if you are trying to get help).

Unfortunately, crime and scams are common in Europe so you want to avoid sticking out to not be a target for thieves. Wallet snatching, pick pockets and flower sellers usually go after tourists, so be vigilant and careful about these scams.  Carry only the credit cards you need and a minimum of cash. Men should carry their wallets in front pockets and women should use purses that have a zipper.

3. Dress appropriately

Most of the ports of call feature ancient cities and villages, replete with cobblestones and uneven pathways, so comfortable shoes are absolutely important if you want to enjoy the adventure (and avoid injury).

If you are planning to visit religious sites, keep in mind that the expected dress code is more conservative than what one typically wears on a shore excursion.   For example, you might need clothes that cover your shoulders and knees to visit a mosque.

4. Plan for the weather

Summer is the most popular time to go on a Mediterranean cruise,a nd that means the sun will be shining and the temperatures on the rise. If you go in the summer, plan for the heat. Bring broad-rimmed hats and plenty of sunscreen. 

Just like at home, when the temperatures are high, you will get tired quicker. Prioritize your destinations and take frequent breaks.

5. Sometimes you do not actually dock in the city listed

If your cruise lists a stop in Paris, Rome or Athens, your ship is not actually dropping you off in the city.

Since these cities are inland, Royal Caribbean will dock at a seaside port, which are often several hours away.

If you wish to visit these major cities, allow ample travel time in your itinerary to get there, and pad your estimates to account for traffic and other delays. 

6. When to go

Just like the Caribbean, there is prime time for Mediterranean cruises, as well as shoulder seasons.

June through August is the "high season" for most itineraries, with the prices during the other months being lower. Sometimes tourist facilities close during the offseason or have shorter operating hours, but the money saved by cruising in the shoulder season could be substantial.

The most comfortable temperatures will be found in the spring and fall.  Greece, Turkey, the Rivieras, and southern Italy and Spain get especially hot in the summer, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees away from the ocean.

7. Currency

No matter which cruise you take, having some cash for emergencies, refreshments, taxis or souvenirs is a really good idea. Many of the countries you visit on Mediterranean cruise will use the Euro including France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Malta. Before you leave for the cruise, double-check which currency the countries you will be visiting use if you plan to tour on your own or go to local markets. 

Be sure to also keep in mind that only US currency is accepted onboard Royal Caribbean ships. While the ship will offer currency conversions, you will likely get a better rate elsewhere.

Your tips

If you have taken a Mediterranean cruise before, what would be some tips to share to someone new to the experience? Did we miss important advice? Let us know in the comments!

Rhapsody of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas to sail Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea in Summer 2015

27 Feb 2014

Rhapsody of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas offer cruises in summer 2015 to Greece, Turkey and – for the first time for Royal Caribbean – Black Sea itineraries. Rhapsody of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas’ summer 2015 Europe seasons also are now open for bookings. 

In June 2015, Rhapsody of the Seas will mark Royal Caribbean’s first time in the Black Sea, offering passengers three round-trip sailings, 10- and 11-night in duration, from Istanbul, Turkey. Guests will join the ship in making maiden port calls at Burgas, Bulgaria; Odessa, Yalta and Sevastapol, Ukraine; and Sochi, Russia, with overnight stays in Odessa, Sochi and Istanbul. Rhapsody of the Seas’ arrival at Istanbul will be preceded by a series of sailings that will reposition the ship from Sydney, Australia, to the Black Sea on Apr. 17, 2015. The ship will sail Australia’s north coast to Singapore; follow the Indian sub-continental coast to Dubai; and transit the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean to arrive for the summer season on June 1. 

From July to mid-November, Rhapsody of the Seas will homeport at Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy, and sail seven- to 11-night Greece and Turkey itineraries. The seven- and nine-night itineraries focus on smaller ports such as Katakolon, Thessaloniki, Mykonos, and Santorini in Greece; and Bodrum, Turkey.  Rhapsody of the Seas will then reposition to Sao Paolo, Brazil, for the winter season on a Royal Caribbean trans-Atlantic Ocean Voyage, departing from Barcelona, Spain, on Nov. 19. 

Rounding out Royal Caribbean’s summer 2015 Europe season, Splendour of the Seas will return to homeport at Venice, Italy, for the 10th consecutive summer season, and sail seven-night Adriatic and Greek Isles round-trip itineraries for an extended season through November. A special 12-night itinerary from Barcelona to Venice will kick off the season and sail on May 4 to the French and Italian rivieras as well as Dubrovnik and Split, Croatia. 

Royal Caribbean using Naples as Mediterranean home port

08 Jun 2013

Royal Caribbean Italy general director Gianni Rotondo says that Naples, Italy plays a strategic role in Royal Caribbean's 2013 cruise plans with 84 ports of call, which will bring more than 250,000 cruise passengers through the city.

Liberty of the Seas will be one of four Royal Caribbean ships to call on Naples this year.  In 2014, Naples will be a port of call when Oasis of the Seas arrives for a short European cruise season as well. All of this is "a great opportunity for the city in terms of economic return and tourism development."

The company has bet their cruise strategy on Naples, in the belief that "the whole South of Italy", said Rotondo, "has great potential and we hope to increase more and more our presence in the area thanks to the significant synergies with the local authorities" .

Through August 30 guests aboard Liberty of the Seas can take a seven-day cruise with stops in Barcelona (Spain), Toulon (France), Villefranche (France), La Spezia, Civitavecchia and return to Naples.

Royal Caribbean begins its Mediterranean cruise season

06 May 2013

Royal Caribbean launched its Mediterranean cruise season with Liberty of the Seas cruising out of Naples and Legend of the Seas sailing from Genoa and Civitavecchia.

Yesterday Legend of the Seas began its 2013 season in the Mediterranean from the port of Civitavecchia, offering a 7-night itinerary to the western Mediterranean, with stops in France and Spain.

Last Friday saw Liberty of the Seas at the port of La Spezia, where she began her cruising season.  Liberty of the Seas will  be calling 27 times during 7-night itineraries along the Western Mediterranean route and transport more than 98,000 cruise passengers. In June, Liberty of the Seas will officially begin cruising out of her new home port of Naples.

Royal Caribbean will send eight cruise ships to Europe in 2014

18 Mar 2013

Royal Caribbean announced today its 2014 Mediterranean cruise schedule, which brings the total to eight cruise ships that will call Europe home in 2014.   Liberty of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, and Splendour of the Seas will sail the Mediterranean and compliment the previously announced Independence of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas and Legend of the Seas in Northern Europe.

Royal Caribbean’s 2014 Northern Europe cruises will open for booking on March 20, 2013, followed by its Mediterranean cruises on March 28.

“No one can deliver Europe to families like Royal Caribbean can,” said Lisa Bauer, executive vice president of Global Sales and Marketing for Royal Caribbean International. “Only on Royal Caribbean can vacationers visit multiple destinations to experience the continent’s history, culture and excitement, while sailing aboard our recently revitalized ships that are Designed for WOW. Guests will receive Royal Caribbean’s friendly and engaging GOLD Anchor service from every staff and crew member, and enjoy up to five times more onboard dining options, and more exclusive and exciting entertainment, such as the DreamWorks Experience on Liberty of the Seas or the new spectacular aerial-acrobatic experiences in Legend of the Seas’ four deck-high Centrum.”

Most of Royal Caribbean’s 2014 Europe fleet will have undergone the cruise line’s fleetwide revitalization program to bring their ships upgraded onboard options such as new restaurants, entertainment and upgraded staterooms.

Liberty of the Seas will sail roundtrip from Barcelona on a seven-night, Western Mediterranean itinerary, calling at Provence (Marseilles) and Nice (Villefranche), France; and Florence/Pisa (La Spezia), Rome (Civitavecchia), and Naples/Capri, Italy. The Aug. 10 sailing calls at Cannes, France, instead of Nice. A four-night, roundtrip itinerary departing May 14 will offer vacationers a taste of the Freedom-class experience, with a call at Nice and Florence/Pisa. An eastbound trans-Atlantic sailing on May 1 and westbound on Oct. 26, both 13-night itineraries, will bookend Liberty of the Seas’ Europe season.

Navigator of the Seas will homeport at Rome (Civitavecchia) to sail a seven-night Eastern Mediterranean itinerary, which calls at Sicily (Messina), Italy; Athens (Piraeus) and Chania (Souda), Crete, Greece; and Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey. Alternatively, vacationers have a second option to embark on their seven-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise, sailing roundtrip from Sicily (Messina). Additionally, vacationers can choose a 15-night Galveston to Rome or 14-night Barcelona to Galveston trans-Atlantic cruise, sailing May 4 and Nov. 9, respectively.

acationers also can embark on longer nine- to 12-night Italy, Greek Isles and Turkey cruises from Barcelona from May through August, and Venice from late August through October. From Barcelona, Serenade of the Seas will alternate 12-night Mediterranean Greek Isles and night Mediterranean Venice itineraries the latter featuring an overnight in Venice. From Sept., Serenade of the Seas will homeport in Venice and alternate 10-night Greek Isles and 11-night Greece and Turkey itineraries. Vacationers also can sail into Europe with Serenade of the Seas on a 16-night trans-Atlantic cruise from New Orleans to Barcelona on Apr. 26. Vacationers also can choose a nine-night eastbound sailing from Barcelona to Venice on Aug. 27 and a 10-night westbound return on Oct. 27, takeing guests throughout the Italian Mediterranean and the Adriatic.

For its part, Splendour of the Seas will homeport at Venice for its entire Europe season and alternate seven-night Greek Isles and Greek Isles & Turkey itineraries. The ship will reposition from Sao Paolo, Brazil to Barcelona for a 14-night trans-Atlantic voyage on Apr. 25, and then start its Europe season with an eight-night Italian Mediterranean and Adriatic itinerary from Barcelona to Venice. Splendour of the Seas concludes its Europe season with a seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise from Venice to Barcelona on Nov. 15, before returning to Sao Paolo on Nov. 22 on a 15-night westbound trans-Atlantic itinerary.

Royal Caribbean Mediterranean cruise prices will rise by 10% in 2013

12 Dec 2012

Royal Caribbean cruise prices in the Mediterranean will rise by 10% for the summer 2013 cruise season, which is a move to return price levels back to being consistent with what they were in the past.  

The effects of the Costa Concordia disaster forced Royal Caribbean to more aggressively price their cruises to meet the lower demand that was created.  But Royal Caribbean feels Europeans are returning to cruising and thus, the company wants to adjust their prices and schedule accordingly.

Royal Caribbean general manager Gianni Rotondo commented on the change, "At Genoa we have on a ship 3,800 passengers.  After three years in Italy, we can increment rates by 10% because of the fact that the customer that we have acquired must be compelled to book in advance, which removes the risk of reducing prices 45 days prior to departure."

In addition, Rotondo confirmed that five Italian ports for the upcoming summer season, adding Bari and Naples, "In Naples we can put Liberty of the Seas, the largest cruise ship operating in the Mediterranean, with excellent characteristics of onboard services."

Royal Caribbean has seen a gain in market share in the Mediterranean by 8-10% and further increases could be on the way.  Rotondo believes the final recovery of the cruise market could occur in mid-January, with the restoration of the usual advance booking for the summer holidays in the winter months.  This was the norm before the Concordia incident.

Looking at 2012 compared to 2010, Rotondo says combining 2012 and 2011, Royal Caribbean moved three times more passengers than in 2010 but at a decrease of 10% per fare on average.

Royal Caribbean to scale back European cruises in 2013

21 May 2012

Royal Caribbean announced it will send just nine ships to Europe in 2013, down from 12 ships this year.  Weak bookings in Europe have contributed to Royal Caribbean's decision to reduce its presence there.

The nine ships will offer 276 cruises over 58 itineraries in 2013.  

A third of the ships going to Europe in 2013 will sail out of the United Kingdom, including Independence of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas and Brilliance of the Seas.  The ships will offer cruises to the Baltics, Mediterranean and Canary Islands.  A report from the Passenger Shipping Association shows that more than 40% of British passengers choose to being their cruise from a UK port.

In addition, Legend of the Seas will offer seven-night western Mediterranean itineraries out of Genoa, Italy and visiting Provence (Marseilles), France; and Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, and Valencia, Spain.

Vision of the Seas will alternate seven-night Norwegian cruise to the North Sea and offer cruises to visit the Norwegian Fjords, Russia and other northern European destinations.

Navigator of the Seas will offer seven-night eastern Mediterranean and Greek isle cruises.  Serenade of the Seas will offer 12-night Mediterranean and Greek isle cruises.  Splendour of the Seas will serve the Adriatic sea and Greek isles.  And finally, Liberty of the Seas will offer a selection of five- and seven-night Western Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona.

Royal Caribbean committed to presence in Mediterranean

27 Sep 2011

Royal Caribbean is betting on the Mediterranean by announcing that they plan on expanding their presence in the region.  Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein on a trip to Milan, Italy talked about the cruise line's plans,  "In 2012 we will double our presence in Italy, France and Spain. The economic crisis is certainly not hurting our industry, but the margins for growth in the Mediterranean are still sensitive and so we want to be players to play this game. "

Just to support the development plans, Royal Caribbean is upgrading its fleet. Two new ships are scheduled to start operation in the coming years, being built in German shipyards instead of the Italian Fincantieri Meyer Wert shipyards. Goldstein, however, ultimately did not not close the door to future ships being built in Italy, "We know the value and experience of Fincantieri .  So, as we say, we are 'open minded' and will reevaluate when the opportunity for new orders we will certainly take into account also the opportunities that may come from Italy. "

What seemed like a gamble, when Royal Caribbean ordered and built two ships 220 thousand gross tons, but has been a success. "But this is our strategy," Goldstein says "The customer has any kind of offer to choose independently. So it is the same with ships, with a range of very different size."

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