Updated January 8, 2020
A fly-cruise is a great option for passengers who want to get to the sun faster and pack the most ports possible into precious time away. You can fly from a range of U.K. airports and are met by representatives from the cruise line at the destination and transferred to your ship. The process is reversed on return.
This option is especially appealing to cruisers who prefer scenic ports to leisurely sea days, and it's also a great way of avoiding potentially choppy seas such as the Bay of Biscay.
Luxury cruise companies such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line offer great value pre-cruise packages (which are sometimes included in the cost of the cruise along with business class upgrade deals). Even if the packages come at a supplement the rates are hard to beat -- they even include pre-arranged transfers which ensure you'll never miss your ship. Another benefit of upgrading is the increased baggage allowance from a meagre 20kg -- quite a consideration if your cruise has formal nights.
Celebrity Cruises recently came up with Jet, Set, Sail where you travel like a VIP, enjoying a dedicated lounge at Stansted Airport's private terminal and a specially-chartered aircraft with extra leg room, meals and drinks.
Independent travellers often prefer to make their own flight arrangements having booked a cruise-only fare. Whilst this gives greater flexibility it's full of potential pitfalls. If flights are delayed due to bad weather or industrial action you are left to your own devices to get to the ship in time for embarkation as cruise companies are not responsible for the delays of independent travellers.
If you do decide to go it alone, make sure your flight lands with plenty of time to board your cruise. Pre-booked transfers via companies like Resorthoppa avoid any haggling with local taxi drivers.
It is mandatory for all cruise passengers to supply travel insurance details to their cruise line before tickets are issued. You should also ensure that your passport has at least six-month validity, while some countries require at least one clear page in your passport. Check before you travel.
Travellers to the U.S. require an ESTA, which can be obtained online for a fee, and those heading to Canada need an eTA. You should also check visa requirements for other countries; non-UK passport holders should check preconditions with their local consulate.
With the potential for missing your cruise -- be it air delays, missed connections, broken down trains or congestion en route to the port -- many savvy travellers prefer to book a cruise and stay option, and spend a night or two in the destination before joining their cruise, which provides the added bonus of doing some sightseeing.
Principal gateway ports in the Mediterranean are: Athens, Barcelona, Rome and Venice. Most Baltic and Norwegian Fjords cruises sail from Copenhagen.
Who flies there: British Airways and Aegean Airlines (Heathrow). easyJet flies from Gatwick, Edinburgh and Manchester. Ryanair flies from Stansted.
Flight time: Around 3 hours 30 minutes.
Who flies there: British Airways, Iberia and Vueling fly from London (Heathrow and Gatwick). Vueling flies from Edinburgh, Birmingham, London (Luton and Gatwick) and Manchester. easyJet flies from Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, London (Gatwick, Luton and Southend) and Newcastle. Ryanair flies to Barcelona from Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Prestwick and Stansted.
Flight time: 1 hour 50 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes.
Who flies there: British Airways flies to Rome (Fiumicino) from London (Heathrow and Gatwick). Alitalia flies from London (Heathrow). Vueling flies from Edinburgh, London (Gatwick and Luton) and Manchester. easyJet flies from Bristol and London (Gatwick and Luton). Ryanair flies to Rome (Fiumicino) from London (Stansted) and Rome (Ciampino) from East Midlands, Edinburgh, Prestwick, London (Stansted) and Manchester.
Flight time: 2 hours 20 minutes to 3 hours.
Who flies there: British Airways fly to Venice (Marco Polo) from London (Heathrow, Gatwick and City Airport). easyJet flies from Bristol, Edinburgh, London (Gatwick and Luton) and Manchester. Ryanair flies to Venice (Marco Polo) from Bristol and Venice (Treviso) from Bristol, East Midlands, Leeds/Bradford and London (Stansted).
Flight time: 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours 35 minutes.
Who flies there: British Airways and SAS fly to Copenhagen from London (Heathrow). easyJet flies from Bristol, Edinburgh, London (Gatwick and Stansted) and Manchester. Ryanair flies from Edinburgh, London (Luton and Stansted).
Flight time: 1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours.
If you're joining a Thomson cruise in Corfu, Dubrovnik, Las Palmas, Limassol, Malaga, Palma or Tenerife there are a host of airports throughout the U.K. served by direct flights with Thomson. They include: Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Doncaster, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Humberside, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool, London (Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Southend), Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Southampton. This is the most streamlined fly/cruise option for anyone living outside the M25.
Passengers living in the regional areas might find it easier to route through a major European hub such as Amsterdam, Paris or Zurich, with airlines such as KLM, Air France and Swiss offering attractive deals and convenient connections. Here are some examples:
Destinations: Barcelona and Venice
You can depart Manchester at 8:45a.m. on Air France and arrive in Barcelona at 2:15p.m. with a 1 hour 20 minute connection at Paris, or leave Manchester at 6:10a.m. and be in Venice at 11:15a.m. after a 50 minute connection at Paris using a FlyBe/Air France routing.
KLM has a flight leaving at 6:20a.m. arriving in Rome at 11:50p.m. after a 50 minute connection at Amsterdam.
If cruise passengers catch the KLM flight at 6:05a.m. they'll arrive in Rome at 11:50p.m. after a 50 minute connection at Amsterdam.
Catch the Swiss flight at 8:40a.m. and after a 1 hour 35 minute connection at Zurich, you'll arrive in Venice at2:10p.m.
The only caveat routing via a European hub is the very fact you're now taking two flights instead of one, increasing the risk of disruption twofold. The other drawback is if your baggage doesn't make the connection for whatever reason you'll arrive at your destination where your first stop will be the baggage-tracing office.
Another important thing to remember is that very few cruise terminals are located at the end of runways. This isn't a problem in Barcelona, where the port is about a 30-minute taxi ride away. However, in Athens the transfer to the port of Piraeus can take over an hour. Pre-booked transfers make getting to and from the ship a less stressful affair and are cost effective. The public transport system at both these airports is not convenient for access to the cruise ports. Follow these guidelines for other ports:
The port of Rome -- Civitavecchia -- is 44 miles north of Fiumicino Airport and the journey takes around an hour and costs about €80. The Leonardo Airport Express train service is a short walk from arrivals and goes to Rome Termini station, where you can catch a train to Civitavecchia, but this option is not for the feint-hearted and can take around three hours.
You can take a bus from Marco Polo Airport to Piazzale Roma where there's a new 'People Mover' to the Stazione Marittima cruise terminal, but consider this option with caution if you have heavy suitcases. If your ship is docked at San Basilio then you need to take a taxi, which has vehicular access to this dock. All other transfers involve water. The water taxi landing stage is an eight-minute walk from the airport building and while this option might be classy, it doesn't come cheap at around €140. The public waterbus (which also departs from a nearby landing-stage) is known as Alilaguna and offers a slow but scenic option. The Blue Line takes about two hours to get from the airport to the Stazione Marittima and costs €20.