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Sarande (Photo: Aleksandar Todorovic/
Sarande (Photo: Aleksandar Todorovic/

Pros and Cons of Cruising the Mediterranean in the Winter

Sarande (Photo: Aleksandar Todorovic/
Sarande (Photo: Aleksandar Todorovic/
U.K. Executive Editor
Adam Coulter
Lori A. May

Last updated
Feb 7, 2024

Read time
8 min read

While cruising the Mediterranean is a popular summer vacation, it is possible to sail the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Mediterranean itineraries throughout winter. But, this then begs the question: When is the best time for Mediterranean cruise itineraries?

Though some cruise lines leave the Med in late autumn to reposition ships for Caribbean sailings, a handful remain. Celebrity, Costa, MSC, Princess, Viking, and Windstar are the most common lines offering a winter cruise to Mediterranean ports.

November through February can be the best time for Mediterranean cruises, with fewer crowds exploring classic port stops like Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Genoa and Istanbul. These months may also be the best time of year for Mediterranean cruise vacations for budget-savvy travelers, as last-minute deals pop up to fill in the shoulder season before and after the holidays.

Winter cruising has its pros and cons, even when sailing in the beloved Mediterranean. From what to wear on a Mediterranean cruise in cooler months to what you can expect in port, read on for our winter cruising tips for the Mediterranean.

Pros of Cruising the Mediterranean in the Winter

Florence, Italy (Photo: Nattee Chalermtiragool/Shutterstock)
Florence, Italy (Photo: Nattee Chalermtiragool/Shutterstock)

Pro: There Are Fewer People Cruising the Mediterranean in Winter

If you want to avoid crowds in the high season, the best time for Mediterranean cruise vacations is the cooler months. Taking any cruise to Europe in July or August means you'll be there with the masses when on-land, particularly if several huge cruise ships have pulled into Piraeus or Trieste at once.

In peak season, you’ll find endless lines to get into attractions, crowded public squares, packed port shops -- and the inability to fully appreciate your surroundings without being jostled or hit with selfie sticks. If your cruise includes tendering to a port, expect lengthy lines for that, too.

Visit out of season, and you'll often have the place to yourself. Lines will be nonexistent, you won't have to worry about losing your tour group and you'll be welcomed with open arms by restaurateurs keen to get some customers.

Pro: Seasonal Deals Make Winter the Best Time for Mediterranean Cruises

Cruising the Mediterranean can be a smart budgetary move as prices drop considerably out of season when cruise lines look to fill their ships. Seek out cheap cruise deals for winter sailings, watch for all-inclusive cruise deals leading into shoulder season, or take advantage of last-minute deals and Black Friday promotions.

Port visits also become a little cheaper during the winter months as local eateries aim to fill their patios, markets may be more open to bargaining, and some museums will lower or remove their entrance fees out of season.

Pro: A Winter Cruise to Mediterranean Ports Offers a Chance to Visit Christmas Markets

While holiday sailings tend to fill up, cruises approaching the holidays offer just as much festivity with less crowding -- and often the same access to European Christmas markets.

These dreamy Christmas market cruises begin in November and are some of the best holiday cruises for building memories. While river cruises are known for celebratory market cruises, itineraries on mainstream cruise lines will still deliver when it comes to finding unique souvenirs on a European Christmas market cruise.

Both Piraeus and Athens offer Christmas markets and street festivities, while Barcelona and Rome also offer Christmas markets near cathedrals and in public squares. So if you’re cruising the Mediterranean on Celebrity Infinity, Costa Toscana, MSC World Europa or other ocean liner, look for holiday markets taking place along your itinerary.

Pro: If You Want to Avoid Kids, This Is the Best Time for Mediterranean Cruise Bookings

Unless you choose to cruise over New Year's or Christmas, you are unlikely to find many kids onboard during a winter cruise to Mediterranean destinations. While for some this is a con, it's a plus for many cruisers looking for a kid-free cruise experience.

Sea days will be quieter and the solarium will offer consistent peace, while deck chairs will largely go unused by families on the rare balmy day. For the best bet at seeing fewer kids onboard, consider a river cruise as these tend to target couples and solo travelers.

Pro: Cruising the Mediterranean in the Off-Season Makes for Easy Packing

Sweltering summers along the Med can be a challenge with wardrobe planning: no matter how airy your favorite tee or sundress is, the sun and humidity will make everyone overheat at some point.

When considering what to wear on a Mediterranean cruise in the off-season, the packing list becomes more interesting. With moderate day temps, fashionistas can layer for their photo opps in Florence, casual cruisers will feel cozy in a scarf when strolling Monte Carlo and dressing to the nines for dinner in Marseille seems possible.


Cons of Cruising the Mediterranean in the Winter

Venice, Italy (Photo: Gurgen Bakhshetyan/Shutterstock)
Venice, Italy (Photo: Gurgen Bakhshetyan/Shutterstock)

Con: The Weather Isn't as Predictable During a Winter Cruise to Mediterranean Ports

There’s a reason warm-weather destinations are so popular in winter. Weather fluctuations are the biggest potential downside for cruising the Mediterranean in winter. While it’s possible to enjoy moderate sunny days throughout your Med sailing, it’s worth noting lower temperatures are common and rougher seas or winds could cause cruise itinerary changes.

You’ll also want to consider the potential for severe weather at home that could cause flight cancellations and delays on route to your cruise embarkation port. Give yourself extra cushion time to arrive at your destination comfortably, and dress in layers for added warmth.

Con: Open Seas Can Be Rough When Cruising the Mediterranean in Winter

Rough seas can strike at any time year-round, so it's impossible to guarantee calm seas at any time of year. Chances are, though, there will be at least one bout of bouncy waves when cruising the Mediterranean in winter.

If you are prone to seasickness, be sure to pack preventative medication to help keep you steady. Pack ginger candy to offset feeling sick, and perhaps go easy on the drink package until you return to smoother seas.

Con: Some Things May Be Closed When Cruising the Mediterranean in the Off-Season

While the perk of less crowds is appealing, the downside of cruising the Mediterranean in the off-season is that some port towns will take this opportunity to refresh. Monuments or museums may undergo refurbishments, some attractions may temporarily close to prepare for the next high season, and some streets may be under construction with less pedestrians around.

Waterfront eateries and cafes may also take this quieter time to renovate or even close entirely for the off season. There will always be something to explore, something new to see, so do a little research before you cruise.

Con: Winter May Not Be the Best Time for Mediterranean Cruise Excursions

Considering the above, the off-season can be tricky for cruise excursion selections. Taking a day trip to a vineyard or a walk around a beautiful national park might not be an option on a winter cruise. By the same token, if the ship is sailing part-full, you may not get enough people on a shore excursion. Be prepared to be flexible in case of excursion cancellations.

On the flip side, you may find more personalized attention with smaller tour groups. Pre-cruise, check the Cruise Critic message boards for winter excursion ideas. Once onboard, look for unlisted shore excursions or last-minute offerings.

You may find your small group explores broader terrain or has direct interaction with local chefs, creating a more personalized and memorable experience.

Con: Sunseekers May Not Find Winter the Best Time for Mediterranean Cruise Vacations

Even if the weather is lovely during an off-season cruise to Mediterranean beaches, you're still not likely to get many sunbathing opportunities. While the beach chairs in Cannes may be more available, you’ll likely be more inclined to bundle up on your stroll along Nice’s Cote D'Azur.

Some ships, like Viking Star, offer retractable roofs, so you can sunbathe without sea breezes interfering. Other ships, like Celebrity Infinity, offer a solarium so you can still enjoy a sunny dip in the pool despite cooler temps outside. Or you might be surprised by an unseasonably warm visit. Prepare for cooler temperatures and take delight in whatever the sun delivers.

What Is the Best Time for Mediterranean Cruise Itineraries? Bottom Line

Cruise ship sailing past Santorini, from the view of white buildings and pink spring flowers
Cruise ship in Santorini (Photo: Olga Gavrilova/

Anytime you find a great price on a dreamy itinerary is the best time for Mediterranean cruises. While cruise deals are harder to come by for popular summer sailings in the Med, sunseekers may prefer to pay the price tag that comes with prime beach weather.

For cruisers more open to exploring the culture and cuisine of destinations like Italy and Spain, the best time for Mediterranean cruise value may be during the winter when off-season pricing offers more overall value.

Publish date December 24, 2019
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