Cruising to the Mediterranean in summer? Know that July and August weather can be really, incredibly, super-duper hot! Whether in urban Florence, beachy Nice or out-of-the-way Elba, temperatures will hover in the high-80s and 90s, and the thick air can be oppressive.
The heat forces cruisers to slow down the pace. Instead of navigating the narrow rows between stalls in an outdoor market, you might find yourself lingering on a shaded bench, nursing a gelato. An indoor, air-conditioned museum might have more appeal than scrambling around an outdoor fortress or Roman ruin. You might not have the stamina to stay out in the sun all day, which can be disappointing to travelers hoping to maximize their time in port.
If you're going to survive the summer weather on a Mediterranean cruise, you'll need more than a Zen-like approach to the heat (not to mention the crowds). Here are our hard-won tips for taking a safe and enjoyable trip to the Mediterranean in the heat of summer. (If you'd rather not travel this way, book your cruise for the fall, winter or spring, when Europe is cooler and less crowded.)
If you're typically a "go, go, go!" kind of traveler, consider slowing the pace down when it's 90 degrees outside. Instead of jampacking your day in order to see everything a port has to offer, schedule breaks to sit on a park bench or in a cafe between sightseeing stops. Pick two or three must-sees to visit; you'll be more satisfied with your day than if you try to do six things and don't make it to half of them.
Another way to slow down your pace is to alternate between "Culture Days" and "Beach Days." On a "Culture Day," you can do your hardcore sightseeing and get your fill of museums, cathedrals and cultural attractions. But make the following day a "Beach Day," when you sleep in a bit, then camp out at a park, beach or cafe and people-watch or read a book. It's still culturally enriching, and you'll be better able to handle the summer heat the next day.
Now is not the time for machismo or stinginess. If you're thirsty, get a drink -- even if that means lugging a huge water bottle through Rome or buying over-priced drinks at snack stands. At the first signs of hunger, find a place for lunch. Don't put it off until you're ravenous and cranky and wilting from the midday sun. And forget about your diet -- cool gelato is just what the doctor ordered on a hot summer day.
Not only will these steps keep you from dehydrating and feeling sick, but they will prevent you and your travel companions from getting snippy with each other and causing tension in the group. And don't eat on the go; sit down and relish your snack because it's a good excuse for a break.
If you're interested in marquee attractions, such as Florence's Accademia museum (the one with Michelangelo's David) or Rome's Colosseum, you'd be wise to prebook tickets (if you're not visiting on a tour). Instead of waiting in the long, round-the-corner, outdoors-in-the-sun line, you can jump the queue and get inside sooner. Even though you'll pay a few euros more to book tickets in advance, it's well worth it, as you won't have to spend your one day in town waiting in long lines in the brutal heat.
Or a cab or a tourist train or a horse and buggy if you must. But when the sun is at its summer zenith, you do not want to walk 3 miles to that attraction on the outskirts of town, when a perfectly good (and possibly, though not necessarily, air-conditioned) vehicle can get you there faster. Look for hop-on, hop-off buses and tourist trams. They might be a little cheesy, but they'll take you to all the places you want to go without your having to hoof it or struggle to navigate with a map.
Seek out air conditioning whenever possible. Skew your hot-day itineraries toward museums, shops and cafes, rather than outdoor markets or athletic activities (biking, hiking, walking tours). You'll get a full day of culture and sightseeing without overheating.
Avoid the heat of the day, and ensure some downtime by working a siesta into your day if the ship's docked relatively close to town. Leave the ship first thing in the morning for sightseeing or shopping; then return for lunch -- or after -- and take a nap, or go for a swim in the ship's pool. Then, head back out for a few hours before all-aboard -- the perfect time to grab a gelato before setting sail.
In summer, Europe's city streets become packed with foreign tourists, and, in July and August specifically, the locals head for the beaches and other vacation hotspots for multiweek getaways. Before you leave the ship, prepare yourself for throngs of people wherever you go. Then, if you find an empty street or quiet corner of a museum, the surprise will make the experience all the more enjoyable. Remember, too -- pickpockets love crowded areas, so be extra careful with your belongings when you travel in summer.
Sea days are a godsend on jampacked summer itineraries. When you're going nonstop in the heat for two or three days in a row, you need a day at sea to sleep in, lounge by the pool and maybe get a foot massage for your tired tootsies -- it will help you recharge for two to three more days of hardcore vacationing.
Look for itineraries with several sea days if you're cruising the Mediterranean in the summer. If your itinerary is destination-intensive, consider creating your own sea day by not leaving the ship on one or two port days. You'll have the pool to yourself (no fighting for prime lounge chair locations), and you might even snag a deal on a port-day spa treatment.