There’s never a bad time for a Mediterranean cruise, but I’ve recently discovered the best time to go. Known as the “Quiet Season” in touring lingo, this stretch of time in November and December is less crowded but still seasonally mild, weather-wise. As an added bonus, if you wait until December, there are holiday festivities in Europe to win your heart.
My son, Alex, and I boarded the new Viking Neptune ocean ship in Rome on December 1 for the cruise line’s Iconic Western Mediterranean journey, excited to experience what Alex referred to as “the greatest hits” of the Mediterranean.
With stops in Florence and Pisa, Italy; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Marseille, France; and Barcelona, Spain, this cruise promised to deliver scenic ports, culture and history, outstanding architecture, and of course, good food. And it did all that, and more.
Cruises are a good way to pull off multi-generational traveling, since logistics are mostly taken care of, and it’s easy to split up on the ship or for excursions, then meet back for meals.
In our case, we journeyed and dined together every day – making for an excellent mother-son experience – but since my 25-year-old son needed to check in for work, he could head off to the ship’s Explorer’s Lounge with his laptop while I enjoyed afternoon tea or relaxed in a chaise with a superb ocean view.
The Wi-Fi worked perfectly at port and at sea, so he never missed a beat joining a videoconference. As an updated version of work from home, he figured out how to work from sea.
Why a Mediterranean Cruise in the off-season is a good idea
Crowds are way down. After an informative walking tour in the charming town of Pisa – a complimentary excursion on our Viking cruise – Alex and I had an hour to ourselves to explore. We wanted to climb the famous leaning tower of Pisa all the way to the top, so we quickly grabbed a ticket with no line at the box office.
We headed up 251 steps (full confession: my pace was a little slower than his) and we were rewarded with gorgeous views of the Tuscany countryside on the top level.
When we met back up with our tour guide and told her what we’d done, she said that NO way we could do that in summer months or even springtime; lines to buy tickets are long, with wait times two hours or so. Score one for off-season.
The weather was mild. Most days, we were able to venture out to towns in a light puffy coat or lightweight jacket since temps reached the 50s and even 60 in Barcelona. You can leave your heavy scarves and gloves behind on a Mediterranean cruise this time of year, and relish that there are no sweltering summer days in the off-season, but we did have some rain and one night of rougher seas.
Most cruise lines slow down or stop in the winter months, however, so the number of other ships in ocean ports is small this time of year.
“We are one of only a few lines offering such a variety of sailing dates and itinerary options during the quiet season in the Mediterranean,” says Richard Marnell, Viking’s Executive Vice President of Marketing, who adds that it’s a growing segment for the cruise line. “We’re definitely seeing increased interest in travel during traditionally off-peak times throughout Europe.”
Why Viking Cruises?
For years, I’ve devoured every page of Viking catalogs that show up in my mailbox and noticed with appreciation the Viking sponsorship of my favorite PBS programs. Viking is known as a “the thinking person’s” cruise, after all, in part because of its enrichment lectures and cultural shows onboard that relate to the destinations.
I was impressed with an hour-long talk by the ship’s resident historian about the architect Gaudi, whose genius/eccentric architecture in Barcelona was going to be the subject of our excursion the next day. Similarly, Spanish dancers performed in the Star Theater the night we were docked in Barcelona.
In addition to what you’ll find on a Viking ship, it’s known for what you won’t find on a trip: no children under 18, no photography sales, and no casinos. It’s not a party atmosphere, in other words. Compared to other mega-sized ocean cruises, the Viking ships generally have fewer than 900 people on them, and so they feel uncrowded and relaxing.
The accolades are impressive: Viking is the only cruise line to win the #1 spot for river and ocean cruises in both Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure magazines. While its cruise experiences are considered a luxury brand, Viking chairman Torstein Hagen has often been quoted saying that learning and relaxing to him is the epitome of an upscale experience – which is only available if the ship is smaller and activities thoughtful, without too much stimulation. “One of the characteristics of luxury to me is to be calm and quiet,” Hagen has said.
What to know before you go
*Viking cruises are known for their all-inclusive value. They include one complimentary shore excursion in every port, and meals at their alternative restaurants with no additional charge. Beer, wine and soft drinks are included with onboard meals.
*This particular Mediterranean cruise is offered both from Barcelona to Rome and from Rome to Barcelona, with add-on possibilities for pre- or post-trips in each city. The cost for Quiet Season sailing in 2023 (November and December) is almost $1,000 less than the same cruise in April through October.
For more info: viking.com
– Lisa Mowry