virtuoso global February 2020 Choose Your Med: Three Ways to Cruise

Choose Your Med: Three Ways to Cruise

A cliffside view of Positano, Italy.
A cliffside view of Positano, Italy.
Photo by Getty Images
From classic Italian shorelines to less-trodden Montenegrin paths, Virtuoso travel advisors weigh in on three Mediterranean voyages with Crystal Cruises.
The gateway to ancient capital cities (hello, Rome and Athens), some of the world’s most beautiful beaches (we see you, Greek Isles), and so much more, the expansive Mediterranean Sea touches 21 countries, from Spain to Tunisia and Israel to Italy. A cruise makes it possible to explore a good chunk of this European region in one go, but before you set sail, there’s one ocean-liner-size question to address: eastern or western Med? (OK, technically some grand voyages cover the entire Mediterranean – but more on that later.)

Most luxury cruise lines, including Crystal Cruises, offer 5- to 29-day itineraries in spring and summer that cover half of the Med. The quick and simple lowdown: Think of the western Med as a collection of popular favorites and the eastern Med as home to slightly more off-the-beaten-path destinations. If cruisers are debating which area to see, Virtuoso travel advisors can help them make a decision based on sightseeing preferences (say, architecture or food) as well as past travels.

“There’s a lot to see in the Mediterranean, and the beauty of doing it via a cruise is that you only unpack once,” Virtuoso travel advisor Alyse Cori says. “It really comes down to a person’s interests and experiences, but ultimately you can’t go wrong in the Mediterranean.” Below, three Crystal Cruises voyages that let cruisers explore this captivating region in style.
On a day trip from Monte Carlo, explore iconic French Riviera villages such as Villefranche-sur-Mer.
On a day trip from Monte Carlo, explore iconic French Riviera villages such as Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Photo by Getty Images 

Western Mediterranean: Italian Romance and French Riviera Sprees

On a ten-day sailing from Monte Carlo to Venice, the 980-passenger Crystal Serenity swings around the Italian Peninsula, pairing urban and coastal stops on a greatest-hits voyage. This classic sailing – with calls in Rome, Florence, Venice, and near the postcard-worthy, sea-plunging cliffs of Sorrento – appeals to both novice cruisers and newcomers to Italy.

“With a variety of shore excursions or independent tours available, Italy is a wonderful destination for first-time cruisers who want to take in the must-see sights,” Virtuoso advisor Lynn Rudin says. “Repeat visitors can dig deeper into the culture and get off the beaten path.” On shore, travelers can walk in Rome’s catacombs along the old Appian Way, tuck into a farm-to-table lunch in Florence, and more.

Two overnight port stays offer extended shore excursion options and give passengers the opportunity to sample a bit of the glamorous Mediterranean nightlife. First, during a stop in Monte Carlo, passengers will dive into the French Riviera, visiting celebrated La Croisette (Cannes’ grand seaside promenade), sampling scents at a perfumery in Grasse (the birthplace of the French perfume industry), and walking the medieval streets of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. During a second overnight stay, in Venice, Vivaldi symphony performances and romantic nighttime gondola rides await.
Crystal Serenity has one of the cruise line’s highest staff-to-guest ratios (1 to 1.5).
Crystal Serenity has one of the cruise line’s highest staff-to-guest ratios (1 to 1.5).
Italy’s dolce vita spirit can be found on board Crystal Serenity too: The Vintage Room wine bar – one of ten dining options – hosts complimentary tastings and wine-paired dinners overseen by sommelier Mario Silva (who recommends the Ornellaia Masseto red from Tuscany), and the Venetian-inspired Prego has diners saying “buon appetito” over dishes of carpaccio and pumpkin ravioli. Time at sea is enriched by special guests – from law professors and art historians to digital filmmakers and yoga instructors – who wander the decks and speak at lectures and lessons. There’s also the holistic Crystal Life Spa and the Galaxy Lounge and Stardust Club, home to Broadway-caliber live revues.
 
Departure: July 10; from $3,299. Virtuoso travelers receive an invitation-only shore excursion in Dubrovnik, a private car and driver in Sorrento, or a $225 shipboard credit.
The Vintage Room sources wines from Crystal Serenity’s robust cellar, which can hold more than 34,000 bottles.
The Vintage Room sources wines from Crystal Serenity’s robust cellar, which can hold more than 34,000 bottles.

Eastern Mediterranean: Greek Myths and Croatian Countryside

Not long after the western Med passengers disembark Crystal Serenity in Venice, a new eastbound voyage begins in Rome. Serenity’s 13-day sailing kicks off with a taste of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, before striking south to Sicily and Malta, east to Greece (with three port stops in the country), and then on to Montenegro and Croatia before reaching its final port in Venice.
           
This passage offers loads of history, then layers on some active cross-country exploration. Explore Valletta, founded by Catholic knights in 1566 and home to an opulent cathedral, and Athens in all of its centuries-old glory. Cruisers can also hike to waterfalls in Croatia’s Krka National Park, cycle the Montenegrin coast, scuba dive in Greece’s Ionian Sea, and taste wines in a Sicilian vineyard. “This cruise is for people who want to be a little off the beaten path,” Cori says. “It may also be for those who are more active. I tend to think of Greece and Croatia for a sun-loving person who is looking for the outdoors and relaxation. Croatia is the up-and-coming Italy and still has unspoiled beaches.”
On day five, cruisers travel to Corfu, Greece, for walking tours and wine tastings.
On day five, cruisers travel to Corfu, Greece, for walking tours and wine tastings.
Photo by Getty Images 
Virtuoso advisor Mike Kempinski recommends organized excursions to see the Vatican in Rome and the ruins of Pompeii, but also suggests this cruise for those who want some free time on land, noting that easy-access ports like Venice; Kotor, Montenegro; and Split, Croatia, offer opportunities for travelers to stroll unguided. “If you love the beach, don’t miss Santorini and Corfu,” he adds.

Back on board, butler-serviced accommodations balance the adventurous day trips, from comfy staterooms with double-vanity bathrooms and provided kimonos to the 1,368-square-feet Crystal Penthouse, complete with a spacious teak veranda and a marble Jacuzzi. Another perk: Serenity’s ratio of two staffers per every three guests on board.
 
Departure: July 19; from $5,249. Virtuoso travelers receive an invitation-only shore excursion in Grottos and Valletta, a private car and driver in Corfu, or a $250 shipboard credit.
The harbor of Cala Figuera fishing village in Mallorca.
The harbor of Cala Figuera fishing village in Mallorca.
Photo by Getty Images

For When You Can’t Decide:

Here’s another solution to the either/or Mediterranean dilemma: Do it all. In addition to encompassing both of the foregoing itineraries, Crystal Cruises’ 29-day, round-trip-from-Rome grand journey aboard the Serenity adds Spain – with stops for paella in Valencia, Gaudí architectural tours in Barcelona, and palm-fringed beach days on Mallorca – as well as the rugged French island of Corsica.

“This itinerary really covers most of the Mediterranean and gives you a little taste of everything,” says Kempinski, who recommends cruising as an introduction to the places travelers may choose to visit more thoroughly on future trips. “Thank goodness for the euro, or you’d be dealing with so many different currencies.”
 
Departure: July 3; from $13,632.

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