While some like it hot, cool-weather cruises are becoming increasingly popular.
When most people think of a winter cruise, images of palm-fringed beaches, idyllic islands and tropical climates come to mind. But a growing number of cruise lines are breaking with tradition and proving that winter cruises can indeed be cool.
For example, the Mediterranean has become a year-round cruising region with several cruise lines offering winter voyages from homeports in Italy and Spain. Northern Europe is attracting cruise ships to places like Belgium, Germany, Holland, Norway and Denmark right up until late December. The Canary Islands and Madeira are drawing cruise ships year round. And the continent of Antarctica is accessible by cruise ship only for a few months during our winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
So why would anyone want to be on a cruise where long pants, sweaters and windbreakers seem to be the required dress code?
The answer is simple. In the case of Northern Europe and the Med, fares are much cheaper in the off-season, the weather is cool enough to enjoy touring, and there are hardly any crowds at the major landmarks. As for Antarctica, our winter is their summer, which means it’s the only time of the year that cruise ships can visit the region.
A handful of major cruise lines currently keep ships in the Mediterranean and Canary Islands year-round, including Costa Cruises, Viking Cruises, MSC, Pulmantur and Norwegian Caribbean Line. They offer cruises that range in length from 7 to 11 days and depart from ports like Barcelona, Savona, Valencia Marseille, Lanzarote and Rome with fares starting as low as US$225 for a one week voyage. And a number of other cruise lines keep ships in the region until the Christmas holidays are over, including Cunard.
Ships that winter in the Med offer a wide variety of itineraries including southern Italy, the French Riviera, the Costa del Sol of Spain, Malta, Egypt and Greece. Some ships also sail past Gibraltar to the Canary Islands, Madeira and the northwest coast of Africa.
Since Northern Europe is much colder than the Med in winter (the average daily high in Oslo is 32 F in December), very few cruise lines offer voyages there once the late fall arrives. However, the months of November and December can be a wonderful time to visit Germany, Holland and the Nordic countries, especially from a shopping perspective when the streets are beautifully decorated for the season and holiday shopping is at its best.
While Antarctica can be one of the coldest and windiest places on earth during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, it becomes one of the most stunning landscapes in the world once summer appears from mid-November to mid-February and temperatures climb as high as 48 F in the coastal areas. In order to protect the environment and wildlife – all of which lives in a narrow, ice-free ridge around the islands and coastline – the number of people allowed ashore at any one time is limited. This means ships that visit Antarctica tend to be small and expensive.
A number of cruise lines offer voyages to the White Continent, including Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, Ponant Yacht Cruises, Lindblad, Quark Expeditions, and Hurtigruten. The larger ships usually include Antarctica for a day or two as part of a longer South American itinerary and do not disembark passengers (they only cruise the area). The smaller ships usually sail from nearby Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina, spend more time in Antarctica, and take passengers ashore on zodiacs. Starting prices for a cruise to Antarctica range between US$6,500 to US$25,000 per person.
So if you’re thinking of going somewhere cool this winter, you might want to put some cool-weather cruises on your wish list.