Best for popular ports: Viking Star
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Barcelona’s cathedrals, Dubrovnik’s citadel, Venice’s canals and Santorini’s blue domes: the Catalonia-to-Greece odyssey onboard Viking Cruises’ Viking Star delivers you to the Mediterranean’s big drawcards. Your home on the water features a soaring atrium, two cinemas, a theatre and a pool with a retractable roof, plus all 465 staterooms have a verandah. There are excellent guided excursions at each port of call; the Vespa tour of Rome’s cobblestoned streets is one you won’t want to pass up.
Best for boutique: Crystal Esprit
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Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Esprit is a ship of just 31 suites, 50 per cent more staff than passengers and a submarine that travels to a depth of 300 metres. The three-seater submersible has a see-through hull with 360-degree views, allowing you to admire octopuses, turtles and iridescent fish without getting wet. Kayaking, snorkelling and paddleboarding gear is available, too. On board, relieve tired muscles with a massage at the chic Crystal Spa & Salon.
Best for crowd control: Le Ponant
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Cruising the Mediterranean can sometimes feel like the oceanic equivalent of strolling through Times Square, with traffic and tourists wherever you look. To avoid the masses, hop on a smaller vessel – one that can slip into the region’s lesser-known boltholes that the larger ships can’t reach. Ponant’s Le Ponant benefits greatly from its relatively compact size: it’s an 88-metre sailing yacht with just 32 staterooms. On The Great Corsican Loop cruise, take in the spectacle from the yacht’s sprawling sundeck or dive into clear waters without another ship in sight.
Best for river exploring: Amadeus Symphony
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Cruising the Mediterranean is not just about the sea. Iconic rivers – from the Danube in the east to the Seine in the west – run like veins through European landscapes, many spilling into the Mediterranean region. On a Lyon round-trip itinerary aboard Amadeus’s Amadeus Symphony, explore the Saône and Rhône rivers and the ancient and medieval towns lining their banks from historic Avignon, in the heart of Provence, to Mâcon with its striking red roofs.
Best for wellbeing: River Countess
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A trip to Italy may come with indulgences such as prosecco and pillowy gnocchi but you needn’t abandon your health goals entirely. Uniworld’s River Countess has a gym with treadmills, elliptical and rowing machines and bikes, while the Serenity River Spa offers massages incorporating shiatsu and reflexology. Up on deck, do yoga classes and TRX Training. When you’ve worked up an appetite, enjoy the Travelling Lite menu of healthy, regional options. Of course, if you crave a bowl of hearty ribollita, there are always Florence’s trattorias.
Best for romance: Silver Muse
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Silversea is a cruise line that masters intimate, romantic shore excursions in the Mediterranean: imagine dining at a terrace restaurant high in Montenegro’s mountains or enjoying panoramic views of the Bay of Kotor at sunset. Next year, Silversea will dial up the romance and luxury with the launch of its stunning all-suite ship, Silver Muse. On board, relax on your own verandah and enjoy a Relais & Châteaux experience at La Dame restaurant. And don’t miss out on being serenaded by a gondolier on the canals of Venice – organised by your Silversea concierge, of course.
Best for do-it-yourself: Jeanneau Prestige 42
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Why join a cruise when you can have an entire boat to yourself? Abercrombie & Kent offers crewed powerboats that accommodate up to six guests and allow you to discover the Adriatic Sea’s untouched beaches, picture-perfect towns and isolated coves at your own pace. Four types of vessels are available for three-, five- or seven-day charters. Perhaps the greatest surprise is the cost: approximately $800 per person, per night, which isn’t exorbitant for your own slice of the Adriatic.
Best for small-ship luxury: Seabourn Encore
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The recent launch of Seabourn’s all-suite Seabourn Encore has taken small-ship luxury cruising to a whole new level. Take, for instance, the Observation Bar on Deck 11, where floor-to-ceiling windows grant 270-degree views of the glimmering surroundings; or The Retreat on Deck 12, with cabanas and sun-lounges under the shade of a stunning flower-shaped canopy. Nothing, however, matches the luxury of the suites, all with a comfortable living area, gleaming polished-stone bathroom and personal attendants on hand to replenish your bar or draw you a bath.
Best for families: Sea Cloud
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Make sure you have your noise-cancelling headphones for Disney Cruise Line's Disney Magic cruise ship that doubles as a floating theme park. Little kids can meet their favourite characters – Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Captain Hook – or catch the live shows Twice Charmed and Disney Dreams at the Walt Disney Theatre. Tweens will be drawn to Edge, where they can watch movies and play video games, while teens will love Vibe,a games, dance and karaoke space (parents not invited). However, the real highlights are the two water playgrounds: AquaDunk, with its three-storey-high waterslide; and AquaLab, a 167-square-metre recreation space featuring a pool and a “beach” with geysers and spraying pop jets. Grown-ups can take a break at the adults-only Quiet Cove Pool and Senses Spa & Salon.
Best for Sailing solo: Sea Cloud
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Solo travellers can feel lost among a sea of people aboard megaships but the windjammer Sea Cloud, with its 32 opulent cabins, is like the communal table of the cruise world. It’s a smaller vessel on a journey that encourages passengers to get to know one another, enjoy meals together, take shore tours as an intimate group and forge friendships. And when you want time out, solitude isn’t far away: head to the Blue Lagoon sundeck at the ship’s stern and gaze up at the 30 sails surging and swelling against a crisp blue sky.