Sail away on a European family adventure with one of these luxurious lines.
European cruises are old-worldly, charming and completely unique. They can range from a summer bask in the Mediterranean to a wintry exploration through the Arctic and often feature multiple countries throughout each journey.
Traversing the waters, you’ll be blessed with skylines of spires that break from historical town centres, crumbling castles and forts that stand mightily above cliff faces, epic monuments that hide behind medieval walls and colourful port towns that welcome you with open arms.
Yup, a European cruise is like no other, and if you’ve got your heart set on a coastal cruise through this entrancing continent with the family in tow, we know a few liners that can take you there.Searching for river cruises? Check out the top European river cruise companies here.
1. MSC Cruises
Make it a grand trip with MSC Cruises and its signature range of MSC Grand Voyages which take you and your brood from one corner of the world to the other.
- European departure points: Various departure points including Spain, France, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, England, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Morocco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Malta and Monaco.
- On board experience: This Italian liner specialises in Mediterranean cruises and captures the essence of this destination with sleek European-style rooms and freshly prepared cuisine. Yes, this includes pizza, done to perfection.
- For kids: MSC offers a range of entertainment for children of all ages including an Aqua Park, swimming pools, virtual world, 4D cinema and kids' clubs. Children aged 12 years and under travel free when sharing the cabin with fare-paying parents.
Whether you want to sail through the Eastern Mediterranean, Western Mediterranean or the Norwegian Fjords, Costa is Europe’s largest cruise line and sails through them all.
- European departure points: Multiple ports in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece and the Greek Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Montenegro, Morocco, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Scotland, Spitsbergen, France, England, Sweden and Belgium.
- Onboard experience: Costa is a British/American-owned cruise line based in Italy, and this cultural heritage shows in its European-style furnishings and cuisine. Perfect for those who want a European experience both on and off board.
- For kids: Costa offers a variety of activities for kids of all ages including activity spaces, kids' clubs and a special baby pool and meet-and-greet with Peppa Pig for little ones.
One of the world’s premium cruise lines, Celebrity Cruises offers over 100 fun-filled cruises throughout Europe for families.
- European departure points: Southampton, Rome, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Athens and Stockholm.
- Onboard experience: Celebrity Cruises is based in Greece and features a truly Grecian feel from its sleek blue and white detailing to bevy of Greek island port of calls.
- For kids: Celebrity is one of the most kid-friendly cruise lines out there. Each ship offers kids' clubs, kid-friendly sports and entertainment. Discounts are available for 3rd and 4th passengers sharing the same room as two full-fare paying adults.
4. Princess Cruises
Carrying you across the continent, Princess Cruises offers memorable journeys for families through the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and British Isles.
- European departure points: Rome, Southampton, Athens, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Dover, Berlin, St Petersburg and Venice. As Princess is an American liner, it also offers departures from Fort Lauderdale and New York.
- Onboard experience: Princess features a modern fit-out with an international atmosphere. European trips often include destination-specific experiences and cuisine.
- For kids: Princess offers activities the whole family can enjoy. This includes cultural festivals and activities, pools, ship tours, sports and video game rooms. Family suites are available on some ships.
British cruise company Fred. Olsen offers a traditional cruise experience to classic destinations around Europe including the Mediterranean, British Isles, and the Baltic and Adriatic seas.
- European departure points: Belfast, Dover, Edinburgh, Falmouth, Glasgow, Harwich, Liverpool, London Tilbury and Southampton. The cruise line also offers fly-cruises for non-UK departures.
- Onboard experience: A classic cruise atmosphere featuring a modern fit-out, and entertainment options such as shows, bingo, dance classes and shuffleboard.
- For kids: On peak holiday cruises Fred. Olsen offers a kids' club with daytime and evening activities for kids under 12.
6. Norwegian Cruise Line
Offering over 190 sailings to 65 European ports of call, it’s little wonder this luxury liner has been voted Europe’s Leading Cruise Liner at the World Travel Awards eight years in a row.
- European departure points: Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Rome, Southampton, Rotterdam, Marseilles and Venice.
- Onboard experience: Norwegian offers freestyle cruising options which allow you to eat, play and sleep whenever it suits you. Its American-based fleet comprises modern ships with international cuisine and popular American-style entertainment.
- For kids: Norwegian provides some of the best entertainment options for young and old. This includes musicals, circus and magician shows and rock climbing walls for kids, in addition to the onboard kids' clubs. Connecting and family staterooms are available.
7. Royal Caribbean International
Sailing much more than just the Caribbean, this Top Cruise Line for Families winner has eight dedicated cruise ships that sail through Europe following both classic and more adventurous routes.
- European departure points: Dubai, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Southampton, Stockholm, Barcelona and Malaga.
- Onboard experience: This American-based liner prides itself in providing a fun and innovative onboard experience the whole family can enjoy. It offers an international atmosphere with a variety of cultural cuisine options.
- For kids: Generous family cabins are available on most Royal Caribbean cruises as well as a variety of on-board activities including roller skating, bumper cars, mini-golf and DreamWorks shows and parades.
For an extra injection of magic that will put a smile on their faces, sail into the enchanting world of fjords and castles onboard a family-friendly Disney cruise ship.
- European departure points: Barcelona, Copenhagen and Dover. As Disney Cruise Line is a US-based line, cruises also depart from various North American ports including Miami and New York.
- Onboard experience: Signature Disney stylings run throughout the ships, making them feel like gigantic playgrounds for kids young and old. Some rooms are themed, and restaurants drip with Disney flair.
- For kids: Each Disney cruise ship comes equipped with family staterooms, Walt Disney theatre, music and dance deck parties and family-friendly port activities and kids' pools.
Where to Europe cruises go?
With dozens of countries to see and endless cities, towns and villages to visit, you can explore Europe for years and barely see it all. European cruises are great for giving a taste of what the continent has to offer. Some of the most common itineraries for European cruises include:
- Western Mediterranean: Spain, Portugal, France and Italy
- Eastern Mediterranean: Italy, Greece, Malta
- Adriatic: Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Albania
- Aegean: Greece, Turkey, Cyprus
- Baltics and Northern Europe: Norway's fjords, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark
- British Isles: England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland
When should you cruise in Europe?
Mediterranean cruises run year-round, while cruises in cooler European areas, like the Baltic, only sail during the warmer months.
If you're looking for the best time to go, peak season for Mediterranean cruises would be during the middle of European summer in July and August. This is also generally the most expensive time to go. If you're looking for a mix of favourable weather and prices, look into a cruise in the shoulder seasons - May and June or September and October - you should still find warm days where temperatures hit the low to mid 20s, especially for cruises going to Italy and Greece.
Importance of cruise travel insurance
Family holidays don't come cheap - especially when you're flying your brood all the way over to Europe for the cruise of a lifetime. And if something doesn't go as you planned - be it a missed port due to bad weather, a bag getting lost on the way to your cabin or someone in your family gets sick and is confined to the cabin - you'll want to make sure you're covered for it.
All those scenarios can be covered by the right cruise travel insurance policy.