Are you deciding on the best European cruise for two once the pandemic is over? I'm a big cruiser and you've come to the right place.
Did you know there were over 14 million cruise passengers last year? Perhaps you were one of them. Cruise vacationing isn’t for everyone but a lot of people who think they won’t like cruising end up loving it once they actually try it.
I’ve taken several 7-to-9 day cruises with family and friends and had a blast with each one. I also gained a ton of weight in the process too, thanks to the 24-7 meal offerings, but that's another story. As part of my goal to live a better lifestyle, I'm planning a two-week cruise for two to the Mediterranean and need your help in the evaluation process.
You wouldn't believe how many choices are out there, but I've finally narrowed it down to two ships and two itineraries. I love to travel but ironically hate to do the actual planning and research before hopping on a plane. That’s a big reason why I love cruises. Once you pick a cruise and get on board, the rest is easy!
The Best European Cruise
You only have to unpack once and don’t have to worry about figuring out train schedules or finding the right bus tickets to get from one city to another. There are always tons of excursions to choose from on board, albeit at premium prices, as well as free info sessions and maps on local attractions if you prefer to save some money and go explore on your own.
If you enjoy watching shows, you'll get to be entertained every night by a new one. If you enjoy the casinos, you'll undoubtedly find a craps table to play on. The spas are amazing and so is practically everything else you can imagine.
The only negative some have is that each city visit only lasts 6-8 hours. For example, it's practically impossible to take in all of Rome in 8 hours, let alone a couple days. Meanwhile, just 3 hours in other cities is more than enough. By the time I've spent that many hours touring around, I’m happily exhausted and eager to get back on the boat to go jump in the jacuzzi! Plus I love being able to see so many cities and countries in one trip.
I’ve cruised around the Western Mediterranean already and now am looking to visit the Eastern half. There are a whole host of ships and itineraries to choose from, and I've narrowed them down to two choices. I've tried to be as thorough as possible with the itineraries, ports, and prices. Now I need your help to choose which one!
Help Us Choose The Best European Cruise
Option 1: Holland America’s ms Nieuw Amsterdam (HAL)
- ~2100 passengers
- Ship built in 2010 i.e. new
- Rooms and public areas look modern and elegant
- 2(+) jacuzzis, 2(+) pools (not sure if there are more than 2 each)
- Spa and Fitness center
- Culinary arts center w/ cooking lessons
- $3 million art collection
- Basketball and volleyball court
Option 2: Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas (RCL)
- ~2100 passengers
- Ship built in 1996, refurbished in 2006 i.e. outdated and headed for decommissioning w/in several years.
- Rooms and public areas look a bit tired
- 4 jacuzzis, 2 pools that are not as big
- Spa and Fitness center
- Rock climbing wall
- 18 hole mini golf
DESTINATIONS (Our most important criteria)
Option 1: Eight cities, 4 countries (HAL)
- Istanbul, Turkey / overnight stay
- Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey
- Venice, Italy / overnight stay
- Athens, Greece
- Santorini, Greece
- Mykonos, Greece
- Katakolon, Greece
- Korcula, Croatia
- 3 days at sea
Option 2: Six cities, 5 countries (RCL)
- Istanbul, Turkey / overnight stay
- Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey
- Venice, Italy / overnight stay
- Athens, Greece
- Split, Croatia
- Kotor, Montenegro
- 3 days at sea
COST (Big difference for cruise. Not so big difference for total cost.)
Option 1: $2800/person for 12 nights in a Balcony stateroom (HAL). Add on two round trip tickets for $3,000 and $1,500 total in spending money we get $10,100.
Option 2: $1400/person for 11 nights in a Balcony stateroom (RCL). Add on two round-trip tickets for $3,000 and $1,500 total in spending money we get $7,300.
PASSENGER REVIEWS – PROS & CONS
Option 1: (HAL)
+ Food selection & quality
+ Staff service
+ Boat is new & clean
+ Entertainment & shows
+ Ports & excursions
– Amount of smoking in public areas
– Internet speed and cost
– Longer wait time for folks not booked on excursions
– Cabin walls are thin
Option 2: Royal Caribbean
+ Staff service
+ Ports & excursions
+ Price of cruise
– Boat is showing it’s age
– Food quality & variety
– Dining areas are small for the # of passengers
– Internet speed and reliability
The best European cruise seems like option #2 no?
PERSONAL FINANCE ASSUMPTIONS
– Will pay for the entire cruise by credit card for the points and then pay it off in full at the end of the month.
– Believe that experiences trump material things 9 out of 10 times.
– I don't get fired from now until then, but even if I do, what a great trip take! Might even have to extend it to 3 months while collecting unemployment benefits.
– Not using my side business to pay for the cruise, although I should consider since I might meet some clients in Europe.
– Can save for the entire vacation for two in 1-12 months, excluding the use of any year-end bonus.
There is a big price differential between the two cruise options, and besides the 2 extra port stops on Holland America, I wonder why it's 100% more expensive.
Usually you get what you pay for though, so maybe the HAL cruise really is that much better eg mainly better food, nicer amenities, and a different clientele.
Or perhaps they just raise their prices to target wealthier people who care less about cost and more about exclusivity, while aggressively trying to recoup their building costs as the ship is only one year old and costs a fortune.
I've never been on a HAL or RCL ship so it'll be a surprise either way. Judging by the fact that the RCL cruise has mini golf and a climbing wall, my guess is RCL is more catered to families with young kids and HAL probably has more couples and families with teen/adult children.
Who is on board doesn't really matter to me though as long as I'm not stuck with noisy neighbors. Unfortunately, that's the luck of the draw just like sitting next to a beast on a plane who takes your arm rest.
HAL goes to Santorini and Mykonos which are 2 places I’d love to see in Greece after Athens. The stops that I don’t know much about and are rather indifferent about visiting are Korcula and Katakolon (Option 1) and Split and Kotor (Option 2).
Have you guys been to any of these places? Neither cruise is bad choice, but if I'm going to spend two weeks and the money, I might as well be as thorough as possible with the decision process.
Enjoy your best European cruise fo two!
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37 thoughts on “Deciding On The Best European Cruise For Two”
My advice would be to choose from more than two options. The cruise market is so vast these days that you should look at as many itineraries as possible.
With that said, it does all come down to what is most important to you and what you want most out of your vacation. Many times people are extremely excited about the ports but after a few ports get tired of exploring and end up spending a couple of port days on board. If you think that might happen then you would probably want HAL given the nicer ship with more facilities.
If you think you will want to explore every port and that is your main focus, then the RCL ship would be sufficient and you probably won’t be disappointed.
Also, cruises are always what you make of them. Every voyage, no matter what cruise lien and ship, there are people who complain about every single aspect of their cruise. It’s impossible to have a ship that caters perfectly to every passenger’s interests. So if you spend the extra money with HAL, just make sure that you don’t have incredible expectations that might not be met. Just because it is a newer ship and the price is higher does not mean that the experience will automatically be better for you. There is always that risk that the ship won’t be a good match for you.
And if experiences trump material things 9 out of 10 times for you, then that almost answers your question. HAL has a higher price tag because of it’s promise to give you a more luxury atmosphere, which basically means more material things.
And I would scratch the $3 million dollar art collection off your list and I strongly recommend not getting involved with any art auction on board. The companies that supply the art are always involved with dozens of lawsuits because of their unethical practices. You never end up with what you think you are getting when it comes to art on board!
Thanks Earl! Really appreciate your thoughts as an ex Cruise director for so many months!
Funny about the lawsuit and art thing! Yeah, that’s definitely not something I care about. The person going with me mentioned that :)
I’ll keep expectations low for HAL. Actually, I never had much expectations until my lady started looking into all the details! LEss choice the better!
For my money, I’d go with HAL. Great cruise ships! Enjoy
With kids, I would go for the Royal Caribbean option.
I’ve one been on a cruise once as a kid (it was the cheapest Carnival) and I had a blast! As a teenager on the ship with excellent food and a boat full of pretty girls out partying, it was great. I wish I took more pictures…
I definitely plan to join the protesters and fight for my pensions and 35 hr work weeks!
If money were no object, I would chose Holland America – mostly because of the newer ship, balcony and the fact that it stops in multiple Greek cities!
That said, I’ve only been on one short Caribbean cruise and it was with Royal Caribbean. We had a good time though.
Sounds good Marie. Money is generally always an object, but….. vacation times are precious, so might as well make it count!
I would definitely say the HAL line. It is a better ship and better locations. In past crusies, my wife and I have decided that newer ships are usually so much better (especially with dining and activites). Also, the stops on the HAL line look better than the RCL. Either way, enjoy!
Gotcha Rob. The meter is leaning towards #1 heavily!
Santorini is the top item on my bucket list! If you can afford it, go! I read that it takes a bit of walking uphill on rough cobblestone streets in Santorini, so you won’t be totally surrounded by the gray armada! And I totally understand your desire of a balcony room facing the sea. Enjoy!
You might scout around online to see if there are any ways to lower the price. From my small research into cruises that go to Santorini, I’d say the route for #1 is outstanding! That said, my mom has been to Split & thought it was very nice.
I’d research a bit online about the various stops to see what is important to you. I always obsess over that, but I’m always glad that I found out the information.
“Gray Armada”, ha! Haven’t heard that in a long while. Thx for telling me about the potential uphill hike. Good to do it while my knees still work for sure!
What a funny name Split is huh? Kinda reminds me of Spit, which means I will be so surprised on te upside as I’m sure it’ll be better than that!
Posting my answers here to your questions above because couldn’t figure out how to post my reply, to your reply, to my reply etc.
Financial situation- very secure. I have a successful professional practice and my wife is a teacher. Already put 3 kids through college and our youngest in now a Junior in college.
Income- I really don’t want to say. Comfortably above six figures yearly.
We could write a check for 10k for a vacation right now out of discretionary funds so in that sense we wouldn’t have to save.
However, I really think that these facts are of only minor relevance. I can afford to pay that amount the question is would it be a good value? Would I be able to get better value for my vacation dollar elsewhere is to me the most relevant question.
Is the price quoted for HAL absurd? Maybe not. To me I would never pay that amount for an HAL cruise despite the fact that I consider it a good line and will almost certainly cruise with them again. I probably (at some point in my life) will pay that amount per day for a cruise but it would be on a luxury (not premium or mass market) line
In my opinion the only way that I know of to find out if you are being quoted a fair rate in the market is to put the cruises up for bid at cruisecompete. Once you have that fair rate then it’s just an issue of personal values.
Weston, thanks for your thoughts and further clarification. Is there any particular reason why you’ve never done a European cruise after so much experience? I’ve done the whole Alaska, USA, Caribbean thing, and I have to say, European cruises are incredibly amazing due to the sites and food.
Cool! I haven’t been to that part of Europe but if it was me and I had the money I’d go for #1 because I like to see a lot of places in one trip. I’ve heard great things about Istanbul so that’s sweet it’s on both itineraries. If you don’t think you’ll be going back to Greece in the next few years then go for #1 otherwise you can save the difference in price towards your next trip over there. They have so many islands I’m sure you could go back and not see the same places twice. Have fun on your trip! Both look like good choices to me.
We won’t be going back for probably 10 years to a Greece since there are about 10 other countries we wantto hit before then and we try and visit a new country every year.
How do you know if you have the money though?
I think you have to weigh several things. How much cash you have now, how you’re doing with your financial goals, if there are any looming expenses that may creep up on you in the next year, and how you typically spend your money. If your credit cards are paid off, you’re not at any risk of missing bill payments, you’re meeting your financial goals, and if you’re comfortable with the cost then you’ll know if the price is right for you. Since you’re not planning on visiting that region for a long long time again, getting to see those places all at once could be worth a lot. Also look at how much you’ve spent on yourself so far this year versus last and relative to your income. And think about if there’s anything else you would feel better about using the money on besides this trip.
I really don’t know much of anything else worth spending my money on this year. I will probably have to buy a new car if Moose dies, but other than that…. I just donno.
Maybe I’ll remodel my kitchen or something! Or, remodel my rental unit kitchen to update the unit as it needs some updating for sure.
This looks like quite the vacation sam, and I’ve never been to any of these places, but I think that i’d go with option 1 because of santorini. Everyone I’ve talked to that has been there loved it and were able to take some great pictures and had a great time – though a 100% price increase is kind of high.
Sounds good Jeff. I wonder if I should just fly to Greece and stay there for 1 week and another country for a week instead………
I have never been on a cruise myself, but I like to think I will someday. I think if money is not an issue, then option number #1 seems like the one to go for, after all, this is your vacation! Not to say anything against option #2, because I’m sure that would be a great experience as well, but something about the culinary arts center and cooking lessons included in the first choice sounds like something right up my alley. Enjoy your trip and let us know how it goes!
Sounds like a fun couples thing to do yeah? Will definitely let you guys know how it goes. If it has WIFI, I’ll even send some Twitpics!
I have been on four different cruises on 3 (HAL, Celebrity & Oceana) cruise lines. In fact, I took the Istanbul to Athens cruise (12 or 14 day) on Holland America. It was one of my favorites because the trip was not non stop tours. You can see most of the things yourself because the islands are relatively small. All cruise lines are different, but I liked HAL the best. It depends what is important to you. RCL may have more to do, if that is important. HAL is always higher priced compared to others. European cruises attract older people, We were the youngest (60’s) people on the ship. The age of the ship, service, evening entertainment and things to do at sea are some of the more important issues. Overall I liked HAL the best, but RCL offers different things. BTW, Celebrity is owned by RCL, it is supposedly a better class. It may not be fair to compare RCL to HAL because it is a different class of ship.
Thanks for your feedback! You’ve highlighted one of my biggest fears, feeling totally out of place!
If you guys were the youngest at 60, I bet the fellow cruisers will think I’m their bellhop or something! I DON’T want to be cruising with the grandparents and listening to all their war stories. I want to be surrounded with folks who are in a similar life state as mine.
Crap, the demographics thing could be a back breaker……….
European cruises in general skew older. Certain cruise lines attract people of certain age groups. As you may realize, younger people will not necessarily go on a cruise. Also, the price seems to deter younger people to go on a cruise too. Check with your travel agen he or she may be able to tell you the average age of a cruise line with a certain itinerary. Our cure for the older average was to cruise with friends, that somewhat insulated us. We filled our table at dinner and took tours together. My next trip, I would like to stay in a villa for a week at a time and travel around from there. It is hard to coordinate a group of people.
K, good idea cruising with friends.
Yeah, it’s kinda a bummer that more people of all ages don’t cruise. It’s cheaper than being on land a lot of times, or the same due to lodging and food.
Will check on average age. It’s really fun to meet folks of different backgrounds. I just want diversity, not all 65 and up. Thx
My parents have done quite a bit of cruising, and I actually got to accompany them on one Caribbean jaunt. We went with RCL, and it was phenomenal, but it was one of their newer ships. My parents also thought it was a small, but noticeable step down from Celebrity Cruises they had been on. They have never done a Europe one before, but have sailed with Celebrity and RCL on several Caribbean trips, an Alaska one, and their favourite was the panama canal trip. They have a Hawaii one planned for their next adventure. On a personal finance note, I know the belong to something called the crown and anchor society which is a sweet loyalty program. They get all kinds of special deals and perks, might be worth looking into if you plan on doing a lot of cruising (when my financial situation matures a little I definitely plan to!) Personally, considering that you’re going to be spending so many days in port, do you really think that the added luxury is worth it? I know RCL plans great excursions.
I frankly am happy to just have a clean nice room with a balcony, good food, and a great spa :) Option #1 has more destinations, so…….. that’s more attractive.
I’ve been on approx 30 cruises. Have been on RCL numerous times and on HAL twice.
First of all I’m stunned by the price differential. A premium line like HAL is usually somewhat more than a mass market line like NCL but I can not imagine it would be twice as much. Where are you getting these quotes from.
Also if your emphasis is on experience not luxury I’m unsure as to why you went with a balcony suite which command a higher price than a regular cabin.
Based upon the numbers you have given I would go with RCL, however if I were you I would really look hard at the quotes you have gotten and search around for a better deal. I almost always go with a premium line like HAL and generally only pay $5 to $10 more per night over the mass market lines like RCL. RCL is fine but it certainly isn’t in the same league as HAL. Have you tried cruisecompete.com ?
Thanks for your feedback! So in your opinion, $1,400/person and $2,800/person for the itinerary above is much too high? 9 nights per person is $155 and $311/night which includes all meals. I guess $311 is a little pricey!
I really enjoy having a balcony, because I love to open up the shades in the morning and walk outside in my underwear and inhale the seabreeze. Eating outside, right on the ocean and reading a paper and/or blogging from the balcony is so enjoyable to me. When we get back from our 8 hour excursion, have some dinner, going out on the private balcony again just to listen is valuable.
I’ll check out cruisecompete.com
First a caveat, all of my cruises have been in either the Caribbean, North America and Central America. I have not cruised in Europe although I am extremely familiar with the lines you are considering.
I don’t think $311 per night is “a little pricey” I think $311 per night is absurd for a mass market or premium line. Our rule of thumb is that we always try to be somewhat close to $100 per night (generally a little under for mass market and a little over for premium) Again that would vary depending upon time of year and where the cruise is going to.
Ok, thx for the caveat. Yes, Europe is way more expensive than the Caribbean and around here. Oops, HAL is 12 nights so only $233/night per person!
Can you provide more perspective though? Absurd is a strong word. Perhaps you could share your income range and financial situation ie how long it would take for you to save 10k for the cruise. If not, no worries.
Never been on a cruise, so I have no fantastic experiences to share.
However, every person I know that went on a cruise around the Greek Isles said it was the best cruise they ever went on, and they were seasoned travelers. (Ok, it is only 4 people, but still…)
Make sure you let us know what you decide.
Yah gotta go! Especially with the family. You guys will have a BLAST! Can be your kids graduation present, to yourself!
If price wasn’t a concern I’d go with #1 because you’ll get to see a few more places and I’ve heard that Santorini is gorgeous. Of course option #2 still sounds nice and it is half the price, so if you’re looking to spend a little less i think that is a nice compromise.
Sounds good Mike. Option #1 is what I’m leaning towards more and more, even though it does cost $3,000 more.
If your main goal is to be pampered take #1
If the main goal is to travel and see places take #2
Would you still be satisfied if you purchased #2? I’m thinking you might be more pamper than travel.
If it were me I’d go with #2 or I’d charter a sailboat out of the Greek Isles for a week or two for about the same price at #1 would be for 2 or 3 people:
for example. Much more private and less crowded.
Do you really get a sense I need more pampering than exploring? I say it in the headline that Destinations is my most criteria. It’s cool if you think that way if so though, as it is good feedback.
Will check out the greek sailing vessels. thx!