The best 10 cruises in the Mediterranean and Western Europe for 2019

The most popular destination for the UK’s first-time cruisers, the Mediterranean has so much to offer. Add Western Europe, too, and there’s a voyage for every taste. Here we round-up 10 of the best sailings for 2019 to 2020, from giant ships featuring exclusive stage shows to a history-focused trip.

High tech and high wires
Launching in March, the enormous MSC Bellissima will accommodate up to 5,700 guests, have 10 restaurants, 20 bars and entertainment galore, including Cirque du Soleil shows. It also promises cabins equipped with voice-enabled artificial intelligence devices to answer questions. From spring, it will sail a western Mediterranean circuit: Barcelona, Marseille, Genoa, Naples, Messina, Malta, Barcelona.

Mickey in the Med
Avoid expensive flights to Florida and treat the family to a fun-filled Disney cruise closer to home this summer on a Mediterranean voyage on the Disney Magic. Expect Disney characters to meet, themed dining, high-quality shows and excursions tailored to families.

A harmonious holiday
Luxury small-ship cruise line Silversea is offering a couple of new opera-enriched sailings in the Mediterranean this year, with singers from Milan’s Accademia Teatro alla Scala performing on-board in the evenings. The Barcelona to Rome sailing stops at several enticing, less-visited ports, among them Mahon (Menorca), Alghero (Sardinia) and Trapani (Sicily).

Croatia uncovered
Azamara Club Cruises is more destination-focused than many rival lines, particularly on its “country-intensive voyages”. A trip along Croatia’s Adriatic Coast on Azamara’s newest ship, Azamara Pursuit, docks late into the evening at Rijeka, Dubrovnik and Hvar, and overnights at Split, whose splendid old town is largely set within the Roman walls of Diocletian’s Palace.

Where west meets east med
Viking Ocean Cruises offers a winning combination of culturally-enriching voyages on tasteful ships inspired by Scandinavian decor. A tour starting at Athens and ending in Rome calls at ports near major historic sights, such as Heraklion in Crete (for Knossos); Ashdod and Haifa in Israel (for Jerusalem and Nazareth); and Naples (for Pompeii). There’s a free excursion in each port.

To the Holy Land and beyond
Oceania’s newly refurbished ships Nautica, Sirena and Riviera take to the seas in 2020, with cruises that include three sailings to the Holy Land and beyond. The Wonders of the Ancients cruise aboard the 684-passenger Nautica sails from Dubai to Rome, taking in Aqaba (for Petra), Safaga (for Luxor) and Haifa (for Jerusalem), as well as Heraklion, the Amalfi Coast (Italy) and Salalah (Oman). Similar cruises are available in 2019, including the 23-day Empires of Antiquity, which adds Athens, Rhodes, Santorini, Cyprus and Messina (Sicily) to that itinerary.

Small ship history hits
Voyages to Antiquity has a new, largely off-the-beaten-track itinerary from Athens on its small ship Aegean Odyssey. Highlights include the remarkable Byzantine monasteries at Meteora (from Volos), and, having passed through the Bosphorus, the historic Black Sea ports of Odessa (Ukraine), Constanza (Romania) and Varna (Bulgaria). Learned guest speakers enrich the cruise.

Istanbul revisited
Istanbul fell off the cruise map after terrorist attacks there in 2016, but is starting to reappear on itineraries. Celestyal Cruises has an overnight stay in the Turkish city on its new Eclectic Aegean itinerary, which also visits Canakkale (for Troy and Gallipoli), Mykonos (leaving port at 2am so passengers can enjoy the nightlife), Heraklion and Santorini. Greek dishes and Hellenic entertainment feature on the few-frills Celestyal Crystal ship.

Atlantic island hopping
On a no-fly voyage on P&O Cruises’ Aurora, in just over a fortnight you’ll visit six dramatic Atlantic outposts: Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and La Palma in the Canary Islands; Madeira; then Sao Miguel and Terceira in the Azores, where you can view volcanic crater lakes or go on a whale-watching adventure.

The alternative Mediterranean
An old cruise hand looking for something different? Princess Cruises is offering a no-fly voyage this summer on Sapphire Princess that swaps tried and tested ports and cities such as Barcelona and Nice and heads instead to underrated Malaga, Corsica’s handsome capital of Ajaccio, the Languedoc port of Sete and Spanish/Moroccan Ceuta. The cruise’s Atlantic sections visit Portimao on the Algarve, Cadiz and Lisbon.