Have you noticed how many last minute cruises there seem to be this year? It’s funny how cruisers start off split into two groups – maybe you’re in the ‘book it as soon as the brochures come out’ brigade and perhaps the ‘gosh that’s cheap – let’s do it” gang? We definitely used to be the plan ahead types – we still are in terms of our ‘big’ cruises – but over the last couple of years that we seem to be tempted by more and more last minute bargains too – I blame Facebook! My feed lately has been choked with a lot of last minute deals in the Mediterranean for late November and December. So is cruising out of season a good idea?
We’ve taken a few November/ December cruises in the Med and found them to be very enjoyable. On one we cruised from Southampton and, although we expected a couple of rough days enroute, we were lucky and they never materialised (obviously don’t rely on that!). We went armed with Stugeron and wrist bands for seasickness but never needed either. Another time we flew to Civittavecchia and, whilst our flight was on time, we watched flights to Barcelona and the south of France were being badly disrupted. I think it is more reliable to cruise rather than fly, as flight schedules can get badly disrupted by bad weather, either in the UK or elsewhere. If you do choose to fly then definitely go out the previous day so that you don’t risk missing the cruise altogether! I think on balance if your holiday is under a week then fly as you get to the nice weather sooner but if you can take a fortnight then definitely cruise out and back.
The first thing you notice is that the days are shorter but there was still lots of sunshine and sunny corners to sit in on deck, I even went swimming a few times in the outside pools! I found the shorter days made for a gentler, more relaxed cruise. The darker mornings and evenings seemed to promote a less frenetic feel to a day spent ashore with everyone generally safely back on board in time for tea. The shorter days made for some spectacular sunsets too, often as we were leaving port – a lovely end to the day!
We might have been lucky but we had pretty good weather every day – from Cadiz where we had bright blue skies but a chilly wind to Cagliari where we actually managed to get a little sunburnt over an alfresco lunch! We carried rain jackets and umbrellas everywhere but didn’t need them anywhere but Gibraltar! We did notice though that its very easy to make yourself a bit silly ( as well as becoming a bit of a target for pick pockets and the like) by wearing summer clothes! Just because its sunny and almost as warm as a summers day in the UK doesn’t mean you should go ashore in shorts and T shirts – its a bit of a giveaway when all the locals are in jeans, boots and winter jackets – if you want to blend in then wear similar!
One of the real advantages was that everywhere was so quiet – an unexpected bonus! Our midweek stops felt as if they were a different era with very few tourists around – in Cagliari we seemed to be the only tourists in town as we wandered the high town and its cobbled streets. As its low season it is worth double checking the opening times of anything you specifically want to see, especially mid week, but most attractions seemed to be open. We stayed in town in Naples but friends who visited Pompeii said it was an empty as it had been in the 1970’s! The weekend was noticeably busier but we enjoyed Gibraltar and Barcelona without any of the usual crowds and with shopkeepers who seemed genuinely pleased to see us! Most tourist shops were open when we were in port and anything related to the cruise ships, such as HOHO and shuttle buses, seemed to be running as usual.
Christmas played its part in our early December trip too – we found Christmas Markets in various places, notably a very surreal experience with fake snow in Monte Carlo, which was a nice surprise and made for a very different cruise vibe! We were lucky enough to be in Naples for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – a public holiday that marks the start of Advent and the Christmas shopping season.
We enjoyed watching the street parades featuring the traditional Neopolitan figures, looking at the amazing Christmas decorations and tradition nativity second everywhere and eating the Christmas specialities of Susamielli, honey and sesame biscuits and Zeppole di Natale – orange doughnuts – awesome! We fell across a local ceremony in Piazza del Gesù where the Mayor of the City brings a garland to the Blessed Virgin Mary which is place on her head by the local firemen who then shower the crowd below with rose petals.
Our winter cruises have given us unforgettable experiences, bright sunny days, spectacular dawns and sunsets, uncrowded attractions and a lovely break without any jet lag – so if a last minute cruise is calling to you my advice is DO IT!!!