Landmarks such as Barcelona's Sagrada Familia attract smaller crowds in winter

Landmarks such as Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia attract smaller crowds in winter

If you’ve been seduced by the incredible autumn and winter prices offered right now by companies such as Costa, MSC and Pullmantur, that low, beguiling, lead in fare might have blinded you briefly to one very important, seminal fact.

Namely, that you will be cruising with thousands of people from Italy, Spain, France and, quite likely, elsewhere as well. The English speakers will almost certainly be in a small (ish) minority on board. For sure, your native tongue will not be the first language.

With that in mind, here’s a few pointers aimed at helping you weather the multi lingual tsunami on board just that little bit better.


This is not the ‘stand in line and wait your turn’ affair you might be used to on most UK/American ships. It can be more akin to a Banzai charge at times.  Many people simply go straight to the section that has the stuff that they want, and dive in. And you should abandon your natural reserve, and do exactly the same.

What would be considered ‘bad manners’ at home is looked at with indifference on the continent as a whole but, truth be told, it is usually pretty good natured. And at the end of the day, you can’t expect people to adopt habits they are completely unused to at home just to suit your personal sensibilities. Just go with the flow, smile, and get in there. It’s not as difficult as you think.

Also, bear in mind that people on the continent usually take their evening meals later. If you’re on a ship that offers two seatings for dinner, this might be reflected in the timings. Some of the normal second sitting fans might actually want to plump for first in these cases. Best bet? Have a word with the maitre d’ on the first day if practical.

Beautiful Italian styling is a feature of all MSC ships

Beautiful Italian styling is a feature of all MSC ships


A bugbear for some, to be sure. European families often travel in large, extended groups. And they tend to keep their children up late, often until midnight and beyond. This might shock the Brits, but it is actually merely a reflection of their home lifestyles. The climate they live in is conducive to outdoor dining late at night, and kids grow up in this kind of framework.


Again, you’ll find that it’s different. It has to be, as you’re dealing with several nationalities at  once. So expect colourful, high energy floor shows that owe more to visuals than dialogue. Though chances are, a lot of the songs will be in the universal language for European music. Or, as some like to call it, ABBA.


Expect plenty of it. These big ships are bubbling, exuberant playgrounds on the briny, with literally thousands of passengers aboard at any one time. In that respect, it’s no different to any mega ship you might take around the Caribbean, or to Alaska. What is different is that all this babel will not be in your native tongue, and it might take a bit of adapting to.  If you really want some quiet, private space of your own, then perhaps consider a room with a balcony. The downside here is that these are not the seductive little sun traps of summer cruising. It’s always going to be a bit of a trade off in that respect.

Costa offers several winter itineraries in the Mediterranean

Costa offers several winter itineraries in the Mediterranean

None of these things should put you off doing a winter or early spring cruise. The temperatures are often mild, the sites are a damn sight less congested and, chances are, you’ll have a wonderful time while gifting yourself a much needed break from the winter drudge back at home.

You’ll find the entire region still offers a lot of the melodramatic. As in, more mellow, but still dramatic.

Would I recommend doing it? Personally, yes. Just go with an open mind and a ready smile. That’s always good currency in any language. Bon voyage.


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