The Mediterranean has six destinations that are in the top 25 of the world’s busiest cruise ports, including Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Civitavecchia, and Pireaus. The region retains the second-biggest cruise market globally, with an increasing market share. 

More than 33 million cruise passengers sailed in the region in 2023, coupled with an increase in cruise calls of nearly 8%. The numbers show that the region has not just recovered from the global pause in operations, but has seen a significant increase in cruise visitors. 

Going on a cruise is by far the best way to see the spectacular sights, sounds, food, and culture of the Mediterranean, as millions of cruise passengers are finding out. 

Not only do Venice, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Civitavecchia, and Pireaus, feature in the top 25 of the world’s busiest cruise ports, but the region boasts some of the biggest bucket-list ports. Ports such as Santorini, Portofino, Kotor, and Dubrovnik remain high on the wish list of would-be cruisers. 

It makes sense then that every major cruise operator, from Carnival to Royal Caribbean, NCL, and MSC, as well as smaller cruise lines such as Windstar, have at least one vessel, and often more, based in the region year-round. 

It shows in the figures that have been released by MedCruise, the Association of Mediterranean Cruise Ports. In 2023, 33.2 million cruise passengers sailed in the Mediterranean, a 6.59% increase compared to 2019. At the same time, the region experienced a 7.91% increase in cruise calls in 2023 compared to 2019, totaling 14,670 calls.

The numbers ensure that the Mediterranean is now the second largest cruise market worldwide, behind the Caribbean, but leading ahead of Western and Northern Europe, South America, and Asia.

Cruise Ships Docked in Athens, Greece (Photo Credit: ushashots)

The Western Mediterranean remains the most popular, with 24,216,060 cruise passengers recorded in 2023, during 9,007 calls. The Eastern Mediterranean welcomed 4,890,583 passengers and 2,893 calls in 2023. The Adriatic, a region that includes ports such as Venice, Dubrovnik, Kotor, and Triest, welcomed 4,069,461 visitors and 2,720 cruise ship calls.

The fact that the Mediterranean is now the second-largest cruise market is surprising, seeing that the winter season is not ideal for cruising. While temperatures in summer, however, are in the lower 20s to high 30s degrees Celsius, in winter, this is considerably less. 

This is also the reason why the majority of cruise ships that sail the Mediterranean in summer come here in early spring, after the end of the Caribbean cruise season. 

This yearly migration of cruise ships is currently ongoing, with ships such as Carnival Legend, Seven Seas Grandeur, Celebrity Ascent, Norwegian Viva, Costa Fascinosa, and many others making their way to the Mediterranean where they will stay through September or October. 

While the popularity of cruises in the Mediterranean is excellent news for the cruise lines and local stakeholders whose income depends on the millions of cruise passengers, there are downsides to the influx of cruise ships.

Cruise Ships Docked at Port of Civitavecchia (Photo Credit: Alessia Pierdomenico)

Over-tourism has become an issue, with cities such as Santorini, Venice, and Dubrovnik experiencing significant strain during the busy summer months due to the combination of land-based and ocean-based tourism. 

The sheer volume of guests can overwhelm local infrastructure, detract from the quality of life for residents, and lower the quality of the experience for visitors.

Environmental concerns are also a concern. The increase in cruise traffic contributes to pollution, which poses risks to marine life and the pristine nature of the coastal regions. 

Addressing the challenges is crucial for sustaining the long-term viability of Mediterranean cruises. Balancing economic benefits with environmental innovation will be crucial to ensuring that the region remains a popular destination. 

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