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Fly cruises: What you need to know

Jane Archer / 26 September 2016

Back in the day, going on a cruise mostly meant setting sail from the UK. But not anymore! Fly cruises are now as popular as ever... and for good reason.

Airplane landing at sunset
Back in the day, going on a cruise mostly meant setting sail from the UK. But not anymore! Fly cruises are now as popular as ever... and for good reason.

Back in the day, going on a cruise mostly meant setting sail from the UK (or Italy or America if that’s where you lived).

It was convenient and easy; you could drive or take the train to the departure port; friends and family could wave off loved ones as they set sail to foreign parts.

As air travel became more accessible and cheaper, a few companies had the idea of selling fly cruises. The premise was simple.

Instead of going on holiday overseas and staying in a hotel, you would fly to the Mediterranean or Norwegian fjords and set sail from, say, Genoa or Copenhagen.

These days plenty of British cruisers still set sail from the UK with companies such as Saga Cruises, but just over half of all those who take a cruise holiday each year (just under 1.8 million in 2015, according to industry body the Cruise Lines International Association) choose a fly cruise instead.

The attractions are obvious. Those short of holiday simply fly to their departure port, cruise for a week or so and then fly home.

Sun worshippers can fly from the UK and be enjoying the heat of the Mediterranean summer in just a couple of hours.

And of course those taking a fly cruise can visit more ports as they are not spending several days at sea getting to their destination.

Our smaller ocean cruise ships allow us to go where other ships can't. Find out where we sail.

Plenty of ports

A two-week voyage from the UK to the Mediterranean visits six or seven ports because at least four days is spent sailing over the Bay of Biscay.

Take the same time for a fly cruise and you’ll likely call at 10 or 11 ports.

No time for a two-week holiday? No problem. It’s impossible to get to the Mediterranean and back in a week on a cruise from the UK, but it’s ample time for a fly cruise in the region.

The choice is enormous, but most likely there’ll be a day at sea to settle in followed by five port calls. Monaco, Rome, Florence, Naples, Dubrovnik, Barcelona and Athens are favourites for the wealth of sights they offer, from ancient monuments and palaces to churches and world-class art galleries.

Seeing Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican is a must if you are visiting Rome (tip: book a tour to avoid the long queues).

From Dubrovnik, a walk around the city walls will be rewarded with stunning views over the Adriatic. From Naples, visit Pompeii, the Roman city destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.

A world of choice.

With such varied sights on offer, it is no surprise that the Mediterranean is the top-selling fly-cruise destination in the UK, but the region also pulls in the crowds because it is so easy to get there.

Itineraries mostly start and end in Barcelona, Civitavecchia (the port for Rome), Venice or Piraeus (the port for Athens) as there are plenty of flights to these cities and flying time is short – not even two hours from London to Barcelona, just three and a half hours to Athens.

But there are plenty of other destinations to discover. Take a short flight to Copenhagen and you’ll soon be cruising around the Baltic or Norwegian fjords.

Fancy guaranteed sun on your holiday? Fly to Barbados for a week or two island-hopping around the West Indies.

Or why not get your chills on voyages from Vancouver or Seattle that take you up close to Alaska’s glaciers? Fancy something more exotic?

How about a fly cruise around Asia or the Indian Ocean? You name it, it can be done.

Where to book your fly cruise

Both of Saga Cruises’ ocean-going ships sail from the UK, but there is a way to enjoy the company’s renowned customer service and the perks it includes in the cost of its holidays if you fancy a fly cruise instead.

Cruise World, a separate division of Saga, is a one-stop shop for a host of different fly cruises with firms such as Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line.

As with Saga’s own ocean voyages, Cruise World prices include VIP transfers from your home to the departure airport and back (or airport parking if preferred), travel insurance and visas where needed.

Selected NCL departures additionally include a pre-cruise hotel stay, gratuities and a speciality dining package.

And all Cruise World holidays are accompanied by a Saga representative to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and NCL have big resort-style ships in the Adriatic, Baltic, Norwegian fjords and Alaska that are packed with stylish bars and restaurants serving everything from succulent steaks to sushi.

These ships are perfect for a cruise with the family as they have kids’ and teen clubs, and activities galore on board including water slides, climbing walls and even zip wires and ropes courses where kids can harness up and walk the plank.

Fancy seeing North America without a transatlantic crossing? Cruise World’s 15-night Canada and New England holiday departing on September 22 and October 6 combines Niagara Falls, Toronto and Montréal with an NCL voyage from the beautiful French city of Québec City to historic Boston.

If you prefer smaller ships, consider Azamara Club Cruises or Fred Olsen Cruise Lines.

Options with Fred Olsen include a circumnavigation of the globe departing in January 2018 and sailing for a massive 109 nights! Ports visited will include Mexico, Peru, the Cook Islands, Australia and Myanmar. 

Cruise World’s Azamara fly cruise selection includes a journey from San Diego to Miami that transit the Panama Canal next February and an exciting voyage from Istanbul to Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) in July 2017 that visits Greece, Malta and Sicily.

Save hundreds of pounds on holidays and cruises - browse our available travel offers and find out more here.

Fly me a river

Rhine river cruises in Holland and Northern Germany are easily accessed by coach or train travel from the UK but for those who want to explore further afield, there are a great collection of fly cruises available too.

You can fly to Basel to pick up a Rhine cruise to Amsterdam next spring, or sail the Lower Danube between Bucharest and Budapes.

Fly cruises on the Upper Danube between Budapest and Nuremberg are sometimes paired with a two-night stay in Prague.

Choose Saga’s 12-night Historic Cities of Europe cruise next May and July and you’ll fly to Budapest, sail to Roth, a town just south of Nuremberg, then disembark and enjoy two nights in Prague, one night in Dresden and a final two nights in Berlin.

Or how about flying to Hamburg to cruise the River Elbe to Berlin? Or to Berlin to cruise the same river south to Prague?

Itineraries often includes tours in both cities and visit Dresden, which has been beautifully reconstructed after being destroyed during the Second World War.

Is it for you?

With more than half of all British cruisers opting for a fly cruise, it is obviously popular but it is important to decide if it works for you.

Airports are not the friendliest places to travel through these days. They advise you to be there at least two hours before you are due to fly to allow time to check bags in and get through security.

Queues can be long, with nowhere to sit, and slow as coats, scarves, liquids, gels (no more than 100ml per pot), laptops and iPads in hand luggage have to be put through scanners separately.

As seats in the airport are often at a premium consider treating yourself to an airport lounge.

As well as providing a quiet haven, there are complimentary newspapers, snacks and drinks.

Once you have landed at the other end, you need to collect your luggage and be transferred to your ship. Occasionally that might mean waiting for passengers on another flight to arrive.

Bear in mind that your suitcase has to be within your airline’s weight limit or you will be have to pay extra at check in.

In comparison, choose to cruise from the UK and you just have to arrive at the port, check in and you are ready to board your ship. Your luggage, with no weight restrictions, will be transferred direct to your cabin.

And while many love flying straight to the sun, plenty of others relish days at sea as it is a chance to wind down and get to know the ship, crew and other passengers as they cruise to their first port.

As always with cruising, the choice is yours.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.