Smaller-Scale Cruise Tours
The idea of seeing Italy from the water may appeal to you, but you may be put off by the thought of being aboard an enormous ship with thousands of other passengers. Or, maybe you want to visit Italy by boat without being forced to “do Rome in a day.”
Luckily, a handful of tour operators offer smaller-scale cruise vacations that help you enjoy a more in-depth cultural experience within certain regions of Italy. Some incorporate onboard educational lectures from local experts, while others help you arrange small-scale shore tours to places that most large cruise ship passengers don't even know exist.
CroisiEurope is a France-based company that has been offering boat tours in Europe since 1982. It has twenty-six boats in its fleet, each of which holds 100 to 180 passengers. They all cruise on Europe's rivers, including the Po, which runs eastward from the Alps in northern Italy and drains into the Adriatic Sea near Venice.
The company offers four-, five-, and six-night itineraries along the Po, including boat tours of the Venice Lagoon and local islands in addition to land-based excursions. The longer itineraries can include a stop in Verona, made so famous by William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Prices are in euro, typically between 600 per person, and do not include drinks or optional excursions. More details about the various itineraries are available in English at
Travel Dynamics International
Travel Dynamics International is a New York City-based company that, for more than thirty-five years, has offered educational programs onboard small cruise ships. This is a high-end option, with guest lecturers ranging from bestselling authors to television personalities (Bill Moyers, who has won more than thirty Emmy Awards, was a 2008 speaker). Shore excursions tend to go beyond typical tourist offerings and include receptions in private homes with local officials, museum tours by curators, and other similar options that would be impossible with a larger group.
What are navigli?
They are a system of interconnected canals that connect Milan to the Po River. Their design is credited in part to Leonardo da Vinci. At the time of their creation, the navigli were important in assuring boat traffic could maneuver goods from the river into the city, but over time, virtually all of the canals have become rundown and impossible to navigate.
The ship that offers cruises in Italy is the Callisto, which takes just thirty-four guests. At 165 feet long, the Callisto is about the same size as many of the world's private motoryachts, meaning it can get into places often reserved for more exclusive travel, where large cruise ships simply don't fit. Of course, you pay for the privilege of such intimacy, with rates for nine-day itineraries starting around $7,700 per person. That price doesn't include airfare, but it does include an open bar. If you're looking for an upscale Italian cruising option, Travel Dynamics International is a natural competitor to any luxury cabin that you will find on a large, less formal cruise ship.
Two itineraries are offered aboard the Callisto in Italy: a circumnavigation of Sicily, and a tour of the Cinque Terre and nearby islands. Details about these two itineraries, as well as others that include Italian ports as stops within broader Mediterranean schedules, are online at
Sicily: Crossroads of Mediterranean Civilizations
This itinerary is generally offered in the spring, from mid-April until early May, while the wildflowers are still blooming and well in advance of the annual summer onslaught of tourists. It runs roundtrip from Palermo, on the northwestern coast of Sicily, and includes stops at the island's ports in Riposto, Syracuse, Porto Empedocle, Marsala, and Trapani — with day trip options to additional inland towns and villages from each port.
The Islands of Italy and the Cinque Terre
This itinerary begins at Palermo, on Sicily, and ends at Genoa. Stops in between include Lipari (where you can see the active volcanic island Stromboli), Capri, Ponza (in the Pontine Islands), Porto Torres (on Sardinia), Elba (the island where Napoleon was exiled), and Portovenere (on the mainland, in the Cinque Terre region).