Marseille is a superb starting point for a cruise holiday. It’s easily reached by air, road or high-speed rail. It's a fast springboard to some of Provence's loveliest spots. And there are many terrific attractions in Marseille itself.
Click here to book a hotel in Marseille
2016 was once again a record year for cruise tourism here. Over 1.6 million tourists passed through Marseille, confirming it as one of the top 20 cruise ports in the world and one of the five busiest cruise ports on the Mediterranean.
However the upward trend is not expected to continue in the short term. "International events" (notably the wave of terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe and North Africa) have had their impact and the probable number of visitors in 2017 is estimated at 1.5 million.
Still, Marseille's growth as a cruise port has been impressive: it claims to be the fastest expanding port in the world. And there is still a strong demand for cruises commencing here ("en tête de ligne", or "turnaround" cruises in industry jargon), as opposed to itineraries where the city is one stop in the middle of the route.
This page surveys the current choice of international English-language cruise holidays departing from Marseille. We have not included companies such as Croisières de France aimed mainly at the French-speaking market. Click here to read our guide to travelling though Marseille's cruise ship terminals.
Instead of just being focussed on midsummer, many cruises now run from mid-March to the end of November. In fact May, June, September and October have become the most important cruising months, as ships head here from Northern Europe in search of warmer spring or autumn weather.
Two cruise companies, MSC and Costa, even continue to offer Marseille departures throughout the winter - and this can also be a very attractive time to visit Provence
The flurry of activity in the region during 2013 as part of the Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture programme still continues to enhance the image of Marseille as a tourist destination.
In particular the MuCEM has been a huge attraction for boutique luxury cruise ships such as Silversea docking at the adjacent, new J4 (Joliette) Terminal.
If you want to tour the wider region during your stop-over, we can organise private day tours by limousine or mini-van to some of the most popular and beautiful destinations.
And, if you are planning to rent a car yourself in Marseille, please consider our comparison search engine for all grades of hire car from Smarts to 4x4s and limousines.
Powered by our affiliate partner, it will instantly compare the current rates on offer from all major suppliers at your chosen location to ensure you get the best deal.
Marseille's success is all the more remarkable given that cruise tourism has suffered numerous setbacks in the past from various strikes, by dockers, taxi-drivers and ferry employees. On occasion, cruise ships have had to be re-routed to nearby Toulon.
As a major naval base which must remain open for military reasons, Toulon is less vulnerable to strikes than Marseille and its two cruise ports have the additional advantage of being out of the main path of the Mistral, the fierce north-west wind that can cause havoc with sailing conditions.
On the other hand, Toulon has fewer attractions and is a less convenient base from which to explore the main tourist destinations of Provence.
Moreover Marseille has tackled the Mistral problem by extending the breakwater at the entrance to the cruise terminals, so that ships are protected from even fairly high winds.
Cruises Starting in Marseille in 2017
The cruises starting from Marseille are strikingly different in mood and flavour, and you’ll need to inspect the companies' programmes carefully to choose the one right for you.
The MSC fleet has a number of cruise ships and prices are amazingly competitive, especially for early and late season departures.
In summer 2017 it is launching its new flagship vessel, the Meraviglia, which can accommodate over 5700 passengers and is one of the biggest cruise ships in the world.
The Meraviglia sails from Marseille weekly from 10 June on eight day circular cruises around the Western Mediterranean.
A huge LED dome, virtual reality experiences and shows by the Cirque du Soleil are among the attractions on board. It's the first time the Cirque has performed at sea.
MSC also offers a wide range of other itineraries starting in Marseille and lasting between five and 13 days. Pictured top left, the MSC Splendida is another of the larger ships in its fleet. Website for MSC Cruises
2017 marks the 21st year since Costa Cruises first started offering cruises starting in Marseille. Pictured, the Costa Diadema continues to ply routes around the Mediterranean throughout the winter of 2016-2017 and into the spring and summer.
A growing trend is for cruises of varying lengths, instead of the traditional seven days and several five-night Costa mini-cruises depart from Marseilles. There are also longer routes of up to 13 days. Note that, on these, at least one day and night are spent at sea.
At the far extreme, Costa has a Tour du Monde that lasts a full 106 days. Starting in Marseille on 7 January, it quickly heads south towards sunnier climes.
The itinerary takes in South America, Polynesia, Australia, New Zealand, India and the Middle East. If it's too long (or too expensive!), you can just join the cruise for one month on one of the three segments. Website for Costa Cruises
The other news for 2017 is not so good. In 2016 Norwegian Cruise Line had a programme of cruises starting from Marseille, but this is being discontinued. However the company's ships continue to call at Marseille, though not as regularly.
Norwegian's programme is based on what it calls "freestyle cruising" aimed at younger passengers and families with children. It features plenty of activities on board, a relaxed approach to dress code at dinner and flexible eating options.
It was described to us recently by one executive as a "party ship", which may or may not be an attraction! Website for Norwegian Cruise Line.
Another tour operator, the American company Royal Caribbean, has also stopped offering cruises starting from Marseille. The reason, we were told: the price war has made it no longer commercially viable.
And its monster cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, which called at Marseille throughout 2016, is relocating to the Caribbean. (A smaller ship will comtinue to sail round the Med in 2017.) Website for Royal Caribbean.
Finally, at the high end of cruising, Silversea is worth a look. Its ships take between 300 and 500 passengers, and can dock at the J4 Terminal in Marseille.
This is much more convenient than the Môle Léon Gourret right on the edge of the city where the larger ships have to go. However it's no longer currently possible to join these cruises in Marseille. Website for Silversea Cruises.