Overnight, the Costa Concordia disaster shattered the image of the most durably successful travel sector. The giant ship belonging to the world's biggest cruise firm, Carnival, struck a rock on 13 January. By dawn the next day, more than 30 passengers and crew had died. The big question for the cruise industry is: has that tragedy put off some potential customers for life?
Before the sinking, the Passenger Shipping Association projected that 1.73 million British travellers would take a cruise this year – nearly a million more than 10 years ago. In the immediate aftermath of the sinking, Carnival Corporation – the world's largest cruise company with 100 ships across 10 fleets – and Royal Caribbean, the second largest, both reported a decline in bookings of about one-sixth.
However, assuming you are prepared to be reassured about the safety aspects of cruising, boarding a ship could be the cost-effective way to enjoy the nightlife of Europe's liveliest cities. Staying in ports overnight was once only for small luxury lines such as Silversea (0808 134 1792; silversea. com), Seabourn (0845 070 0500; seabourn.com) and SeaDream (0800 783 1373; seadream.com). Most bigger ships departed at 6pm at the latest.
SeaDream's ex-CEO and co-owner Larry Pimentel took his “port immersive” philosophy with him when he moved to Azamara's fleet of two mid-size ships in 2010, saying it was crazy to sail away in the afternoon – “denying those more cerebral guests the opportunity for any in-depth exploration”.
This year, the two Crystal ships (020-7287 9040; crystalcruises.co.uk) have increased overnight stays, and most voyages include a two-day call. Alternatively, try one of these:
* A voyage from Southampton to Lisbon aboard Azamara Journey. There are stays in Bordeaux, St-Jean-de-Luz and, on arrival in Pasejas, you can go to San Sebastian, six miles away before sailing at 2am. In Bilbao, you can linger in the Guggenheim until it closes at 8pm because departure is at 10pm. From £1,999 per person with flights, 11 nights on board with wine with meals. Departure is on 9 August. (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk)
* A 12-night cruise of the eastern Med aboard Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam has overnight stays in Venice and Istanbul. The cost with flights is from £1,589 per person for a 30 April departure (0845 351 0557; hollandamerica.co.uk).
* On a week's round trip from Genoa, you can go clubbing in Ibiza; MSC Sinfonia doesn't sail away until 2am. Weekly departures (May to October) cost from £599 per person, cruise only (0844 5611955; msccruises.co.uk).