Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam in Venice
This was supposed to be the year of the Mediterranean, as cruise lines piled in more capacity to satisfy demand for the region from cruisers from the US, Europe and UK.
They were encouraged by a renewed appetite among Americans for crossing the pond to cruise the Mediterranean, along with the Med’s ever-growing popularity in the UK, where it is the top cruise destination. Indeed, 969,000 Britons cruised there in 2010, up 18% on the previous year, according to Passenger Shipping Association figures.
Unfortunately, things are not quite panning out as hoped. This is mainly due to the impact of the political riots that broke out in Tunisia in January and spread to Egypt and other parts of North Africa and the Middle East. The current high cost of air travel hasn’t helped either.
The Arab unrest has put a lot of Americans off coming to Med, forcing cruise lines to change itineraries and cut prices so they can fill their tonnage from the local markets.
NCL has cancelled a series of winter Holy Land cruises on Norwegian Jade that would have called at Egypt because of lack of bookings from the US. Instead, the ship will go into dry dock and then be positioned in Barcelona for a season of nine-night Canary Island cruises.
Royal Caribbean has pulled its winter Med season on Navigator of the Seas, positioning the ship in Fort Lauderdale this winter instead, from where it will sail five to nine-night Caribbean cruises.
It might be bad news for the cruise lines, but Lynn Narraway, Holland America Line’s UK managing director, believes it is a great opportunity for agents to highlight the keen Med prices being offered to increase their sales.
Holland America, for example, is selling 12-night fly-cruises from £959, with cruise-only fares from £649.
“This is a fantastic time for UK agents to introduce their clients to our premium cruise product as our Mediterranean cruises offer unbelievable value for British travelers,” she says.
“Why choose three-star for your clients when they can enjoy five-star comfort and premium facilities for so little?”
Narraway says the Mediterranean is also benefiting from a fall in demand for the Caribbean from UK cruisers due to the swingeing rate of Airline Passenger Duty. “More passengers are booking Med cruises this summer because it’s a shorter and cheaper flight,” she adds.
Over at Princess Cruises, head of brand marketing Pieter van der Schee says bookings for the Mediterranean are holding up well in the UK, with volumes about the same as last year. Moreover, Van der Schee says about one-third of Brits who cruise in the Med with Princess have sailed in the area many times before.
“I reckon the Mediterranean is the best cruise destination in the world,” he says. “British cruisers especially like it because it is hot, there are beautiful places to visit and it’s not too far away.”
The Mediterranean is one of the world’s most diverse cruise regions, which means there is a bewildering choice of itineraries, from voyages that allow clients to tick off several iconic cities on one holiday, to cruises around the Greek islands and Turkey.
Sailings are offered on an equally bewildering variety of cruise ships, from the big resort-style ships to ultra-luxury yachts, and from sailing craft to discovery-style vessels.
Princess Cruises’ Grand Mediterranean itinerary from Barcelona to Venice and vice-versa allows passengers to tick off Istanbul, Athens, Naples, Rome and Florence, while Holland America Line’s Mediterranean Romance and Mediterranean Tapestry sailings take them to Dubrovnik, Naples, Rome and Florence.
Windstar and Star Clippers offer island-hopping holidays in the Greek islands, Swan Hellenic seeks out history-rich ports off the beaten track, while luxury lines offer big city and island ports, with overnight stays in many places.
The duration of Med cruises varies from five nights to two weeks, but seven nights is popular as it keeps costs down. Oceania Cruises, which has always offered longer cruises, has split a 14-night cruise in October and November into two one-week legs after seeing strong demand for new seven-day cruises.
Carnival Cruise Line, which is back in the Med this year after a three-year absence, says its 12-night itineraries have sold best, prompting it to drop the seven and nine-night options available this year on Carnival Breeze from its 2012 schedule.
Half the passengers booked on Carnival Magic’s August 14 departure from Barcelona are from the UK.
What's new in the Med in 2012
Norwegian Cruise Line will have three ships in the Med for the first time next year, with two – Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Spirit – based in the region over winter.
Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth will be operating an inaugural season of 12-night Mediterranean fly-cruises between August and December, sailing between Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, Piraeus, the port for Athens, and Venice.
Celebrity Cruises is basing a ship in Venice for the first time. Celebrity Silhouette, the Solstice-class ship – sister ship to Celebrity Eclipse (pictured) – launching in July this year, will sail 11 to 13-night voyages in the Adriatic between May and August.
Carnival Cruise Lines will be basing Carnival Breeze, due to launch in June 2012, in Barcelona, from where it will sail 12-night Mediterranean voyages that visit Croatia, Italy, Spain and France. Fly-cruise prices start from £899.
Costa Cruises is offering seven-night cruises from Venice that visit Italy, Greece and Croatia on new ship Costa Fascinosa, starting in May 2012. The 10-night inaugural cruise setting sail on May 11 also visits Haifa in Israel and Izmir in Turkey.
Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas is making a Barcelona debut, sailing two alternating 12-night cruises from the port between May and October.
Holland America Line’s Prinsendam will depart on a 14-night Venetian Empires cruise from Civitavecchia on October 17, calling at Ravenna and Gallipoli in Italy, Valletta and Mgarr in Malta, Sousse in Tunisia, Sorrento in Italy, and staying overnight in Venice.
Carnival Cruise Lines: A nine-night Carnival Magic sailing on October 7 from Barcelona (above), with calls including Monaco, Naples and Marseille, costs from £819 including flights and transfers. carnivalcruise.co.uk
Swan Hellenic: A 14-night cruise from Istanbul to Piraeus, the port for Athens, on September 30, visiting Thessalonica, Mythemnia and Mytilene, all in Greece, and Chios and Fethiye in Turkey, costs from £1,905 including flights, transfers, shore excursions and gratuities. swanhellenic.com
Windstar Cruises: A seven-night cruise from Piraeus, the port for Athens, to Istanbul, on Wind Star on October 1, with calls including Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes and Kusadasi, costs from £3,303. The price includes flights and transfers. windstarcruises.co.uk
Princess Cruises: A 12-night cruise from Venice to Barcelona on Ruby Princess on September 1, with calls including Istanbul, Naples and Civitavecchia, for visits to Rome, costs from £1,349, including flights and transfers. princess.com
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