Britons may have had their heads turned by other cruise regions, but many are still keen to sail in the Med, says Jane Archer
Could the British be falling out of love with the Mediterranean? Three years ago it was hailed as cruising’s top hotspot, encouraging cruise lines to pile in capacity, but it seems these levels were unsustainable.
Last year the number of British cruise passengers visiting the region fell 9% to 698,000, according to the Passenger Shipping Association.
The PSA said the fall was a one-off, precipitated by the Costa Concordia disaster in January 2012, in which 32 people died. But with several cruise lines cutting capacity for 2013 and beyond, and signs of a new British love affair with northern Europe and Asia, it may be that numbers will not fully recover.
Despite the fall, the Med is still Brits’ favourite place to cruise thanks to its lovely summer climate, the huge choice of cruises on offer, the fact holidaymakers can be in Venice or Rome to join their ship after just a two-hour flight from the UK and the variety of places they can visit.
There are cruises on resort-style family vessels and head-turning sailing yachts, on luxurious six-star ships or cultural voyages with erudite lecturers. Clients can hop on an aircraft and fly to the Mediterranean to join their ship or cruise there from the UK, taking advantage of the benefits of sailing from a British port.
There are cruises of a few nights or one week, or longer voyages of a fortnight of more; relaxing voyages through the Greek Islands, itineraries that tick off iconic cities such as Venice, Barcelona, Istanbul, Athens, Rome and Florence, and party cruises around the western Med.
One of the biggest trends in the Med is the move to mini cruises, which have the benefit of costing less and appealing to people who have never cruised as they don’t have to commit to a long time for their first holiday at sea.
Crystal Cruises started the trend last year and it was so successful that not only has it stuck with the shorter cruises this year, but Silversea has followed suit, offering three to five-day cruises it hopes will encourage people to try its luxury brand.
Disney Cruise Line is back in the Mediterranean after a one-year break, but with new four-night cruises from Barcelona on Disney Magic, as well as a selection of seven and 12-night voyages from the Spanish port.
Hapag-Lloyd, which launches Europa 2 in May, is chasing cash-rich time-poor passengers with new seven-night cruises that can be bolted back-to-back to create 14 and 21-night voyages to appeal to past passengers.
For 2014, Celebrity Cruises will have seven-night open-jaw cruises from Barcelona, to appeal to US passengers who don’t want to use up all their vacation on one cruise.
New this year
New ships in the Mediterranean include Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess, which launches in June and will be sailing 12-night cruises between Venice and Barcelona, and Carnival Sunshine, an old ship with a new name (it was formerly Carnival Destiny), which enters service in April after a £100 million refurbishment.
The vessel, based mainly in Barcelona this summer, will have more cabins, more places to dine and more entertainment options including water slides and an adult-only area across three decks.
South Pacific-based Paul Gauguin also has a ship in the Med for the first time – the Tere Moana, which previously sailed as Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Levant. The ship is sailing seven-night voyages from Barcelona to Venice, Istanbul and the Black Sea before it returns to the Caribbean in November.
For the first time this year, Cruise & Maritime Voyages is offering a handful of autumn fly-cruises in the Mediterranean and Black Sea on Discovery, the ship it is operating under a joint venture with All Leisure Group.
In 2014, Princess Cruises’ new Regal Princess, a sister ship to Royal Princess, will be sailing the cruise line’s signature 12-night Grand Mediterranean cruises between Venice and Barcelona that include calls at Piraeus (Athens), Naples, Civitavecchia (Rome) and Livorno (Florence and Pisa).
Cunard, meanwhile, is extending Queen Elizabeth’s Mediterranean fly-cruise season to run from June to December 2014, with a choice of seven, 14 and 21-night departures from Venice, Civitavecchia, and Piraeus, and maiden calls at Elba, Kotor in Montenegro, Bodrum in Turkey and Palermo in Sicily (pictured below).
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