Jane Archer sails in three different styles in the Mediterranean
When it comes to land-lubbing clients, you wouldn’t think twice about sending them to the Med for all sorts of holidays, from cultural city breaks to a fortnight in the sun with the kids.
It’s no different with cruising. The variety of options is as diverse as the destinations. There are ships of all sizes, from Variety Cruises’ boutique craft that hold fewer than 100 passengers to Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas which carries more than 6,000 people, as well as itineraries from mini cruises to two and three-week voyages.
The icing on the cake is that all this is on our doorstep with lots of affordable airlift to the key departure ports of Barcelona, Rome and Athens, as well as cruises from the UK for those who don’t want to fly.
With all this on offer, plus the benefit of proximity, you won’t be surprised that the Med is a favourite cruise destination for the British, attracting some 613,000 UK cruise passengers in 2014, according to Clia UK & Ireland.
Families are spoilt for choice when it comes to cruising in the Mediterranean, with huge resort ships that offer everything from water slides and climbing walls to children’s clubs and teen hangouts – even dodgem cars.
Disney Cruise Line has Mickey Mouse and friends, but other lines have teamed up with film and TV franchises to welcome favourite characters on board, from DreamWorks on Royal Caribbean ships to Nickelodeon on Norwegian Cruise Line.
A handful of ships have nurseries for babies and mini clubs where tots can play so new parents don’t have to miss their holiday at sea.
The big news this summer is that Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, is sailing a maiden season in the Mediterranean.
The ship is heaven for kids, with activities ranging from a zipwire and surf simulator to climbing walls and DreamWorks parades, as well as offering plenty for mum and dad, with numerous restaurants, bars, lounges and a large spa. Cruises depart from Barcelona, with embarkation also in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome.
For families who don’t want to fly, Royal Caribbean’s new Anthem of the Seas is sailing to the Mediterranean from Southampton this summer.
The vessel launches in April with a host of at-sea firsts including a skydiving simulator, dodgems and North Star, a London Eye-style pod that takes passengers on a sightseeing ride 300 feet in the air. A 14-night Italian Mediterranean cruise departing August 15 starts from £3,198, cruise-only.
There is plenty of other choice for families planning a Med cruise this summer. Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and P&O Cruises offer kids’ and teens’ clubs on their ships, while Thomson Cruises is popular with families for its casual vibe and packaged fly cruises.
There’s waterslide fun on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic, which will be based year-round in Barcelona from April, while MSC Cruises’ Sinfonia and Armonia have been ‘stretched’ and now have new children’s play areas created in partnership with Chicco and Lego (Opera and Lirica will have the same makeover this year).
A seven night Western Mediterranean round-trip cruise from Marseille on MSC’s Armonia departing August 2 starts from £1,049, cruise-only.
Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Magic, which is sailing five to seven-night cruises from Barcelona to France and Italy in August, has AquaDunk, a water slide that starts by ‘dropping’ riders into a translucent tube that extends 20 feet over the side of the ship.
In 2016, Carnival Cruise Lines will be back in the Mediterranean after a three-year break with new ship Carnival Vista. The 3,950-passenger ship will have a pedal-powered Skyride high above the top deck, the first Imax cinema at sea and new outdoor restaurants.
All food in the dining room and self-service is included in the price and all ships sell fizzy drink packages, so kids can stay fed and watered without mum and dad having to dip into their pockets all the time.
All have cabins that sleep up to four people (they use sofa beds and bunks that fold out of the wall or ceiling), with lower prices for the third and fourth person sharing.
On MSC, children up to the age of 17 sail free on all cruises if sharing a cabin with their parents.Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas has new family-connected cabins with separate bedrooms and bathrooms for the children so they are not sleeping on makeshift beds, and mums and dads can retain their privacy.
Get ready for major changes at the upper end of the cruise sector in the Mediterranean this year as Viking Ocean Cruises launches its first ship, Viking Star, into the premium segment of the market.
The 930-passenger vessel, which makes its debut in the Med before moving to northern Europe, brings Viking’s winning river cruise product to the oceans, with prices that include flights, transfers, drinks with lunch and dinner, shore excursions and unlimited Wi-Fi, a perk that only a couple of luxury cruise lines have just begun to offer as complimentary.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises, acknowledged to be the world’s most inclusive cruise line, began including unlimited free Wi-Fi within its fares this winter (up to 500 minutes only for passengers in Concierge and Penthouse suites).
Now Silversea has followed suit, but only in the Mediterranean. Passengers receive two hours’ free Wi-Fi a day, with unlimited online access for those in Medallion suites or higher.
In response to the new competition from Viking, Silversea is now also including shore excursions in its fares (which Regent has included for many years) but, for now, only in the Mediterranean.
Ponant has also tweaked its product, including drinks from this month within its fares for the UK market (Americans have had drinks included in the price for the past couple of years). The line is also launching a sister to its existing premium-class vessels in May.
Le Lyrial will mainly be sailing the Dalmatian coast round-trip from Venice. Prices are from €3,110 cruise-only for seven nights departing May 26.
Getting to grips with the luxury cruise market is a challenge for agents as high-end clients have very exacting demands and expectations.
As a general rule of thumb, the sector can be split into two: Crystal Cruises, Regent, Seabourn, Silversea, SeaDream Yacht Club and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises offer a luxury experience, while one notch down are Azamara Club Cruises, Ponant, Viking and Oceania Cruises.
Each has its own selling points but all have a lot in common, including fleets of small ships – Crystal Serenity is the largest with capacity for 1,070 passengers – so they can call at harbours and tender ports that the larger vessels have to sail past.
Seabourn, for instance, will be visiting Bandol in France, Ile-Rousse in Corsica, Golfo Aranci in Sardinia, Xlendi in Gozo and Giardini Naxos in Sicily on an 11-day Mediterranean Isles cruise from Monte Carlo to Civitavecchia, which starts from £3,999 cruise-only departing May 9.
Because they are small, these luxury and premium-level ships can also offer the more personal service that comes with having fewer people on board and high passenger-to-crew ratios.
The Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines and Ottomans have all left a mark on the Mediterranean over the past two centuries, making it one of the best places in the world to visit for clients interested in history and ancient cultures. If they choose to cruise, they can dip in and out of different eras on one holiday.
Greece, known as the birthplace of civilisation, is a good place to start the cultural trail. Passengers can learn about the ancient Minoans on an excursion to the Palace of Knossos in Crete or to Akrotiri in Santorini.
They can see where the ancient Olympic Games were held from cruises that visit Katakolon and visit the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis from cruises that visit Delos.
Seabourn has seven-day cruises between Piraeus (the port for Athens) and Venice that visit Katakolon and also Monemvasia, known as the Gibraltar of the East, starting from £1,999 cruise-only departing May 9.
Then, of course, there is Athens. Voyages to Antiquity builds a couple of hotel nights in the Greek capital into cruises that start or end in Piraeus, so passengers can visit the Acropolis and other important historical sites.
A 15-day voyage from Piraeus to Istanbul with Voyages to Antiquity, with two hotel nights at the start and end of the cruise, includes calls at Kos to visit the remains of the medical school where Hippocrates once taught, and Rhodes to visit the Acropolis at Lindos, and starts from £2,350 departing August 24, including flights, transfers and excursions.
Clients can experience a taste of modern Spanish culture in vibrant Barcelona and a flavour of ancient Rome on cruises around Italy that visit Civitavecchia and Naples (for tours to Pompeii). Holland America Line’s 12-night cruises between Barcelona and Venice visit both Italian ports and start from £999 cruise-only departing May 28.
Turkey is another treasure trove, with the archaeological sights of Troy, Pergamon and Ephesus visited, respectively, from Canakkale, Dikili and Kusadasi, among highlights. Of course, there is Istanbul, where visitors can easily occupy a day or two touring the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar.
Clients can visit them all on one-week Aegean Mosaic voyages between Istanbul and Piraeus with Variety Cruises, sold in the UK through Seafarer Cruises. Prices start from £1,899 cruise-only departing August 21.
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