Med cruising 2015
MED RINGS IN THE NEW!
New ships , new itineraries visiting offbeat ports and even a new cruise line will combine to make the Mediterranean an interesting place for cruisers this summer. Maria Harding previews what’s on offer...
It’s not often a cruise destination gets to showcase not only new ships but a whole new cruise line.
But that’s what will happen in the Mediterranean this summer, when Viking Cruises’ new Ocean division launches its inaugural season of ocean-going cruises aboard the 998-passenger Viking Star.
The new ship - currently being finished at Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard - is due to set sail from Istanbul on April 11 on a maiden voyage which will take her through the Med and end in Bergen Norway, for her naming on May 17 .
She spends the rest of the summer on itineraries ranging from the Baltic through the Eastern and Western Mediterranean.
With a brand new ship of its own to promote, P&O Cruises has also chosen the Med as launch pad for the 3,611-passenger Britannia’s new Cookery Club, a state-of-the-art cookery school in which up to 24 passengers at a time can engage in two hour chef-led cookery lessons from £100 a head.
P&O has lined up a veritable smorgasbord of well-known cooks - including cake queen Mary Berry - to whet passengers’ appetites by hosting exclusive `chef’s table’ dinners and participating in Q&A sessions and book signings, as well as giving lessons.
With rival luxury operator Silversea Cruises pledging to match its offer of included shore excursions, and a new ship (Seven Seas Explorer) to fill from 2016, upscale cruise specialist Regent Seven Seas Cruises is gunning for growth in summer 2015 sales with refurbished ships and an expanded programme of Med sailings aboard the Seven Seas Mariner, which will make maiden calls at a number of Mediterranean ports including Trieste in Italy, Almeria in Spain and Gythion in Greece. The line is also offering overnight port stays in Istanbul, Lisbon, Barcelona and Venice.
Luxury big ship operator Crystal Cruises is also expanding its Mediterranean operations this summer, with a host of new ports, a wider range of itineraries and new `active’ shore excursions including a mountain jeep safari in Portugal, a `Jet Ski Adventure’ in Bonifacio, Corsica; a Coastal Hike along the French Riviera and bicycle tours of Florence.
To appeal to travellers who are strapped for time but still like to `get under the skin’ of a destination when cruising, Crystal has launched a wide range of seven-night sailings featuring at least one overnight port stay.
With three ships in the Med this summer, Seabourn is another luxury line striving to stand out from the Mediterranean crowd by introducing more offbeat ports and boosting the number of overnight stays on its itineraries.
Barcelona, Rouen (for Paris), Malta and Istanbul will all host overnights , while ports new to Seabourn’s Med programme this summer include Monemvasia and Nydri in Greece. Details: www.seabourn.co.uk / 0843 373 2000.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is also offering offbeat ports - Port Grimaud in France and Piran, Slovenia - on this summer’s Mediterranean cruises aboard its 500-passenger luxury ship EUROPA 2. But more significantly for UK travel agents, it is courting British clients with an offer of 50% off the price for a second person sharing a cabin.
The offer currently applies to two sailings; a seven-night July 18 departure from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (via Calvi on Corsica; St Tropez & Port Grimaud in France; Monte Carlo, and the Italian ports of Portofino and Viareggio), and a September 14 seven-night sailing from Pireaus to Istanbul via the Greek ports of Skiathos, Volos, Thessaloniki, Limenas and Kavala, and Dikili in Turkey.
The offer drops the price for a second person sharing a category 1 Veranda/Ocean Suite to £1,870 cruise-only - a 25% saving on the full per-cabin fare for two people sharing. For details of this and other offers, contact UK sales director Mike Flanagan: email@example.com / 07921 223176.
Princess Cruises has also started the 2015 season with special offers; from early February to early March it offers `Golden Bonus’ credits of between US$100 and $200 per cabin on European itineraries departing from Southampton. The line is also offering discounted air fares on Mediterranean and Greek Island fly/cruises , so passengers can save £100 per person on flight costs. Details: www.princess.com / 0843 374 2402.
Finally, Italian-style MSC Cruises is weighing into this summer’s Mediterranean fray with a destination-intensive cruise which offers `seven calls in seven nights’ - including a maiden stop at Valetta in Malta.
The cruises - aboard MSC Fantasia - run round trip from Genoa and call at Naples and Messina before visiting Malta; from there they go on to Tunisa’s La Goulette, Barcelona and Marseille. Prices (available until March 5) start at £599 pp (for a May 3 departure), and include British Airways flights from London.
Similar `seven calls in seven nights’ itineraries run from Genoa aboard MSC Preziosa, calling at Civitavecchia and Palermo, La Goulette, Majorca, Valencia and at Marseilles, while MSC Armonia leaves Genoa for the Italian ports of Salerno and Olbia, the Spanish islands of Majorca and Ibiza, and Marseilles. Details: www.msccruises.co.uk
0203 426 3010.
Neil Barclay, Head of Sales for Viking, talks to Jo Austin about the company's decision to return to ocean cruising.
Q: As the industry's first new cruise line in nearly a decade, can you tell us the background of this major decision?
Over the years we have expanded the selection of river cruising itineraries to cover a wide variety of countries and have developed an understanding of our guests' passion fro traveling. Following huge customer demand we think it's the right time for Viking to expand into ocean cruising and offer guests more destinations and experiences that are authentic, culturally enriching and destination-focused.
Q: What market are you aiming at?
Both existing Viking river cruisers and first-time cruisers who are curious to visit new countries and see them from the water's perspective.
Q: What itineraries will you be concentrating on?
All our ocean itineraries will be a huge focus for Viking, but in particular the selection of itineraries around the Mediterranean and our homeland sailings around Scandinavia. All our itineraries offer distinctive excursions with more time in port, allowing guests to fully immerse themselves in the magic of classic destinations with new insights into cities.
Q: You are launching Viking Star in May followed by two further ships in 2016. How would you describe their design?
All three ships will be based on the same design as the current Longship with Scandinavia design which showcases innovative engineering, streamlined design and understated elegance. Our ship design is very important to us and is why we follow the complete building process from architectural plans through to the decor and ensure we replicate a home away from home sensation.
Q: What do you consider will make Viking Ocean Cruises stand out from the crowd?
Our 930-passenger all-veranda small ship allows direct access to most ports and permits Viking to travel to varied destinations, including some lesser know spots such as Algeria and Montenegro. Viking also places heavy focuses on giving unique on shore experiences and excursions are inclusive of the price. Important for Viking, the trips don't just visit the iconic spots of the city, but also offer unique insights into the area, such as the Old Town Gdansk and Brewery Tour in Poland, and gaining a taste of the Kotor through a cuisine tour on the Empires of the Mediterranean ocean itinerary. Additionally, Viking Star offer some unique onbaord facilities including one of the only infinity pools at sea, allowing passsengers to swim surrounded by their destination and ensure a fully authentic experience. In keeping with Viking's Nordic heritage, the spa includes a 'snow grotto' where snowflakes gently descend from the ceiling through chilled air! Guests can also choose from a variety of restaurants onboard the ship including intimate dining experiences at The Chef's Table, Italian Grill and The Kitchen Table to more al fresco dining.
Q: And all important - how will you be educating travel agents about your new programme?
Building on the success of last year's familiarisation trips we will be inviting travel agents on FAM trips for them to gain a greater understanding and knowledge of how Viking is expanding beyond river cruising this year.