By Mike Coleman
More American travelers will be intoxicated by Europe’s charm this summer – from the comfort of a balcony stateroom no less – than at any time in modern history.
Mass-market cruise lines have gone so far as to unveil new ships in European waters for a season that in some cases has extended to nine months, an almost unheard of practice just a few years ago.
It began this month in Venice, Italy, when Carnival Cruise Lines unveiled its new 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom. She’s now sailing 12-day voyages to the Greek Isles and Turkey, a first for Carnival. The ship will make extended calls at a variety of Mediterranean ports through October. Trips include stops in Livorno, Naples, Messina and Venice; Barcelona; Cannes; Izmir and Istanbul, Turkey; Athens, Rhodes and Katakolon, Greece; and Dubrovnik, Croatia.
In its most dramatic European deployment ever, Princess Cruises will position five ships, ranging from 680 to 3,100 passengers, on seven to 24-day itineraries to destinations as varied as Iceland and Egypt. The line’s season runs from April to December, featuring 81 departures on 31 itineraries, calling at 110 ports. In May, look for Emerald Princess and Royal Princess to debut, following a dual christening ceremony in Santorini, Greece.
Meanwhile, with 60 years of experience sailing the waters of Europe, Costa Cruises is offering a diverse cruise schedule with 273 year-round departures, deploying 10 ships both seasonally and annually throughout the year. The line’s cruising grounds include the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, the Greek Isles, Northern and Western Europe and the Baltics.
Family-friendly Disney Cruise Line will add European flair to its itinerary roster, repositioning a ship in Europe for the first time ever this summer. The sailings, operating roundtrip from Barcelona, include eight ports of call.
The entire MSC Cruises fleet of eight ships will be positioned in Europe for the majority of the year, with departures available from Genoa, Livorno, Naples, Rome, Venice, Bari and Barcelona. Three are positioned in Northern Europe, up from two in 2006. MSC Orchestra will debut this spring from Venice, on a series of seven-night itineraries.
Norwegian Cruise Line will deploy Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Jewel on seven and 12-day itineraries that explore the Baltic capitals roundtrip from London; Egypt and Greek Islands sailings between Istanbul and Athens; and Mediterranean voyages between Istanbul and Barcelona. In October, Norwegian Gem, the line’s newest ship, will offer three exclusive Mediterranean itineraries from Dover and Barcelona.
No fewer than six Royal Caribbean International vessels ply a diverse array of European cruising grounds on itineraries that run the gamut – from three to 12 nights. Destinations include the Baltics, the British Isles, the Canary Islands and Spain, the Greek Isles, Italy, France, Malta, the Netherlands, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries.
Premium cruise brands are into the act as well. Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Windstar have each deployed ships to the region.
Each of the cruise operators highlighted in this week’s column are members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a trade organization representing the interests of 21 cruise lines and some 16,500 travel agencies.