It has been increasingly bruited over several weeks that the port of Athens might be gearing up to become a year round departure port for cruises. With these stories gathering pace, I thought it might be worth a look at the possibilities.
The obvious major contender for this would be Celestyal Cruises, part of the Louis Group. Although their Cristal goes out on charter to Cuba each winter, the company’s biggest ship- the 38,000 ton Celestyal Olympia- is usually laid up in Piraeus from November through to April each year.
That makes for five totally unproductive months when the vessel is doing nothing but racking up port fees while earning no revenue. So, any opportunity to bring in money- especially in the current Greek situation- ought to be a no brainer.
On the other hand, that winter Aegean weather can be famously unsettled. Many of the Greek Islands are tender ports, and any winter storm might well mean foregoing a port of call. Also, the temperatures are going to be a good way cooler than in the high days of summer.
These have always been the main reasons why the domestic Greek cruise scene- that is, Celestyal itineraries- typically begin each March, and then end each November.
But the truth is that, even if some tender ports have to be abandoned because of bad weather, there are quite a number of ports with open berths in winter- I’m thinking of the likes of Kusadasi and Marmaris- which are likely to be available as viable substitutes. Even in summer, the weather can sometimes oblige cruise ship captains to abandon planned port calls, hopefully arranging some nearby substitute. There is nothing new- or unusual- in this.
And the experience of cruising the Greek Islands in winter would be a more sedate, intimate experience- even on the usual Celestyal three and four night runs. And Athens’ port of Piraeus certainly enjoys an unrivalled, prime position for sending out ships on short jaunts, or even on longer itineraries to the Holy Land and Egypt. However, the current volatility of the political situation around both would probably
make most firms think twice about that, at least for the foreseeable future.
And- for those who do not think that year round Greek Island cruising is feasible, I’d just remind you that the same was said of the Baltic, when P&O pioneered the first ever winter Baltic Capitals cruise some years ago. These have been quite successful; enough, indeed, for many rival lines to also start offering them.
Also, consider how popular cruises to the often stormy waters of Northern Lights itineraries have now become. Passengers now no longer think that cold weather and rough seas would be an impediment to such an adventure.
And it goes without saying that, even in the depths of winter, the Aegean would be a lot calmer and more benign than either of those options.
Short winter cruises in the Aegean? Hell, why not?
A potentially fascinating development, methinks. As ever, pray stay tuned.