TURKEY GETTING STUFFED FOR CRUISE CALLS

In a move that will surprise few after recent events, Costa Cruises has cancelled all of it’s remaining scheduled calls to Turkey this year. And it seems only a matter of time before other cruise lines follow suit.

The cancellation will cover the major ports of Izmir, Kusadasi, Bodrum and Instanbul, and represents a huge loss of tourist revenue for the Turkish economy.

Many Aegean bound passengers actually book their cruises with these Turkish destinations as a must see centre point, with sites such as Ephesus, and the great mosque at Haghia Sofia as definite highlights. The knock on effect from actually taking such sites out of the equation remains to be seen, but Costa is quite rightly putting the emphasis on the safety of their booked passengers.

Turkey’s loss is a definite gain for nearby ports in the Greek Islands, which are being added as late season substitutes for the cancelled Turkish calls. The port of Heraklion alone has added at least an extra eighteen new calls from different ships since the news of the Costa cancellations became public.

Tense times continue to plague the usually popular eastern Mediterranean circuit as a whole; it can only be hoped that the political situation settles down in short order before continued uncertainty begins to bite into potential 2016 cruises in the region.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

Sites such as Gallipoli are off the menu for Costa in 2015

Sites such as Gallipoli are off the menu for Costa in 2015

DISNEY DELIGHTS- MEDITERRANEAN CRUISES IN 2014

The Disney Magic at Port Canaveral, Florida.

The Disney Magic at Port Canaveral, Florida.

After a very successful 2013 run, the Disney Magic will return to the Mediterranean next year. The ship, recently extensively refurbished in Cadiz, Spain, will offer a series of four, five, seven, nine and twelve night cruises running from May to September, before making a fourteen night transatlantic crossing back to America.

Disney Magic will offer twelve cruises in all, book ended by a twelve night eastbound crossing in May from Port Canaveral to Barcelona, and the aforementioned, fourteen night westbound voyage in September. Almost all twelve of these cruises sail round trip from Barcelona.

Here’s how the cruises in between break down in terms of length, ports and dates:

FOUR NIGHT CRUISES:

A one off departure on August 7th. Ports of call are Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca. One sea day.

FIVE NIGHT CRUISES:

Another one off departure on August 11th, calling at La Spezia, Civitavecchia for Rome, and Villefranche, One sea day.

SEVEN NIGHT CRUISES: 

Five sailings, calling at Villefranche, Naples, Civitavecchia and La Spezia, These cruises depart on May 31st, June 7th, and August 16th, 23rd, and 30th. Two sea days.

NINE NIGHT CRUISES:

Two cruises, this time to the Eastern Mediterranean. Embarkation here is in Venice. Ports of call are Katakolon, Piraeus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Mykonos and Venice (overnight stay). This one sails on June 26th and July 5th. Two sea days.

TWELVE NIGHT CRUISES: 

First itinerary is from Venice, and sails to Piraeus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Heraklion, Mykonos, Santorini and Valletta, Malta. A one off sailing on July 14th. Four sea days

Second itinerary from Barcelona. Ports of call are Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Piraeus, Kusadasi, Mykonos and Valletta. Another one off, sailing on July 26th.  Four sea days.

Third itinerary is also from Barcelona, with calls at Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Catania, Naples, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Venice. Sails on June 14th. Note that this cruise ends in Venice. Three sea days.

THE CROSSINGS:

May 19th, Port Canaveral to Barcelona, with calls at Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island experience), Funchal, and Malaga, Twelve nights.

September 6th, Barcelona to San Juan, Puerto Rico, calling at Malaga, Tenerife, Antigua, St, Maarten, St, Kitts, San Juan, Fourteen nights.

This is a really good programme of cruises, with something for everyone. A couple of short breaks to allow first timers to decide if the Disney style of cruising is for them without breaking the bank, some excellent seven nighters that include the rare treat of two full sea days, and a trio of cracking twelve nighters that are more or less a complete sweep of the ‘greatest hits ‘of the region. Again, there are enough sea days on these- between three and four- to allow time to recover from ‘cathedral fatigue’.

Disney Magic is mostly homeported in Barcelona for her 2014 programme

Disney Magic is mostly homeported in Barcelona for her 2014 programme

But the daddy of them all for me is the sailing on July 26th, that includes both Villefranche and Mykonos on the same itinerary. Probably the two most beautiful ports in the entire region, it is very rare indeed to see them both featured on the same itinerary.

Freshly upgraded, distinctive, and graced with a stance that is instantly nostalgic, the Disney Magic has more than enough areas for the whole family to eat, rest and play through the pleasure spots of the balmy summertime Med. And the ship is not short of adults only enclaves for when you need a little kiddie-lite time. And some shore excursions are even tailored for adults only in certain ports of call.

It’s also worth noting that the standard cabins on this ship are some of the largest in the industry. That gives you somewhere cool and air conditioned to really chill out when you return from a day spent exploring the hot spots waiting for you ashore.

Altogether well thought out as a programme, and definitely worthy of your consideration.

PORTUSCALE’S AZORES 2014 GERMAN CHARTER CRUISES (UPDATED)

Beautiful terraced decks on the Azores

Beautiful terraced decks on the Azores

German tour operator, Ambiente, has just announced details of a charter programme of Portuscale Cruises’ 1948 built Azores.

The ship last sailed for the now defunct Classic International Cruises as the Athena,  and originally started life as the Stockholm. She is the oldest passenger ship still in continuous service.

At 16,000 tons, the ship boasts a single main restaurant, a buffet, several bars and lounges, a cinema, disco, and a small pool, together with some wonderful terrace decks at the stern. The cabins are unusually large for a ship of this size, and eight of the top range suites come with private balconies. Sited midships on the upper deck, these have separate bedrooms, and fabulous views out over the ocean.

Ambiente have chartered the Azores from March until November, 2014. The programme begins on March 10th, 2014 with a six night repositioning voyage from Lisbon to Bremerhaven, Germany. 

There will then be a special cruise leaving on March 16th in search of the legendary Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Ports visited en route will include Alta, Narvik, and Tromso.

The classically built liner- her hull is all riveted- will then spend the summer months cruising in the Baltic and Scandinavia, possibly including visits to her birthplace in Sweden. These cruises will showcase the smaller, less accessible ports of the region in a way that no large cruise ship ever can; it’s very much an ‘up close and personal’ kind of cruise experience.

September will see the Azores sailing south to the warmer, more welcoming waters of the Mediterranean, with an emphasis on late summer/early autumn cruises in and around the Aegean.

Highlights will include an inaugural call at Santorini on October 8th, and another at Corfu on October 17th. Another, seven day cruise will revisit Corfu on October 22nd.

A twelve day Aegean and Ionian cruise departs from Venice on October 26th, and includes calls at Corfu, Heraklion, Katakolon, Santorini, Argostoli and Rhodes, plus a transit of the Corinth Canal before the cruise terminates in Piraeus.

The Ambiente charter concludes in November, with a special, fifteen day Holy Land cruise.

I was lucky enough to sail on this lovely little ship a few years ago, on a week long cruise down to Croatia out of Venice. She retains some fascinating features from her old days, including genuine Swedish American Line ice buckets in the main dining room. This room also still has the original, double height rows of portholes down both sides of its length.

The stern walkway on the Azores

The stern walkway on the Azores

The stern also boasts an elevated, upper deck walkway that completely encircles it. This is the only one of its kind that I have ever seen on any ship.

Ambiente itself has a long association with these former CIC ships, having chartered many of them before the line’s unfortunate collapse. They seem keen to renew the arrangement with Portuscale. The Azores herself is now resplendent in the black, white and yellow colours of her new owners and, quite frankly, has never looked better.

I’ll update this piece as more details and itineraries become available. Stay tuned.

OK, for those interested- here are those Ambiente itineraries for Azores as they currently stand.

10-16th March: IMPRESSIONS OF EUROPE/WESTERN SUNSHINE COAST: Lisbon, Lexioes (For Porto), Villagarcia, St. Peter Port, Bremerhaven

16-29th March: UNIQUE POLAR LIGHT AND MAGIC April 3-EXPERIENCE: Bremerhaven, Bergen, Andalsnes, Narvik, Alta (overnight) Tromso, Alesund, Flam, Bremerhaven

29 March- 3rd  April: SPRING AND COASTAL METROPOLISES: Bremerhaven, Dover, Portsmouth, Ijmuiden, Ostend, Bremerhaven

April 3-12th: NORDLAND SYMPHONY: Bremerhaven, Ijmuiden, Harwich, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Oslo, Skagen, Esbjerg, Bremerhaven

April 12-19th: CITIES AND ROMANTIC PORTS ALONG THE ENGLISH CHANNEL: Bremerhaven, Portsmouth, St. Peter Port, Honfleur, Ostend, Ijmuiden, Bremerhaven

April 19-26th: EASTER CRUISE, MAGIC OF THE NORTH, FJORDS, TROLLS AND KING CITY, OSLO: Bremerhaven, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Oslo, Gothenburg, Esbjerg, Bremerhaven

April 26- May 4th: SOUTHERN ENGLAND, CHANNEL ISLANDS AND PICTURESQUE CORNWALL: Bremerhaven, Dover, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Isles of Scilly, St. Peter Port, Portland, Bremerhaven

May 4- 15: DIVERSITY OF THE NORTH; SCOTLAND AND THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS: Bremerhaven, Ijmuiden, Harwich, Rosyth, Invergordon, Lerwick, Geiranger, Hellesylt, Bergen, Kiel

May 15-25th: BALTIC TREASURES; DIVERSITY OF THE BALTIC; Kiel, Gdynia, Klaipeda, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg (overnight), Helsinki, Stockholm, Kiel

May 25- June 1st: GRANDIOSE WORLD OF FJORDS: Kiel, Bergen, Hellesylt, Vik, Flam, Stavanger, Kiel

June 1-13th: NORTH CAPE AND FJORDS; TO THE MIDNIGHT SUN; Kiel, Vik, Flam, Alesund, Leknes, Honningsvag, Tromso, Geiranger, Bergen, Kiel

June 13- 27th: INTENSIVE NORTH CAPE AND FJORDS; MAGICAL LUSTRE OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN: Kiel, Bergen, Hellesylt, Geiranger, Leknes, Honningsvag, Kirkenes, Hammerfest, Tromso, Alesund, Stavanger, Kiel

June 27- July 10th: WHITE NIGHTS; HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BALTIC SEA, KALININGRAD: Kiel, Ronne, Gdynia, Konigsberg, Klaipeda, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg (overnight), Helsinki, Mariehamn, Stockholm, Kiel

July 10-26th: ARCTIC POLAR SUMMER IN GREENLAND AND ICELAND: Kiel, Thorshaven, Seydisfjordur, Akureyri, Grundafjordur, Reykjavik, Paamuit, Nuuk, Sissimuit, Illulisat, Qeqertarsuaq, Kangerlussauq, fly to Germany

July 26- August 9th: ICELAND AND GREENLAND FASCINATION: Fly to Kangerlussuaq, Illulisat, Qeqertarsuaq, Sissimuit, Nuuk, Quaqortoq, Reykjavik, Akureyri, Seydisfjordur, Invergordon, Bremerhaven

August 9-17th: ENGLAND AND SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS WITH EDINBURGH MILITARY TATTOO: Bremerhaven, Invergordon, Rosyth, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Hull, Harwich, Ijmuiden, Bremerhaven

August 17- 29th: PURE EXPERIENCE. NORTH CAPE, LOFOTEN AND THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS: Bremerhaven, Vik, Flam, Alesund, Leknes, Honningsvag, Tromso, Geiranger, Hellesylt, Bergen Bremerhaven

August 29- September 5th: IN THE LAND OF FJORDS AND TROLLS: Bremerhaven, Bergen, Hellesylt, Geiranger, Vik, Flam, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Bremerhaven

September 5- 15th: ENGLAND, IRELAND AND SCOTLAND: Bremerhaven, Dover, Portsmouth, Falmouth, Dublin, Belfast, Stornoway, Rosyth, Bremerhaven

September 15- 25th: COURSE SOUTH- WESTERN EUROPE FOR ALL THE SENSES: Bremerhaven, St.Peter Port, Villagarcia, Lisbon, Portimao, Malaga, Barcelona, Nice

September 25-October 4th: MEDITERRANEAN PEARL: Nice, Ajaccio, Olbia, Trapani, Valletta, Catania. Lipari, Salerno, Porteferraio, Nice

October 4- 19th: BLACK SEA AND SUN ISLAND: Nice, Catania, Santorini, Canakkale, Sochi, Yalta, Odessa, Constanza, Istanbul, Corfu, Venice

October 19- 26th: MAGIC COAST OF THE ADRIATIC: Venice, Zadar, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Kotor, Korcula, Split, Venice

October 26- November 6th: GREEK MYTHS AND LIFESTYLE: Venice, Corfu, Katakolon, Heraklion, Santorini, Rhodes, Kusadasi, Piraeus, Argostoli, Venice

November 6- 20th: HOLY LAND AND MEDITERRANEAN SUNSHINE ISLANDS: Venice, Ancona, Bari, Heraklion, Ashdod (overnight), Haifa, Limassol, Rhodes, Messina, Genoa

The programme currently lists these twenty five cruises as active. Destinations correct at the time of writing.

INSPIRING SPRING BREAKS IN THE SUNNY GREEK ISLANDS

Magical Mykonos awakens with the first kiss of spring

Magical Mykonos awakens with the first kiss of spring

It’s that time of year when winter slowly begins to descend across Europe like a damp. clammy shroud, and many of us just mentally curl up and hibernate. We go out when we need to but, in general, we just stock up on the wine, batten down the hatches, and pray for an early arrival of spring.

But nothing sharpens the appetite for travel like anticipation of trips to come. And knowing some of the options ahead might just add a little warmth and brightness to those long, leaden winter nights.  So, with time and money also being key considerations in these straitened times, why not consider a short, exhilarating three or four night cruise to the Greek Islands and Turkey out of Athens on Louis Cruises in the spring?

There are quite a few advantages here. Firstly, the cost is very reasonable- around £200 per person, based on two sharing an inside cabin. Then there’s the time scale. For the three night cruise, you’ll need to fly to Athens on the Thursday night and stay overnight. You’ll be home by late Monday. For the four nighter, flying on the Sunday prior to a Monday sailing will have you back at home late Friday. So it’s not a huge drain on your time.

The ships themselves are relatively small; comfortable rather than luxurious, with a smart casual dress code. The welcome is very warm and the ships are perfectly attuned for cruising these waters- vital on such a short, high density trip as this.

So you’re probably wondering ‘how soon can I get out there?’

The first three night cruise begins on the 38,000 ton Louis Olympia on March 14th, 2014. The weather by then should be more than agreeable enough to enjoy the best hospitality that the islands have to offer. This three day cruise leaves Piraeus- the port for Athens- at 11 in the morning. Here’s the full skinny for the itinerary:

Day One: (Friday)

Depart Piraeus 11.00

Arrive Mykonos 18.00

Depart 23.00

Day Two: (Saturday)

Arrive Kusadasi, Turkey 07.00

Depart 12.00

Arrive Patmos 16.00

Depart 21.00

Day Three:  (Sunday)

Arrive Heraklion, Crete  07.00

Depart 11.30

Arrive Santorini 16.30

Depart 21.00

Day Four: (Monday)

Arrive Piraeus 06.00

Waterfront at Symi, Greek Dodecanese islands

Waterfront at Symi, Greek Dodecanese islands

Yes, it’s a busy few days, and it will pass at one hell of a rate of knots. But in that short space of time, you’ll see and experience more than many people do in an entire lifetime. From people watching in Mykonos, to strolling the stunning ancient ruins of Ephesus (see previous blogs), a late dinner ashore in Patmos, strolling the quayside in Heraklion and, as a finale, the stunning sunset from the Olympian heights of Santorini, it’s a fabulous feast of options.

The four day cruise (Monday departures) follows a similar route, but also allows for a full day in historic Rhodes, usually on the Wednesday. Whichever option you decide to choose, it’s a wonderful, whirlwind tour through some of the most amazing waters anywhere in the world.

And, hopefully, you’ll even come back with a sun tan. See you out there in March, maybe.

A LONG WEEKEND IN THE AUTUMN SUN….

ImageIn northern Europe, the autumn closes in with often remarkable speed. With winter’s clammy breath just about tickling your windpipe, the need for a last, furtive few days of late, sultry sun becomes almost an obsession. But if you’ve only got the equivalent of a long weekend to play with, and/or money is tight, then the options can look pretty thin on the ground.

ImageSo. How about a long weekend’s cruise around the Greek islands? Sounds mad. At best, implausible. But actually, it’s brilliantly simple to both arrange and enjoy. Five days and four nights is all you’ll need to invest. In that time, you can see Athens, visit no less than four Greek islands, set foot in Turkey, and get a tan to boot. All at a good price, as well.

ImageSounds peachy, no? The downsides? You’ll get between five and seven hours in each place at the most; and the whole trip will pass at an absolutely frantic rate of knots. It’s a safe bet that you won’t absorb the entire experience until you’re back at home- and at work- the week after.

ImageHere’s the skinny; you’ll need to fly from the UK to Athens on the Thursday night, and return the following Monday. Easyjet fly direct from Gatwick and Manchester while, from the regions, both BA and KLM have a good network of flights, at usually inexpensive prices. Hotels in Athens are not expensive but, for convenience, I recommend you stay in Piraeus, which is actually pretty easy from the airport.

ImageIn Piraeus, walk to the pretty little yacht harbour of Marina Zea, and treat yourself to some delicious, lemon drenched souvlaki, washed down with a cold beer. Even in the mellow autumn nights, it’s quite warm enough to sit outside in summer clothes here. Just beware of the mosquitoes. And get some sleep. You’ve got an early start tomorrow.

ImageOn Friday morning, you’ll board either the stately Orient Queen or the bigger, more amenity laden Louis Olympia, for a three night mini cruise you will never forget. By eleven that morning, you’re heading out of Piraeus, across the calm, sparkling Aegean, to an early evening arrival in fabled, funky Mykonos.

ImageThere’s time for some serious people watching on one of the best waterfronts anywhere in Europe, and even a late dinner ashore, before you’re back on board, destination Kusadasi,  While you’re partying the night away, the designated driver is keeping you on course for early morning arrival in Turkey.

ImageYour morning here gives you just enough time to see the amazing, petrified ruins of mighty Ephesus. If you’ve never been before, I suggest you do this. Otherwise, just shop in the fantastic bazaars, straight across from where the ship docks, or even grab an hour or two on the beach. It’s easy walking distance from the ship. Back on board for lunchtime, and you’re off again, destination Patmos.

ImageThis is a place made for the kind of languid, laid back hedonism that Greece showcases so beautifully. Tavernas with brightly coloured, rickety wooden chairs and tables are still splashed out along the waterfront, catching the last high days of the autumn sun. You could go and see the famous monastery of St. John, if you’re so inclined. On the other hand, you and your friends can just chill out and enjoy some mellow wine and quality time. Your day, your call.

ImageBack on board, and another night of dining and dancing. Maybe inside, maybe out on deck. The ships are three star; comfortable rather than luxurious, but with good prices and an alluring, feel good vibe on board. Pack lightly; the dress codes are informal and, in all likelihood, cabin space will not be great. Manageable for a long weekend, and great value, though. Did I mention that your sun tan is coming on quite beautifully? Result.

ImageNext morning is a whistle stop visit to Heraklion, in Crete, The old, walled harbour, with it’s massive Venetian fortifications, is a pleasant stroll on a sublime, sunlit Sunday morrning. But the scenic highlight comes in the shape of Santorini this afternoon, with it’s blinding white rows of houses and churches looking like frosting atop the massive, slab sided wedding cake of what is actually a spectacularly imploded volcano.

ImageIt is worth doing the whole trip just to see this spectacular sail in. And the views from the top- take the cable car, not the flea bitten, truculent donkey ride- will make you feel like one of those Greek gods of old. Cruise ships look like bath tub toys, flung across the sparkling carpet of the Aegean. The upper level views from the town of Thira are, without doubt, some of the most spectacular in all of southern Europe. Sailing away from such beauty is almost physically painful.

ImageNext morning finds you back in Piraeus, and the airport beckons. Tuesday morning, and you’ll be back at your desk. Those five days and four nights will seem like some fantastic, fiery dream. But then you’ll look at your sun tan, you’ll smile at your snaps, and you’ll realise that the improbable trip was not only really easy, but really excellent value too. An exhilarating little pick me up that won’t have your bank manager sending you the poison chocolates. Tempted? Well… get out there. And enjoy.