Cruise lines lower Med capacity based on terrorism fallout

Santorini cruise basin.

Fewer and smaller cruise ships being deployed in the Mediterranean this year by major cruise lines will hurt ports throughout the region, according to a recent projection of 2017 cruise passenger totals.

Fears of terrorism in parts of the Mediterranean basin have sent the region’s share of global capacity to a 10-year low, according to the report by Risposte Turismo, a cruise research firm based in Venice.

Only 15.5% of cruise ship capacity will sail in the Med this year, down from 18.3% last year and 16.4% in 2007.

Francesco di Cesare, president of Risposte Turismo, said the decline is the result of a mix of factors, among them the “no-go zones for cruise ships,” which currently include destinations such as Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt.

“In 2017 we shouldn’t register any growth in major Med ports,” di Cesare said. “But some marquee ports such as Barcelona will remain stable in comparison to 2016.”

A spokeswoman for the Port of Barcelona confirmed that it is expecting more than 800 cruise ship calls this year, up from 758 in 2016, which can be attributed in part to Barcelona’s strength as a turnaround port.

About 58% of the 2.6 million visitors to Barcelona last year were boarding or disembarking a cruise, said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be quoted by name.

By contrast, the major ports in Italy are expecting declines. According to Risposte Turismo, the number of passengers handled by Italian ports will drop 7.1% this year, to 10.3 million, while the number of ship calls will be down 9.6%, to about 4,500.

Risposte Turismo expects Civitavecchia, the port for Rome and the second-largest cruise port in the Med after Barcelona, to see 5.9% fewer passengers this year, and Venice, the fourth-largest Med port, to see an 11.4% drop.

Naples, the sixth-largest port, is expected to see a 23.4% drop in passenger numbers, while among the top Italian ports only La Spezia, the gateway to the Cinque Terre region, will eke out a 0.2% increase, the study found.

Di Cesare expects Marseille, France, the fifth-largest Med port, to experience a 6% drop in passengers this year.

Venice is a major turnaround port for cruise ships on eastern Mediterranean itineraries, which have been affected by cruise lines dropping Turkish ports due to an ongoing threat of terrorism.

Venice is also impacted by limits on the size of cruise ships that can reach the city through the Giudecca Canal.

Greek tourism minister Elena Kountoura said the number of cruise calls to Greek ports is expected to be down this year, but the number of passengers is expected to rise because of larger ships being deployed. Often, lines that have canceled calls to Turkey have substituted stops at Greek ports.

Di Cesare said Tunisian ports were dropped after two 2015 terror attacks and although the ports began getting calls again in late 2016, lingering uneasiness continues to affect itinerary planning.

Weak results in the Med influenced Celebrity Cruises to bringthe Celebrity Equinox back to the Caribbean this summer, while Norwegian Cruise Line, diversifying its capacity out of the Caribbean, moved the Norwegian Getaway this summer to Baltic itineraries rather than Mediterranean ones.

Di Cesare said that regions other than the Med are perceived by cruise lines this year to have a higher return on investment and more demand from passengers. That said, the Med will continue to be the world’s second most popular cruising region, behind the 35.6% of capacity devoted to the Caribbean but ahead of the 11.5% of ships doing itineraries in Europe outside the Med.

The drop in Med traffic comes after several strong years.

Italian ports had 11.1 million passenger movements in both 2015 and 2016, close to the record of 11.5 million set in 2011, Risposte Turismo figures showed.

The spokeswoman from the Port of Barcelona said growth there had been “spectacular” for about a decade but has leveled off in the past few years to a more sustainable percentage, though it is still an increase.

Next year, the Med’s share of passengers stands to increase if there are no more terrorism incidents to reduce demand. For example, Royal Caribbean International said it will have eight ships in Europe for 2018, up from seven this year, including its 5,400-passenger Symphony of the Seas, which will do seven-day trips from Barcelona that include stops in Palma de Mallorca, Marseilles, La Spezia (Florence/Pisa), Civitavecchia and Naples.

Cruise companies reducing Mediterranean presence

Ongoing instability in the Mediterranean region is prompting cruise companies to trim capacity there, with the latest example coming from Celebrity Cruises, for summer 2017.

Celebrity said it will keep the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Equinox in Miami next spring after it completes its winter cruise schedule, instead of returning to the Mediterranean, where this summer it will operate cruises out of Athens and Barcelona.

The move will draw down Celebrity’s Europe deployment next summer from five ships to four and give it a year-round ship in the Caribbean for the first time since 2010.

Other companies also plan to move capacity out of the Mediterranean and into the Caribbean.

Carnival Corp. in a June 28 conference call said it expected a 10% capacity reduction in the Mediterranean region next year, and a 5% increase in Caribbean capacity.

“We are rebalancing our portfolio to optimize the current demand environment,” Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said.

The moves come as the Mediterranean was again rocked, this time by a failed coup attempt in Turkey and the truck massacre in Nice, the third major terrorist attack in France in the past nine months.

Cruise lines had already largely stopped calling in Istanbul after a series of terrorist attacks there this year. After the coup, many cruise lines also suspended calls elsewhere in Turkey, such as Kusadasi.

Most are in a wait-and-see mode, such as Carnival Cruise Line, which replaced the Carnival Vista’s calls in Kusadasi on July 17 and 20 with sea days and said it will evaluate future calls there “in the coming days.”

Some travel agents said client demand for Europe remains healthy.

“For us, our European business is still very strong,” said Jeffrey Bateman, vice president of operations at Crown Cruise Vacations in Princeton, N.J.

Bateman said most of his clients on Equinox cruises that had been scheduled for Europe next summer had rebooked other Celebrity European cruises.

Prices have been softening for Europe, according to a survey by SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Patrick Scholes, who said advertised prices for cruises in southern Europe in June fell 1.3% year over year, compared to a 7.4% increase in May.

Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said cruise lines remain reluctant to drop Europe in the summer.

“Analysts ask me, why don’t you put the ship in the Caribbean in the summer instead?” he said. “Well, because even a bad year in Europe is better than a good year in the Caribbean, especially in the summer.”

In 2014, a mass migration of ships from Europe to the Caribbean led to a pricing bloodbath. Donald said that’s unlikely in 2017, when Carnival’s expected Caribbean capacity growth will be 5%. In 2014, it was 20%.

The Equinox will add to the overall capacity in the Caribbean, but several travel agents liked having more itinerary options for Celebrity in the summer.

“I view the year-round vessels in the Caribbean as a plus,” said Valerie Harris, a CruiseOne franchisee in Atlanta. “They lend a hand with creating and maintaining a cruise line’s presence in the region, which in turn may establish brand loyalty.”

Viking Cruises Reveals Details of New Ocean Cruise Line

Viking Cruises Reveals Details of New Ocean Cruise Line



How would you feel about a cruise line that offered free shore excursions, complimentary ship-wide Wi-Fi and overnight stays in ports of call? One with a small ship (less than 1,000 passenger) ambience, where wine and beer at lunch and dinner were served liberally — and without charge — and with all verandah cabins that were 20 percent larger than the norm?

Oh, and one other twist: We’re not talking not about a super-luxury cruise with fares priced in the stratosphere. This one comes with a strong value-for-money price point. 

Welcome to the new Viking Cruises. At a gala launch event Thursday night in Beverly Hills, California, Torstein Hagen, the visionary founder of Viking River Cruises, the world’s largest and fastest growing river line, told the assembled travel agents, journalists and past passengers the company would launch its ocean-oriented cruise line in May 2015. 

It has placed an order with Fincantieri’s Marghera shipyard for two 48,000-ton, 928-passenger ships. The first, Viking Star, will debut in May 2015. The as-yet unnamed second will launch a year later, and Viking has “conditional orders and options for four more additional ocean vessels.” 

In its maiden season, Viking Star will spend spring, summer and fall trawling the waters of northern Europe’s Baltic and fjords, and the Mediterranean. Winter itineraries haven’t been announced. 

With the addition of the ocean line, Viking is undergoing a modest name change. The company will be called Viking Cruises (, and its two cruise segments will be characterized as Viking Rivers and Viking Oceans respectively. Viking is the first cruise line since Disney Cruise Line to begin its life with purpose-built newbuilds. 

In designing the new ships, Viking has incorporated the best elements of riverboats –- for which the line has been on a record-setting new-build tear, debuting 28 of its new Longships designs between 2012 and 2014. That includes the company’s popular Aquavit Terrace, an alfresco dining venue, and plenty of outdoor space on the sundeck and beyond. All have the same design sensibility: spare Scandinavian decor that’s comfortable, airy and light. 

Viking Star’s blend of fresh, contemporary features with some retro touches will resonate with fans of ocean cruising. Such features harken to Hagen’s stint at defunct-but-fondly-remembered Royal Viking Line, an upscale brand. Looking toward the new, Star features a main pool (with magradome roof that opens and closes) with a fire pit, a Nordic-influenced spa with a snow room and sauna and revolutionary technology that allows for the windows in the ship’s main restaurant to open to the elements in good weather. All cabins come with verandahs. The smallest is 270 square feet, a good deal roomier than the average. 

Ship traditionalists will also appreciate Viking Star’s walk-around promenade deck that fully encircles the vessel. Its Explorer’s Lounge, an airy two-deck top-of-the-ship venue, offers an observation area — a feature that many of today’s newest cruise ships lacks. 

Many travel agents attending Thursday’s event compared Viking’s offerings and price points to lines that at Cruise Critic we call luxury lite (elements of upmarket travel, such as cozy ships that can offer far-ranging itineraries along with superb service and cuisine but at a moderate price point). Those most mentioned were Oceania CruisesAzamara Club Cruises and Windstar Cruises. But Hagen last night said Viking would distinguish itself with elements that included destination-focused cruising, locally sourced cuisine, an understated and comfortable but elegant onboard ambience, immersion-oriented touring and enrichment and this one: “No nickel-and-dimeing.” 

Viking Cruises’ ocean arm officially goes on sale in North America today. Plans to reveal Viking Star and its fleetmates are anticipated to roll out in the U.K. and Australia later this year.