With 247,000 berths available this year, the Mediterranean is seeing a 41 percent increase in capacity from last year's 175,000 berths. This is due to the return of cruise lines after last year's pull-out due to the Gulf War as well as fears of repercussions against American travelers abroad.
Since the mid-1980s, Mediterranean cruising has been marked by ups and downs due to political events and terrorism threats. A number of cruise lines have compromised their return to the Mediterranean by offering predominantly Western Mediterranean itineraries, from Barcelona to the French Riviera and Venice, rather than in the Eastern Mediterranean - the Greek Islands, Turkey, Egypt and Israel - as in the past.
There are a number of events taking place in the Mediterranean this year to attract passengers, including the Barcelona Summer Olympics, Expo '92 in Seville, and the 500th Anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World.
The historical leaders in the Mediterranean - Epirotiki Lines and Costa Cruise Line - are decreasing capacity, particularly in Costa's case. Epirotiki Lines, which has the most berths, lost the Pegasus in a fire and the Oceanos in rough seas. The line's fleet additions include the Triton, formerly Norwegian Cruise Line's Sunward II, and the former CarlaCosta. With the fleet changes, Epirotiki now has the 210-passenger Neptune sailing three day itineraries rather than last year's 600-passenger vessel.
According to Art Lubin, President of Epirotiki, the line's March bookings were on the same level as 1990 and were up about 40 percent from 1991.
Costa Cruise Line, which marketed its Mediterranean ships to Americans in the past, has now transferred a number of its vessels to parent company Costa Crociere for marketing solely in Europe.
Therefore the American-marketed fleet has gone from four full season Mediterranean ships to the 1,300-passenger CostaCiassica offering a few sailings.
While Epirotiki and Sun Line are the leaders this year in the Mediterranean, their ships are heavily marketed to Europeans, thereby reducing the berths available to the American market.
There are a number of lines in the Mediterranean this year which have increased the size of their fleet from last year. These include: Princess Cruises, which is deploying both the Royal Princess and for the first time, the Star Princess; Royal Cruise Line, which is offering both the Golden Odyssey and the Crown Odyssey, compared to just the Crown Odyssey last year; Cunard Line, with both of its Sea Goddess vessels; and Sun Line Cruises which will deploy all three vessels for a full season compared to 1991 when the Stella Solaris was deployed during the latter part of the season.
Lines returning after last year's absence include Seabourn Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. In 1990, RCCL deployed the 728-passenger Sun Viking in the Mediterranean compared to the 1,022-passenger Song of Norway this year. Crystal Cruises' Crystal Harmony will make her debut in the Mediterranean, which was postponed from last year.
Many new ships are cruising the Mediterranean, including: Royal Viking Line's Royal Viking Queen; Star Clippers' Star Flyer and Star Clipper; Diamond Cruises's twin hulled Radisson Diamond; the CostaClassica; and Renaissance VI, VII, and VIII. Renaissance will deploy a total of six ships in the Mediterranean.
Other lines offering Mediterranean itineraries include: Fantasy Cruises, Ocean Cruise Line, Club Med, Windstar Cruises, Classical Cruises, and Seaquest Cruises. Paquet French Cruises is offering a number of Mediterranean cruises marketed to Americans; the rest are aimed at Europeans.
The Mediterranean features traditional cruising regions, including the Western Mediterranean, from southern Spain to the French Riviera and the east coast of Italy; the Eastern Mediterranean, from Piraeus to the Greek Islands and Turkey; the Eastern Mediterranean and Coastal Middle East, from Piraeus to Egypt; and the Black Sea, from Piraeus to Istanbul and the Black Sea countries of Romania and the former Soviet Union.
In the past, Italy and Yugoslavia combined for a popular cruising region. However, most lines have changed their itineraries due to the unrest in Yugoslavia.
The Western Mediterranean, particularly the French Riviera, has seen strong growth this year as lines feel that public perception views this area as being farther away from potential terrorist targets. Most of the smaller ships concentrate in this r egion, including: Seaboum Spirit; Star Clipper and Star Flyer; Windstar; the Renaissance vessels; and the Sea Goddess I and II.
The traditional full-season carriers - Epirotiki and Sun Line - offer primarily Greek Island itineraries. In the early 1980s, the Greek Islands were considered the epitome of Mediterranean cruising; however, the emphasis has shifted a bit west because of sporadic terrorist attacks in Athens.
Those ships venturing further east to Egypt and Israel include Fantasy Cruises' Azur; Epirotiki's Jason· Sun Line's Stella Solaris; Cunard's Vistafjord and OE2; Royal Viking Queen; and Golden Odyssey.
"We feel comfortable that this area is a ripe destination in 1992," said John Severini, Vice President of Sales for RCL. He noted that the line deploys the smaller, 460-passenger Golden Odyssey here for easier access to smaller ports.
While in the past, Port of Piraeus was the queen of Mediterranean ports, Port of Venice has recently stolen the crown as the most freguented cruise ship port. Although Venice's cruise passenger counts declined in 1991 as did Piraeus, 350,000 passengers were counted, which is 100,000 more than Piraeus. Part of this is because some view Venice's location as less turbulent and cruises to both the Western and Eastern Mediterranean are accessible from here.
The Venice Port Authority is in the midst of planning an all-encompassing port reconstruction project, which will include a cruise terminal and can accommodate up to 17 cruise ships simultaneously. The complex will also include duty free shops, restaurants, hotel, and nearby sports and convention ball. This project will be built on the site of the present commercial cargo berths in the historic center of Venice and will cost about $125 million. Cargo vessels will be re-routed and infrastructure will be improved.
Piraeus, however, is still viewed as the primary gateway to the Greek Isles. Ships turning around or call here include: Star Princess, Vistafjord, Cunard Princess, Golden Odyssey, Crystal Harmony, Royal Viking Queen, Seabourn Spirit, Renaissance vessels, Sun Line vessels, and Epirotiki shilps.
Barcelona, due to its location in the Western Mediterranean, saw a 19 percent passenger increase in 1991 and counts should be even higher this season due to the Olympics. The port is also building an international trade center on the waterfront.
Other homeports in the Mediterranean include: Nice, homeport for the Ocean Princess, Stella Maris, and Seabourn Spirit; Genoa, homeport for the Azur; Civitavecchia (Rome) turn-around port for the Crystal Harmony; Monte Carlo, which has recently gained popularlity as homeport for a number of small, upscale ships including Renaissance, Sea Goddess, and Royal Viking Queen; Nice, turn-around port for Windstar, Epirotiki's World Renaissance, and Ocean Princess; Istanbul, turn-around port for the Royal Viking Queen, Renaissance, Seaboum Spirit; and Cannes, homeport for the Club Med I.
Although not in the Mediterranean, Lisbon is sometimes a starting point for Mediterranean cruises. According to the Port of Lisabon Authority, changes are presently taking place in management policy in order to achieve better port services. In addition, a study is being developed concerning the possible development of multi purpose terminals.
While still a port-of-call, Port of Valletta, Malta, is gearing itself for homeporting through extensive upgrading of facilities. The number of cruise ship berths will be increased from four to six and a present berth has been extended. The historic 18th-century Pinto Stores are being converted into a cruise passenger terminal offering duty-free shopping, restaurants, and hi-tech security systems.
The French Riviera ports have been actively promoting themselves recently as a cruising region. Some of these include: Marseilles, with its two cruise ship berths and passenger terminal; Monte Carlo, which is witnessing a small but growing number of cruise ship calls; Villefranche, gateway to Nice and Monte Carlo for larger ships; Toulon, which is constructing a new cruise terminal; and Sete. Nice is studying possible port expansion.
A number of lines are chartering their vessels to Olympic sponsors to use as floating hotels during the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics. According to Crystal Cruises, of the 500,000 beds needed for the Olympics, cruise ships will provide 30,000 of them on a rotating basis. This is the first time that the Olympic organizing committee is responsible for securing alternative accommodations for Olympic sponsors, and thus they turned to cruise ships.
As part of this role, the Barcelona '92 Olympic Organizing Committee has control of Barcelona's harbor during the games and assumed responsibility for selection of a limited number of ships. Those which have not been cleared by the Committee cannot call during the games.
Chartered ships include: Vistafjord; Sea Goddess II; Cunard Princess; Crystal Harmony, by The Coca-Cola Company; Royal Viking Sun, by NBC; Seabourn Spirit, by 3M; and Golden Odyssey by Volkswagen of Spain.
Expo '92 is also taking place this summer in Seville. The Royal Viking Queen is the only cruise ship turning-around here and offering excursions to the World's Fair.
Holland America Lines' newbuilding, the 1,266-passenger Statendam, will cruise this region in 1993, as well as the Costa Allegra, which will be positioned to Venice for Eastern Mediterranean cruises next year. The Costa Classica will offer Mediterranean cruises next year for a full seven months out of Genoa.
In addition, Seven Seas Cruises' 172-passenger Song of Flower will cruise the Mediterranean for the first time in 1993.
Since 1993 will not offer the Olympics, Expo, or Columbus commemorations, the Mediterranean will have to sell itself on its strong points: a fine mix of sun, scenery, history, and culture. The area should continue to grow as long as there is no political upheavals which would affect tourism adversely. Lubin predicts that demand will be three times as great five years from now.
1992 Mediterranean Capacity
1991 Mediterranean Capacity
1) Rounded off
2) Market share