How Mediterranean Ports Are Sprucing Up

Wine tasting in Palma // Photo by Susan J. Young

Within the Mediterranean Sea and nearby areas of the Black Sea and Atlantic Ocean, ports are sprucing up, constructing new cruise facilities and reporting traffic. It’s a booming region for cruise tourism.

MedCruise (, the Association of Mediterranean Cruise Ports, says that 26.9 million cruise passengers transited through its ports in 2013, up 3.4 percent from the previous year.

Last week, Travel Agent was “live” at Cruise Shipping Miami in Miami Beach to learn about what's new. Here's a look at a sampling of the highlights.

Alanya, Turkey: Cruise passengers will discover that the area around the port has new waterfront footpaths, marine artifacts on display and a maritime museum within the ancient dockyard. Other upgrades include new bicycle lanes and better bus service.

Azores, Portugal: The Azores continue to build cruise traffic with maiden calls planned this year by Hurtigruten’s Fram, Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Boreal, Royal Princess, Thomson Dream and AIDAvita. The Azores will welcome 103 ships this year, up from 92 last year.

What’s to do around the Azores' nine islands? The port says dolphin and whale watching continue to soar in popularity with cruise guests; the area is one of the world’s biggest natural sanctuaries for whales, with more than 20 different cetaceans in local waters.

Balaeric Islands, Spain: A powerhouse cruise destination – with 701 port calls and 1.6 million passengers expected in 2014 – the Balaeric Islands are making several major investments in infrastructure. At Palma, the port is extending a berth and the Poniente area passenger terminals are being revitalized, among other actions.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain: Cruise traffic for 2013 was nearly 2.6 million passengers, an increase of nearly 8 percent over 2012. Of the 2013 total, more than one million passengers embarked or disembarked at Barcelona, the rest of the traffic generated through port calls by ships.

Corfu, Greece: Showing the industry’s trend toward larger vessels, Corfu welcomed 480 ships and 745,000 passengers in 2013. While that's down 1 percent in terms of calls, the passenger numbers were up nearly 14 percent due to the larger ships making those calls. This year’s inaugural ship calls include Costa Diadema, Disney Magic, Royal Princess, Mein Schiff 3 and Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas.

An extension of the cruise pier is expected to be completed in April. That will give the port seven dedicated cruise berths, enabling the simultaneous handling of three mega ships, two medium vessels and two smaller ships. Plans are also afoot for a new terminal designed to attract a home-ported ship; construction will begin in 2014 or 2015.

Constantza, Romania: Travelers visiting between May 24-27 are in for a maritime treat as the SCF Black Sea Tall Ships Regatta gets under way at Constantaza’s cruise terminal. Approximately 40 sailing vessels, two races, a crew parade, concerts, fireworks and a flotilla sail are expected.

Year-round, the port is expecting 40 cruise ships this year, up from 69 last year. It also has plans for a second cruise berth.

Costa Brava Cruise Ports, Spain: These northeastern Spanish ports expect 43,000 cruise passengers and 55 calls this year. The Port of Palamos will welcome 36 vessels including Star Flyer, MSC Sinfonia, Paul Gauguin’s Tere Moana and others making maiden calls.

New tours for cruise passengers? They might visit the fish auction and enjoy cooking workshops in Palamos. Or, they might delve into the history and process of wine production and taste the vintages on a new tour from Port of Roses.

Cyprus Ports: Larnaka, Paphos and Lemesos had a collective 255 port calls and 272,000 visiting passengers in 2013. Approximately 50,000 of those cruisers used Lemesos, which is expected to complete construction on new passenger terminal this year.

The new facility will include one departure hall, two arrivals halls, a separate area for luggage handling, a first-floor restaurant and parking lot. The port has also invested in a new 60-ton tug boat and a new pilot boat.

Cyprus Ports Authority has also finalized a plan for redevelopment and redesign of the Old Lemesos port – creating a cultural, historical and commercial center within the old Lemesos town. Travelers can expect to see restaurants, a large square and a cultural and events area.

Genoa, Italy: P&O Cruises’ Ventura, Costa neoRomantica and Costa newRiviera will visit Genoa for the first time this year. Thus far, 200 ships are lined up to call at the Italian port, which expects 880,000 passengers this year, down from Genoa’s 1 million plus cruise visitors last year.

heraklion, crete
Heraklion, Crete // Photo by Susan J. Young

Heraklion, Crete: The Port of Heraklion anticipates a 24 percent increase in ship calls this year in a season that started earlier than usual with January's arrival of MSC Fantasia. The port said that’s adding a boost during the typical off-peak winter season.

During 2014, cruise guests visiting Heraklion will learn about Crete’s local flora through a new “Herbs” project in which endemic plants and herbs will be planted along the route to the port exit. Visitors will be encouraged to touch and smell the leaves and fruits.

Informational signs will explain each tree or plant, their history, use in cooking, medicine and cosmetics and economic impact on the region. Additional signs will include local recipes for those plants or tree fruits. The project is a joint effort of the port, city and the Crete’s Chef’s Club, which created the recipes.

Koper, Slovenia: A new shore excursion from Koper is a visit to the village of Padna, atop a hill with spectacular views of the Slovenian coastline. Local residents open their homes and explain their traditions as well as prepare local cuisine based on family recipes.

This year, Koper expects two new Costa visitors, Costa Diadema and Costa Classica, plus a maiden call from Emerald Princess.

Kotor, Montenegro: A new $750,000 cruise terminal will welcome cruise passengers this year. More than 308,000 passengers are expected. Some may choose to try out the port's newest shore excursion – a gastronomic and history tour on an open-top minibus.

Lisbon, Portugal: Lisbon is getting a new terminal and hopes it ultimately can double the total of cruise passengers it attracts -- now at 555,000 annually. Construction of the new facility began early this with completion in late 2015.

In addition, cruisers arriving at Lisbon this year have an enticing new “mind and body” shore excursion option. This shore trip involves a one-hour drive to Praia de Mata at Costa da Caparica for a surf lesson and yoga workshop.

Messina, Sicily: Last year, Messina welcomed a record 500,000 passengers on 228 port calls. Cruisers will have a trio of new shore excursions that are being introduced this year; all focus on food, drink or history, or a combination of those.

On one shore trip, passengers head to the Benedictine Monastery with vineyards from which the Faro, Mamertino and Malvasia D.O.C. wines originate and with oil mills producing Valdemone olive oil. Wine tasting is also included.

Zadar, Croatia
Zadar, Croatia

Zadar, Croatia: Work is nearly completed at a new $150 million ferry and cruise port at Zadar-Gazenica. The first cruise ships are expected in July, followed by the relocation of the local ferry operation to the new facility.

A new Zadara area shore trip takes cruisers out on a traditional Felucca boat for swordfishing, followed by lunch with the catch of the day prepared onboard. On another new shore trip, passengers visit Milazzo, the sanctuary of San Francisco di Paola, as well as the ancient castle of Fredericks II with its fortified town. From Cape Milazzo, cruisers also have views of the Aeolian Islands.

Piraeus, Greece: In 2013, the port received approval for the construction of two new mega-ship berths; the project will be completed by 2017.

Last summer the port expanded its Themistocles Cruise Terminal, which is now capable of handling “next generation” vessels. New ship call this year are by Regal Princess, MSC Symfonia and AIDAsol.

Ravenna, Italy: With eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, Ravenna is the sole cruise port within the Emilia Romagna region and expects 40 cruise ships and 45,000 passengers this year, a decrease from last year.

However, the port is closely watching the situation in Venice where mega-ships have been banned and others limited in sailing the Grand Canal, starting late this year. Ravenna believes that could influence cruise line itinerary planners seeking new routes and ports.

Ships newly calling at Ravenna this year are Regal Princess, the largest ship to ever call at the port, as well as Costa Classica, Grand Celebration, Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner, Oceania’s Insignia and Fred.Olsen's Braemar.

Thessaloniki, Greece: A new discount program for cruise lines is under way at Thessaloniki to drive more cruise business to the port. Starting this year, the program reduces both ship and passenger fees.

Discounts up to 20 percent are based on the number of cruise calls and the number of cruise passengers visiting the port of Thessaloniki throughout the year.

In addition, the port authority is upgrading its passenger terminals and has added WiFi access.

Toulon, France: A new cruise building will be located at La Seyne by the end of 2015. A new dedicated cruise pier is also under study for possible use in 2016-17.

This year Toulon will welcome 125 port calls and 300,000 passengers, while the entire Var Provence network hopes to attract 285 ships and 400,000 passengers. New cruise lines visiting Toulon this year include Cunard Line and Costa Cruises.

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