|Hagia Sophia Museum, formerly a church, overlooks the harbor in Trabzon, Turkey.|
Clients who have sailed to the eastern Mediterranean and want a new exotic experience without going much farther might be a good fit for a Black Sea cruise. With the publicity machine just starting for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Russia, agents may find that it’s a great time to promote the Black Sea to qualified clients
The Black Sea region isn’t well known to the average American. Called the Euxine Sea, meaning “hospitable” in Greek, it’s also called Russian Sea or Scythian. This inland sea of the Atlantic Ocean basin is connected with the Sea of Marmara via the Bosphorus strait, and via the Dardanelles with the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. The Crimean peninsula projects into the Black Sea from the north.
The sea is essentially a water boundary between Europe and Asia Minor. Such storied rivers as the Danube and the Dnieper flow into it. Most importantly, the Black Sea is huge, covering 168,500 square miles and stretching more than 730 miles from east to west.
So cruisers on Black Sea itineraries have diverse land options; they might go eco-sightseeing in the Caucasus Mountains, explore World War II history in Yalta, shop in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar or relax at a Crimean coastline beach. Many such cruises begin and end in Istanbul, or sail between Istanbul and Piraeus (Athens), Greece.
Ships have a choice of visiting 17 cruise ports that lie within Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, Ukraine, Romania and Russia. Nearly 50 cruise lines now serve the region, according to Cruise Black Sea (www.blacksea-cruises.com). The Port of Yalta will welcome 98 cruise ship calls this year, according to Crimea’s Transport and Communications Committee.
Consumer demand is strong. Voyages to Antiquity (www.voyagestoantiquity.com) has had great success with its Black Sea cruises and is headed back for another summer season with Aegean Odyssey, sailing 15- and 27-day options this summer, roundtrip from Istanbul or from Rome to Istanbul, respectively. The two-week option includes two nights in Istanbul, while the longer cruise spends two nights in Rome.
For a luxury experience, Crystal Cruises offers a 12-day “Bounties of the Black Sea,” a Rome-to-Istanbul voyage on Crystal Symphony, departing July 13. One highlight is a nearly two-day stay in Odessa, Ukraine. Clients also go ashore for a day in Yalta, Ukraine, a day each in Sochi, Russia, and Constanta, Romania. Visitors who stroll through Constanta’s Old Town will see such historic churches and a 1910-era mosque that displays Europe’s largest carpet; handcrafted by a single person, it took 17 years to complete.
Roundtrip Black Sea cruises from Istanbul are offered by many lines. SeaDream Yacht Club offers an 11-day roundtrip Black Sea itinerary from Istanbul on August 17, while Silversea Cruises offers seven- to 12-day Black Sea cruises this summer roundtrip from Istanbul on two ships. Silver Spirit’s August 11 departure visits Yalta, Sevastopol, Odessa, Constanta and Nessebur in just a week, one option for clients with less time to spend on vacation.
Nessebur is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its Greek antiquities, while Sevastopol, Ukraine, has a Panorama Museum that’s an extraordinary piece of art in the round—depicting the 349-day Crimean War siege in 3D. At Balaclava, a former Soviet submarine base is authentically historic and looks as though it came right out of a James Bond film.
Typically, Black Sea voyages range from seven to 14 days, although some are longer. Azamara Club Cruises offers a 12-night “Cruising The Black Sea Voyage” on August 20, 2014, on the Azamara Quest. Guests will explore Amasra, Istanbul and Trabzon, Turkey; Batumi, Georgia; Sochi and Novorossiysk, Russia; Yalta, Sevastopol and Odessa, Ukraine; Constanta, Romania; and Nessebar, Bulgaria.
Among other ports, that vessel will visit Yalta, Ukraine, the home of author Anton Chekhov’s mansion and also Livadia Palace, the spot where Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin gathered for the 1945 Crimean Conference. In Trabzon, Turkey, a popular shore option is to visit the hillside Sumela Monastery, built more than 1,600 years ago.
More cruise lines have added Black Sea ports of call this year. Celebrity Cruises introduced calls at Varna, Bulgaria, and Sevastopol, Ukraine. Cruisers have responded well. While Celebrity Constellation’s “Black Sea & Greek Isles Cruise,” on October 7 is sold out in all the “mid-range” cabin categories, clients can still book inside cabins and suites.
If your clients desire a fall voyage that gives a taste of Greece and Turkey with other Black Sea ports too, Holland America Line’s 12-day “Black Sea Explorer,” sails roundtrip from Piraeus (for Athens). Departing October 2, this Prinsendam voyage includes port calls in Greece at Volos and Mykonos. The ship also calls at Sinop and Istanbul, Turkey, and at the Black Sea ports of Sochi, Sevastopol, Constanta and Nessebur. Sochi is a Russian spa town but travelers often choose to tour Stalin’s vacation estate.
On July 19 and September 22, 2014, Oceania Cruises’ Riviera operates a 10-day “Black Sea Legends” itinerary from Istanbul to Athens. On this cruise, your clients might savor vintages at the Massandra Winery near Yalta; it boasts one million bottles, one of the world’s largest wine collections. Nature lovers might book an excursion to the Caucasian State Nature Reserve in Sochi. That’s the site of several impressive, 280-foot-high Nordmann fir trees.
History fans might visit Sinop’s archaeological museum, mosque, castle and fortress. For a total immersion in history, archaeology or local culture, agents might suggest a small-ship cruise. Among those are Voyage to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey and Voyages of Discovery’s Voyager, which operates both 14-day and 27-day Black Sea cruise itineraries.
Compagnie du Ponant also sails small-ship luxury voyages within the Black Sea; a July 19 departure of L’Austral calls at Bartin, Turkey, where guests will travel on a 90-minute motorcoach shore trip to Safranbolu; that UNESCO World Heritage Site has 1,008 registered historical artifacts with Ottoman-era architecture. Clients might tour a caravanserai or visit a historic Turkish bath or mansion.
Many lines have released their 2014 schedules, including Seabourn Cruise Line; Seabourn Odyssey will sail the Black Sea on three seven-day cruises next year—each with a full day and overnight onboard in Istanbul. Cruise lines say the Black Sea voyages have proven extremely popular, although many do have space still available for 2013.
What’s the draw? The Black Sea region is close enough to the Mediterranean region for clients to feel comfortable with the itinerary, despite its exoticism. The region isn’t as far by air for many clients as Asia or the South Pacific. Clients who book these cruises also have bragging rights with friends and family upon returning home.
Now is the time for clients who want the path-less-traveled on a Black Sea cruise to book their vacation. It’s likely that when the ski slopes and bobsled runs open at the Soshi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, the “exposure” meter for the Black Sea region will rise rapidly.
|The art nouveau Casino (summer house) is a highlight of a cruise call at Constanta, Romania.|