If clients love European cruising, but have "been there, done that" with Mediterranean sailings to such cities as Rome, Monte Carlo and Barcelona, consider pitching a cruise that goes to Eastern Europe. Home-Based Travel Agent talked to Patrick Schneider, director of shore excursions, Azamara Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, for destination perspective that may help agents in selecting the right cruise for their clients.
St. Petersburg: Schneider says cruise lines serving North Americans are including one overnight stop in St. Petersburg because the city is so rich with things to see, historical sites and even day tours to Moscow. This year, the Port of St. Petersburg is also adding new cruise piers, so clients entering Russia for tours will handle border formalities in more comfortable terminal facilities rather than, as in the past, visiting a small customs hut next to the ship. "They won't be standing out in the rain and the process should go much smoother," Schneider says.
What should agents mention in trying to sell St. Petersburg? "Mention Russian history, that St. Petersburg is a unique city and the fact that clients will never run out of things to see and do, even if they've been there 15 times. And, of course, it's a different type of history than that of the Mediterranean."
Cruises that include St. Petersburg and the Baltic countries appeal to both first-timers and experienced cruisers, he says. "While the exposure to different cultures can be intensive, it isn't a bad starter cruise for a client, but it does tend to be longer."
The Baltic States: Founded in 1152, "Tallinn, Estonia, is always a crowd pleaser and guest favorite because it's so quaint," says Schneider. Cruisers stroll along cobblestoned streets, viewing magnificent turrets, walls and medieval buildings and become immersed in Estonian culture. "It's a city that often catches people by surprise," he says.
The ports of Klaipeda in Lithuania or Riga in Latvia are relatively new for many cruise lines. "These ports are quaint in a different way [from Tallinn]," Schneider says, "but the cities are clean and the people are friendly."
The Black Sea: "These are new [cruise] ports from the historical perspective, ports that you don't get a lot of exposure to in the history books," notes Schneider. "People can be a little uneducated [about the destinations when they arrive in the ports], but they come out fascinated.
"Black Sea [itineraries] might be for people a little more seasoned," he adds. "You really have to have a cultural appreciation." It's often best for first-timers to "collect" their big European experiences, such as seeing the Coliseum in Rome or the Grand Canal in Venice before opting for a cruise in this region.
For experienced cruisers, though, the Black Sea definitely wows those in search of fresh destinations that friends and family back home haven't toured. Schneider cites the appeal of the Roman Baths at Varna, Bulgaria. One of the largest such baths in the region, modern buildings and condos surround these ruins, delivering quite a contrast, says Schneider.
In addition, "Odessa, Ukraine, was the port that people came to before establishing themselves in other countries," he notes. Immigrants of Russian and Eastern Europe descent sailed to the New World from Odessa, which has great appeal to clients seeking their roots. A dramatic entrance to the city is the Potemkin Stairs, a giant stairway and city symbol.
As for Yalta and Sevastopol, Ukraine, these ports appeal strongly to those interested in Crimean War history. Americans also enjoy Yalta's history, thanks to a fascination with the Russian Romanovs and their summer palaces, as well as World War II history related to the Yalta Conference of Allied leaders.
Sevastopol, meaning "majestic city" in Greek, boasts impressive architecture, museums, gardens and squares. And Sochi in Russia offers Art Nouveau buildings, mineral springs and beaches.
Schneider believes agents will see the addition of even more new Black Sea cruise port calls in future years. "Because of the overflow of [cruise tourism] in the Mediterranean, there is a demand for guests looking for something different. For example, Sinop, a port for Azamara Cruises on the Black Sea in northern Turkey, is isolated," he says. "It's not on a ferry route. These destinations are raw and sensory. They don't get the normal tourists."