What's really significant about this particular announcement is the fact that Azamara's smaller vessels can get into the nooks where the big ships just cannot. The 694-passenger ships have the ability to transit up the River Thames and dock alongside the Tower of London, which makes a pretty spectacular view from your cabin.
Other unique ports to look for include:
Croatia's historic port of Zadar
Rouen, France -- which is just an hour from Paris (as opposed to Le Havre, where larger ships dock, which is two and a half hours from the city)
Italian hideaways including Amalfi, near Sorrento; Positano; and the Isle of Capri
Azamara will feature a series of 7- to 15-night Europe itineraries in 2009, which will depart from five different homeports: Athens, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Rome and Venice. Overnight stays will be featured in Barcelona, Edinburgh, Florence, Istanbul, Ravenna, St. Petersburg, and Stockholm. There are also a number of late-night departures (10 p.m. or after) for those wanting to experience the local nightlife.
There is also a new "Iceland and Norwegian Fjords" journey roundtrip from Copenhagen, Denmark, featuring three Icelandic ports. The sailing includes calls in Scotland's Shetland Islands and Denmark's Faroe Islands.
So who else has set their sight on Europe in 2009? Azamara's sister line Celebrity Cruises recently announced that its second Solstice-class ship, Celebrity Equinox, will debut in Southampton. Princess Cruises has made plans to replace its 2,000-passenger Sea Princess with its 2,600-passenger Grand Princess on summer departures in the Mediterranean; Independence of the Seas, which will sail its maiden season from Southampton later this year, will return to Southampton in 2009 as well; and Norwegian Cruise Line will place a ship (Norwegian Jade) in Europe year round for the first time in the company's 41-year history.
And apparently sales are soaring -- Oceania Cruises saw record demand (more than 20 percent higher than previous record) when it launched its 2009 European collection this week, according to an official statement.
Phew! Does anyone think Europe is going to be a busy place next year?
--by Kelly Ranson, Associate Editor