What's particularly interesting about Royal Caribbean's announcement today -- it'll be placing eight ships in Europe in 2009 (as opposed to seven this year) -- isn't just the quantity of options it will now offer. Sure, it will rival intra-Europe cruise lines like MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises for sheer volume. But more intriguingly: The plans call for creating a far more diverse series of homeports, European style, than ever before.
Think Barcelona's getting too crowded? How's Malaga suit for a substitute port of embarkation? Navigator of the Seas will be based there for at least part of the year. Malaga, which lies on Spain's Costa del Sol and is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, is a charming city (and is also within day-tripping distance of Granada's Alhambra, a Moorish palace dating back to the 16th century, and one of Europe's must-visit places). And if Malaga is better known to Europeans (for whom a plethora of cheap flights exist), North Americans can, at least for now, find a few nonstops (Delta, Air France) to/from the Continent; the city is also serviced by all the major European carriers.
Vision of the Seas is offering pathfinding itineraries for the line by basing itself in Copenhagen -- a first time homeport for Royal Caribbean -- and it will specialize in short cruise Baltic trips. As well, Vision of the Seas will offer some Holy Land cruises in shoulder seasons. Royal Caribbean hasn't called on ports in that region for nearly a decade.
Already announced is the news that Brilliance of the Seas will stay in Europe on a year-round basis this year -- and it'll be sticking around for 2009, as well. New on Brilliance's docket is a series of Egyptian and Eastern Mediterranean trips during the winter months.
For U.K.-based travelers, Independence of the Seas, which launches next month, will return for another summer at its Southampton homeport. It will offer a variety of itinerary options, including the Western Mediterranean, Western Europe and the Canary Islands. Independence of the Seas will also be offering short British Isles cruises. And Jewel of the Seas will continue to offer voyages to Northern Europe out of Harwich.
All told there will be 12 different homeports through Europe; others include more usual suspects such as Barcelona, Rome and Venice.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
Royal Caribbean Cements Europe Base in '09
March 19, 2008