Crystal is not the first major cruise line to call in Iran. Silversea has called in Bandar Abbas, and its Silver Whisper is scheduled to visit yet again on October 21. German line Hapag Lloyd's Bremen visited Iran this past April, and U.K. line Fred. Olsen's Balmoral will also include the port on its 2010 world cruise.
Iran is certainly not the first controversial cruise destination. Cruise ships have visited Yemen and Libya, and many visit China and Russia -- countries that some U.S. and U.K. citizens don't care to support and that don't always agree with our governments' decisions (and vice versa). Remember, too, that cruise lines are often owned by international or foreign companies -- Crystal, for example, is actually owned by Japanese Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) -- and those ships carry passengers from destinations around the world, whose countries have different relationships with these nations than our own.
Still, some Cruise Critic members are concerned about visiting Iran, when that visit may bring financial support to a hostile regime, as well as perceived support of the government. Says member kitty9, "I have a real problem with cruise lines visiting ports such as Myanmar and Iran where visiting such places gives the appearance of tacit approval of the goings on of those governments. And seeing how great a foe the Iranian government is to the U.S. and other Western nations, I have a real philosophical problem with Crystal, or any other cruise line, going there."
Interestingly, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning for Iran, but does not prevent its citizens from traveling there. According to the warning, "Some elements of the Iranian regime and the population remain hostile to the United States. As a result, American citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling or residing in Iran." Most of the warning is directed at Iranian-Americans with dual citizenship, as Iran won't recognize their U.S. citizenship. In addition, the U.S. does not have a consulate in Iran and cannot offer protection to travelers who need new passports or visas or are otherwise in trouble.
U.K. travelers who are heading to Iran also should take heed. The U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against travel to certain parts of Iran -- mostly along the Iran/Afghanistan and Iran/Iraq borders -- but not the entire country. Its travel summary does "advise against any travel east of the line running from Kerman to Bandar Abbas, this includes all travel to Bam." Like U.S. warning, the FCO mentions the possibility of terrorism, arbitrary arrest and detention, and difficulties for dual citizens. However, there is a British embassy in Tehran.
So should you book that cruise and venture into Iran? Is it safe?
Crystal spokeswoman Mimi Weisband told us that the line's number one concern with a new port is passenger safety. According to Crystal's official statement, "Before adding Iran and other destinations on our 2010 World Cruise, we did extensive research, personal site inspections and had discussions with contemporary world affairs experts. According to our extensive vetting and on-site validation, Iran is one of the most welcoming countries Westerners will ever visit…. Iranians make a clear distinction between politics and the individuals who visit their country." And while the line doesn't always agree with the governments of the places its ships visit, it stays out of politics, aiming instead to offer its passengers fantastic, new destinations to visit.
The port of Bandar Abbas is already set up to accept Western visitors and provide them with a satisfying day ashore. Shore excursions will include visits to the Persian Empire's Persepolis, where today's visitors can see the ruins of Darius the Great's citadel. Weisband told us that Crystal's own Director of Land Programs, veteran world cruisers and travel agents alike are all excited about the inclusion of Iran on Crystal's world cruise.
Some Cruise Critic members agree that people should be given the option to explore new parts of the world. Says Keith1010, "In terms of the countries on the itinerary, in the end each person has to decide what is best for them based on various factors including their views of the country. During our travels we have known passengers who would not get off the ship in certain countries due to issues ranging from their views of the current government situation, to views related to the majority religion of a particular country, to even past relationships with that country. Others will separate views of government from views of people and also others want to have the opportunity to see things themselves first hand….It's a very personal decision, with no right or wrong answer."
What do you think about Crystal including Iran on its 2010 world cruise itinerary? Vote in our poll.
-- by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor