Luxury line Star Clippers recently announced that it will base all three of its ships in the Mediterranean in the summer of 2010, citing the current economic situation as a deciding factor. And given that it will take more than two months for Star Flyer to sail from its current home base in Papeete, Tahiti, to its future homeport in Monaco, it's not realistic for the ship to commute back and forth each year.
Jack Chatham, president of Star Clippers Americas, tells us that although 2008 (when Star Flyer was based in Tahiti year-round) was the best year Star Flyer ever had, 2009 will be more of a struggle, and the company wants to put the ship closer to its customers. Over half of Star Clippers' Mediterranean cruise passengers come from Europe; the rest are North Americans. "For Europeans, having a ship based in the Mediterranean is like having a ship based in Miami for Americans," says Chatham.
So what's wrong with Tahiti? French Polynesia is no doubt a beautiful cruise destination, but it's far from pretty much everywhere, hence expensive for travelers from every continent to get to. But Jonathan Reap, Director of Communications for Tahiti Tourism, says the distance isn't a problem for travelers who really want to go to Tahiti, and that cruise ships, when in the area, actually sail at very high capacity levels. He credits the recent departures of cruise ships to the lines' own itinerary needs and the current economic crisis, and says that the French Polynesian government is looking into incentives to lure cruise ships back to the South Pacific.
If you want to cruise Tahiti in 2010, look up Paul Gauguin Cruises. Its 330-passenger Paul Gauguin (currently operated by Regent Seven Seas through January 2010) is the only major cruise ship left sailing year-round from Papeete.
Meanwhile, in 2010 you'll find Star Flyer cruising the Mediterranean out of Monaco, as well as sailing Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey cruises from Greece. Star Clipper will continue its roundtrip Athens voyages and Royal Clipper will offer its usual roundtrip Rome and one-way Rome-Venice sailings. In the fall, Royal Clipper will return to Barbados for Caribbean cruises and Star Clipper will head back to Thailand for Asia cruises. While 2010 itineraries have not been finalized, Chatham tells us that Star Flyer will likely be heading to either the Caribbean or Costa Rica.
In other Star Clippers news, if you're eagerly awaiting the debut of its new, as-yet-unnamed ship, you'll have to wait a bit longer. Due to the same economic challenges, the company has delayed the arrival of the line's fourth ship. Although negotiations with the shipyard are still ongoing, the earliest the ship will launch is 2011.
Star Clippers' finalized 2010 schedule will be available within a few weeks, and by mid-April, bookings will open for the entire 2010 season. Star Clippers offers advance purchase discounts that are reduced as the ships fill up, so early birds get the best rates.
--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor