Princess Cruises has just announced its biggest-ever programme in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe for 2011, hot on the heels of a revelation on the blog of Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean, that his company will be sending 10 of its 22 ships to Europe in 2011 -- almost half the fleet.
And other big lines are dedicating ships to the European market, too, including Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Lines, whose Norwegian Epic and Carnival Magic, respectively, will sail from Barcelona in 2011.
This is all great news for cruise fans as it means enormous choice (although more ships than ever will add up to crowds in popular ports in the peak months). And variety is certainly a feature of Princess Cruises' newly unveiled programme in particular. Itineraries include more overnights in popular ports like Istanbul and Venice, and cruises ranging from three to 36 days in length.
Interestingly, one-week holidays no longer appear to be the norm -- Princess in the U.K. now refers to these as "short breaks," which may not amuse American passengers who get far less vacation time, or annual leave, than Europeans (for Americans, seven-nighters are called "Interlude" voyages).
Either way, sailings short and long are being aimed at travelers on both sides of the pond. "We are seeing the demand from the U.K. and the U.S.," Pieter van der Schee, head of brand marketing for Princess Cruises in the U.K., tells us. "People are loving the cruise ports in the Mediterranean."
So what's on offer?
Two big Princess ships, the 109,000-ton, 2,600-passenger Grand Princess and the 113,000-ton, 3,100-passenger Crown Princess, will sail a season from Southampton -- just as they are in 2010 -- but with extra departures in 2011. Two longer, 17-night cruises have been added for Grand Princess to the Med, as well as an 11-night sailing to the Canaries and a 14-nighter to Norway. Crown Princess will operate two seven-nighters to the Norwegian fjords in addition to its usual 12-night Iceland and Norway voyages.
In the Mediterranean, fly-cruises get a boost with Star Princess joining Ruby Princess in offering 12-night itineraries out of Barcelona, Venice and Rome. There's also added capacity in the Baltic, with the 3,100-passenger Emerald Princess back in Europe, based in Copenhagen for the summer and including an overnight in St Petersburg in its cruises in the region.
Both Ocean Princess and Pacific Princess will return to Europe in 2011, with new departures including an 18-night cruise to Spitsbergen and onwards to Murmansk in Russia, as well as 12-night fly-cruises to the Holy Land and the Black Sea. These smaller ships will specialise in more intimate, off-the-beaten-track ports including Cephalonia in Greece and Koper, Slovenia.
Maiden calls for 2011 include Aahus in Denmark; Motril in Spain (for Grenada), Sete in France, Aghios Nikolaos in Crete and Antwerp in Belgium.
For Royal Caribbean's part, Goldstein's blog says further details on the line's Europe deployment will be available within the next 90 days. Stay tuned.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor with additional reporting by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor