Update: Will Conflict Impact Black Sea Cruises?

August 12, 2008

The tragic events unfolding in Georgia due to Russia's invasion over the weekend could impact cruise travelers headed out on Black Sea itineraries this fall. Cruises to the Black Sea region -- which often feature calls at ports such as the Ukraine's Odessa, Sevastopol, and Yalta; Turkey's Sinop and Istanbul; Bulgaria's Nesebur; Russia's Sochi; and Georgia's Butumi -- are primarily offered during spring and late summer/early fall.

Butumi, located in the southwest corner of Georgia, is at this point far from hotspots such as Tbilisi, the democratic country's capital, and Gori, in the central region. Still, Great Britain's Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the U.S. Department of State have both issued warnings to avoid non-essential travel to Georgia, so tourism is coming to a halt at this point.

Butumi, which is the gateway to Adjara, is a rather exotic call for cruise lines and only crops up on a few itineraries such as a pair of voyages offered by Fred. Olsen. Adjara is known for its ancient historic monuments, ranging from fortresses to arched bridges, its gorgeous sub-tropical climate (replete with palm trees and orange groves), lovely beaches and a well-known botanical garden.

A Fred. Olsen spokesperson told us "at present the itinerary stands but [we] are in close contact with the port agent there and taking his advice, so I will let you know if there is any change to this itinerary."

Voyages of Discovery is another line that had planned to make several visits to Butumi in 2008 but the company actually canceled calls well in advance of this week's conflict. "We decided in March to cancel the Batumi calls," said Mark Flager, vice President, sales, marketing and passenger services. "Our experience in the fall of 2007 was that [Butumi] did not score very high with passengers, who also overwhelmingly favored more time in Sochi. So we amended our two Black Sea itineraries, removing Batumi and adding an overnight to the Sochi call."
Sochi, which lies close to the Russian/Georgian border, is another port that cruise lines are watching. Regent Seven Seas Navigator, which departs on a Black Sea voyage on August 30, has a planned visit to Sochi. "We are obviously monitoring the situation closely," spokesman Andrew Poulton told us, "and will avoid that part of the Black Sea if we feel we need to."

With the exception of Sochi and Butumi (not to mention Sinop, which lies far to the south), other key Black Sea cruise ports are located along the western edges of the waterway in September and October -- so it's probable that upcoming Black Sea cruises, calling in the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Turkey, will be unaffected. Even so, spokespersons for cruise lines such as Princess and Silversea tell us that they'll continue to monitor the situation in the region.

We'll keep you posted.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief