(7:45 a.m. EDT) -- Passengers taking seven-night Mediterranean cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line's 4,100-passenger, 155,873-ton Norwegian Epic next summer will for the first time be able to choose where they embark.
In a departure from the traditional model of everybody boarding and disembarking at the same port, Norwegian has followed the example of Italian lines MSC and Costa Cruises, and opted for multiple embarkation ports in 2012.
For example, a cruise leaving Barcelona, Epic's summer homeport, on July 1 will embark some passengers in Barcelona, some on July 4 in Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) and yet more in Marseille on July 7.
Everybody has to stay onboard for seven nights, so you can't get on in Barcelona and off in Marseille, but this new move does mean that passengers buying cruise-only can shop around for the best flight deals, and if they want to extend their stay, will not necessarily be restricted to Barcelona.
As an added bonus, British cruisers have the option of taking the high-speed Eurostar and TGV trains to Marseille, a journey of seven hours with one easy change at Lille, effectively turning a week on Epic into a no-fly cruise.
Multiple embarkation points in the Mediterranean is standard practice now for MSC Cruises, which also operates seven-night voyages out of Barcelona, boarding further passengers at ports including Genoa, Civitavecchia and even Messina in Sicily. Costa Cruises does the same.
With several ships carrying 3,000 or more passengers all departing Barcelona simultaneously on busy days in summer, spreading the load makes sense, as it takes pressure off flights. But it does bust the traditional rhythm of a seven-night cruise, as there's no longer a common "first night" or "last night," a concept more traditionally-minded cruisers may find unsettling.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor