There have never been as many cruise ships sailing in European waters as there are this summer. Royal Caribbean have a record 12 of their vessels on this side of the pond to compete with P&O‘s seven, and the fleets of Cunard, Fred. Olsen, and Thomson.
NCL’s giant Norwegian Epic is today calling at the Azores and arrives in Barcelona on Wednesday to begin a season of Mediterranean cruises. The expensively-refitted Grand Princess returns to Southampton next Saturday
Even the luxury vessels of Silversea, SeaDream and Seabourn are out in numbers, together with the boutique ships of Azamara and Oceania, and the more specialist companies such as Voyages to Antiquity and Saga.
There’s a ship for everyone – but are there simply too many this year?
There have been predictions of overcrowding at some of the major destinations – on some days 12,000 or more passengers will be clambering aboard their tour buses in Civitavecchia to hit the autostrada for a day in Rome, and almost as many could be strolling along Barcelona’s Las Ramblas.
But the number of ships available, and the reluctance of Americans to travel over here means there are some remarkable bargains to be had.
We can thank the high cost of Transatlantic air fares, and an illogical fear that unrest in north Africa and other Arab countries make it dangerous to visit anywhere in Europe. Whatever the reason, it’s a fact that cruise lines are dropping their fares to record low levels in order to fill the ships.
Sail from the UK for 14 nights on Azura, P&O’s newest mega-ship, for £799 (with children’s fares at £199). That’s less than £60 a head for two weeks cruising to Norway and Iceland in June. Or for £899, there’s a 12-night cruise to the Mediterranean in September on sister ship Ventura.
And a seven-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas from Palma to the French and Italian Rivieras, Rome and Sicily, is on offer from as little as £289 (flights extra).
The bargains are likely to continue into the winter and beyond, as ex-UK capacity is boosted by P&O and Fred. Olsen pulling ships out of the Caribbean and basing them in Southampton instead.
RCL are already advertising an 11-night cruise to the Canaries on board Independence of the Seas next February for £698 per person – £64 a night.
OK, there are extra costs involved to get the most out of all these cruises; drinks and excursions only come included with the fare on the most luxurious – and expensive – ships. But they do include all meals in the ships’ main restaurants, and some spectacular entertainment. Where else are you going to get a deal like that?