Cruising the Med and Baltic Seas

From new luxury lines to innovative culinary programming and lengthier voyages, luxury cruise lines have much to draw cruise guests to the Baltic, Mediterranean and beyond for 2023-2025.

On the Horizon

The new Crystal—owned by the A&K Travel Group, which is led by Geoffrey Kent and Heritage’s Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio—is starting up service this year with both the 740-passenger Crystal Serenity and the 606-passenger Crystal Symphony. Crystal Serenity’s inaugural sailing will depart July 31, 2023, from Marseille for a Mediterranean cruise, and Crystal Symphony will depart on September 1, from Athens.

Good to know: Both ships are being newly refurbished prior to launch; plus, the guest counts are reduced from what the former Crystal Cruises had. That means a more pampering, guest-to-crew ratio—nearly one-to-one.

One newly announced perk on the dining side? When both ships set sail for their inaugural seasons this summer, guests will discover that the UMI UMA by Nobu Matsuhisa Restaurant and Sushi Bar is back. This specialty dining venue by Master Chef Nobuyuki (Nobu) Matsuhisa was a huge hit on the ships in the past. Menus will offer fusion cuisine, blending traditional Japanese dishes with Peruvian ingredients.

So, guests can order their favorite signature UMI UMA entrees, including Nobu-style black cod, grilled Chilean sea bass, Wagyu beef filet steak and sushi from the Sushi Bar. Reservations will be required for dining at this Crystal specialty restaurant. Guests will receive one complimentary reservation, per person, per cruise for sailings of up to 11 days, or two complimentary reservations for longer voyages. Additional reservations can be confirmed on board for a nominal charge, subject to availability. 

Umi Uma
UMI UMA by Nobu Matsuhisa Restaurant and Sushi Bar is back on Crystal Serenity. (Crystal Cruises)

The new line will offer a robust selection of seven- to 14-night voyages. Itineraries include travel through the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Canada and New England, Alaska, the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

As a new luxury line, Explora Journeys will debut this summer with Explora I. With 461 oceanfront suites, this intimate, luxurious vessel will sail a 15-night inaugural voyage on July 17, 2023, from Southampton, U.K. to Copenhagen, Denmark. Sister vessels will follow—Explora II in summer 2024, followed by Explora III in 2026, and Explora IV in 2027. Two additional vessels are also planned.

If sailing with Explora, we’d suggest spreading out in style within the 3,014-square-foot Owner’s Residence. That said, all accommodations are roomy, with at least 377 square feet of space. Last month, the line revealed design details for its Ocean Penthouses, which range from 463 to 732 square feet, and Ocean Residences ranging from 753 to 1,604 square feet, making them among the industry’s largest. The elegant Ocean Residences have separate living, dining and sleeping areas. Plus, a panoramic oceanfront terrace offers a private outdoor whirlpool, a dining table and sun loungers.

Explora will offer a wide range of dining options. We’re eager to taste the cuisine at the Med Yacht Club, offering the tastes and textures of Italy, Spain, Greece, France and North Africa. Look for sharing plates, plus many plant-based, vegetarian and wholesome ingredients, alongside wines hailing from the Mediterranean region. One signature dish planned for Med Yacht Club is grilled octopus with San Marzano tomato sauce, Taggiasca olives, green beans and parsley. Another is sweet caprese with cherry tomatoes, strawberries, burrata and pesto.

Stockholm will be a port of call on Seabourn Quest’s 79-day “Grand Mediterranean and Northern Europe” voyage. (Getty Images)

On the shore side, Explora has recently unveiled some of its northern Europe destination experiences. For example, in Denmark, guests can head out on a kayak tour of Copenhagen, visit the migrating dune in Grenen (from Skagen), and in the Faroe Islands, participate in open-air yoga sessions or hike to the floating lake in Leitisvatn.

Just launched as a new brand in fall 2022, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will debut its second new superyacht, Ilma, in September 2024. Accommodating up to 456 guests, it will sail a seven-night inaugural voyage from Athens, Greece to Haifa, Israel. With 228 airy, light-filled suites, the yacht has one of the highest space ratios at sea and a significant percentage of larger suites, with two new upper suite categories measuring more than 1,000 square feet.

Among the public space highlights are five restaurants, six bars, a wine vault and signature spaces found on sister Evrima, such as an expanded marina with a new mezzanine feature, a signature Ritz-Carlton Spa, and a space for Ritz Kids programming. Offering voyages of seven to 13 nights, Ilma will sail to the Greek Isles, along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the French Riviera and the Balearic Islands.

Foodie Delights

Speaking of cuisine, throughout the cruise industry, demand for “everything culinary” has soared. Ultra-luxury Regent Seven Seas Cruises just created “Epicurean Perfection,” a new, immersive culinary program and 11 new “Epicurean Spotlight Voyages” for 2023 to 2025, some in the Mediterranean. With the new programming, Regent Seven Seas’ guests will dine in up to five specialty restaurants, enjoy new shoreside excursions, sip and savor at private fine-wine-and-spirit-tasting sessions, enjoy hands-on cooking classes and much more.

As for the Spotlight Voyages, one savory Mediterranean option is the new “Epicurean Spotlight with Chef Fearing” voyage, departing roundtrip from Piraeus (Athens), Greece, on October 30, 2023. Guests will sail with Chef Dean Fearing, known as the “father of Southwestern cuisine.” He’s famed for his namesake restaurant within The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas; it’s rated by the Zagat Survey as “No. 1 in Hotel Dining” in the U.S. While cruising on the 746-passenger Seven Seas Splendor, Chef Fearing will host cooking lessons, offer culinary presentations, and escort some shoreside tours to uncover local flavors and traditions.

Some spotlighted voyages will include a wine focus. For instance, an “Epicurean Spotlight on Wine with Honig Wineries” is set for Seven Seas Splendor’s sailing from Piraeus (Athens) to Civitavecchia (Rome) on November 6, 2023. Guests will mix and mingle with wine makers Stephanie and Michael Honig of the family-owned Honig Vineyard, Rutherford, CA. The duo will share knowledge and insights about their winery and also host cocktail parties and wine tastings.

Pacific Rim
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is offering 11 new “Epicurean Spotlight Voyages” for 2023-2025. (Regent Seven Seas Cruises)

For those seeking a 2024 option, we’d suggest the “Epicurean Spotlight on Wine with Sbragia Family Vineyards” sailing on the 698-passenger Seven Seas Voyager, departing May 8, 2024. Sailing from Istanbul, Turkey, to Piraeus (Athens), Greece, guests will meet Ed and Adam Sbragia who will share their family secrets of making wine in Sonoma County, California using their family’s Old-World traditions from Tuscany.

Already a run-away hit with foodie guests and those seeking greater culinary immersion, ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises’ S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Tastes) program will extend to two more ships in the Silversea fleet in 2023 and 2024. When it debuts this summer in the Mediterranean, the new 728-passenger Silver Nova will offer the three popular S.A.L.T. venues already now on Silver Moon and Silver Dawn. In addition, when sister Nova-class vessel Silver Ray debuts in summer 2024, it, too, will offer the S.A.L.T. facilities and programming.

Both new ships are being designed with S.A.L.T. Kitchen (a spacious restaurant spotlighting local dishes that are authentically prepared), S.A.L.T. Bar (a hot gathering place to imbibe in regional cocktails and other local drinks) and S.A.L.T. Lab (for hands-on cooking classes where guests can learn to make local specialties).

What’s new? The S.A.L.T. Bar is being relocated to a premium position on Deck 10 on Silver Nova. Accommodating 42 guests, it will offer a larger bar area, incredible views through floor-to-ceiling windows and a new outdoor area. Also relocated to Deck 10 is the S.A.L.T. Lab, enlarged to 1,209 square feet. Guests can expect a fresh layout and new outdoor area. The lab will offer cooking stations and a larger, redesigned central workstation, at which participating guests will be able to sit to view demonstrations.

Silver Nova will also offer S.A.L.T. shore excursion options. For example, at Livorno (for Tuscany), Italy, guests can choose “S.A.L.T. Fire & Grapes: An Italian Barbecue Feast with Wines on the Tuscan Hills” itinerary. They’ll head out to Fattoria Sardi, a farmhouse and vineyards in the Lucca Hills. Forty-plus acres are cultivated with Sangiovese, Vermentino Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, all harvested by hand. Founded in the 18th century and restored in 2006, the farmhouse has guestrooms and offers cuisine by Chef Damiano Donati, who is renowned for his fire-cooking using the best local, seasonal ingredients.

Upon arrival at the farm, guests will learn about the farm’s “slow and sustainable” philosophy, take a guided tour of the vineyards and cellar, and then meet Chef Donati, who will cook for them. They’ll savor an authentic Italian feast with mixed antipasti (vegetables and legumes), pasta, fire-cooked meat and dessert, accompanied by a tasting of Fattoria Sardi’s wines.

Salt Kitchen
Silver Nova will offer the three popular S.A.L.T. venues. Shown here is the S.A.L.T. Kitchen on the ship. (Silversea Cruises)

In other culinary news, Atlas Ocean Voyages’ 198-passenger World Navigator and World Traveller, which operate Arctic and Antarctica voyages, will also offer new summer “Epicurean Expeditions” in the Mediterranean. What’s nifty? A “Gastronomic Guest”—perhaps a renowned chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant or a notable local culinary—will spotlight their dishes on shipboard menus, offer culinary demonstrations and participate in a Yachtsman Cook-Off.

Gastronomic Guests will also accompany guests on free, culinary-focused Cultural Immersion tours. That might entail a trip to a Corsica farmer’s market or an outing to sample tapas in Barcelona, Spain. Guests will arrive home with recipes from the Gastronomic Guest or other culinary experts. An added plus is that a Visiting Vintner will offer wine tastings on all Epicurean Expeditions.

Atlas also will debut a new, open-air dining concept—Alma Alfresco. As an ode to the line’s Portuguese heritage, it will serve authentic Portuguese cuisine. Look for such tasty dishes as Polvo à Lagareiro, comprising an oven-roasted octopus and potatoes in a bath of olive oil and roasted garlic, from Santa Luzia, or Alheira de Mirandela, traditional Portuguese sausage, sauteed radish greens and potatoes, from Mirandela.

Culinary-focused Oceania Cruises has named Italian American chef, author, restaurateur and Emmy Award-winning food personality Giada De Laurentiis as godmother of its new, 1,200-passenger Vista, the line’s first new ship in more than a decade. She’ll christen the ship on May 8 in Valletta, Malta. What’s nifty is that, as godmother, De Laurentiis will create two signature dishes to be served in Toscana, the new ship’s specialty Italian restaurant.

Vista’s inaugural season in the Mediterranean is already sold out. The ship will sail to Canada and New England before heading south for a series of winter itineraries exploring Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. But Vista will return to the Mediterranean in summer 2024. For example, the ship will sail a 12-day “Mediterranean Tapestry” voyage from Venice to Barcelona on June 29, 2024. Ports of call include: Korcula and Split, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Igoumenitsa and Katakolon, Greece: Taormina (Sicily), Amalfi / Positano and Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Ajaccio (Corsica) and Marseille, France.

One recently announced “Smithsonian Journeys” voyage—a partnership between Ponant and Smithsonian Expeditions—has a strong culinary flair. Departing September 8, 2024, the new “Ancient Wonders and Culinary Delights: Cruising Southern Italy and Sicily” voyage sails from Malta to Sicily and up the west coast of southern Italy to Livorno.

We particularly like the savory perks of this seven-night voyage on the 184-passenger Le Bougainville. Guests will learn about the Mediterranean diet while tasting fresh seafood, herbaceous olive oils and abundant wine. For example, guests will head out for wine tastings at Sicilian wineries, sample bergamot (Calabria’s typical citrus fruit) and sample street foods in Naples and Rome. History, too, is an element on this voyage as guests peruse ancient Roman and Greek monuments in Syracuse, Taormina, Paestum, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Rome.

Longer Voyages

Consumer demand is soaring for longer voyages, too, with World Cruises more popular than ever. Consumers desiring to mimic Phileas Fogg and travel around the globe—but in 180 days—can check out Viking’s new “2024 -2025 World Cruise Voyage 1.” Departing December 19, 2024, from Port Everglades (Greater Fort Lauderdale), FL, that epic voyage will fully circumvent the globe to visit 37 countries and 85 ports on five continents. Guests who love their time ashore will appreciate the 13 overnight stays.

On this extravaganza journey, the 930-passenger Viking Sky will visit Central America; transit the Panama Canal; journey up the West Coast of North America before crossing the Pacific Ocean; and calling upon the Hawaiian Islands and French Polynesia. Then the ship will travel to New Zealand, Australia, Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, before crossing the Atlantic on its final journey to New York. While some stateroom or suite categories were sold out at press time, others were still available.

In addition to those World Cruises, more luxury lines have introduced more immersive, longer, regional voyages. In Europe, for example, on April 26, 2024, ultra-luxury Seabourn’s 458-passenger Seabourn Quest will set sail on a 79-day “Grand Mediterranean and Northern Europe” voyage, departing Barcelona, Spain, and ending in Greenwich (London), U.K.

What’s neat is that this voyage, spanning both the Mediterranean and Baltic / northern Europe regions, will take guests to many “not as common” ports of call, yet the itinerary also has a good mix of marquee ports, such as Amsterdam, Venice, Greenwich (London), Stockholm and others.

Seabourn’s 458-passenger Seabourn Quest will embark on its grand voyage on April 26, 2024. (Seabourn Cruises)

Here’s a sampling of ports: La Goulette (Tunis) and Suisse, Tunisia; Ashdod (Jerusalem) and Haifa (Tel Aviv), Israel; Alexandria (Cairo), Egypt; Dikili (Pergamon), Turkey; Durres, Albania; Spetsai, Nisos Spetsai (Spetses), Greece; St. Tropez, France; Porto, Portugal; Mariehamn, Aland, Finland; Aalborg, Denmark; Newcastle Upon Tyne, U.K.; and many other destinations. In addition, cruisers who are heritage buffs and fans of ancient ruins, in particular, should love this Grand Voyage—providing options to explore everything from the Pyramids of Egypt to ancient Ephesus in Turkey.

We’d suggest heading on a Seabourn excursion to the ruins of Pergamon, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which cascade down a steep peak above the modern town of Bergama, Turkey. The magnificent site includes the acropolis with its Temple of Trajan and Temple of Athena; a dramatic, 10,000-seat Hellenistic amphitheater; and the Asklepieion healing center set at the mountain’s base.

During this 79-day voyage, guests can go ashore in several destinations for evening dining or entertainment as Seabourn Quest will call overnight at such spots as Alexandria, Egypt; Rouen (Paris), France; and Hamburg, Germany. An even longer, 103-day option, “Grand Europe, British Isles & Viking Passage” also departs on April 26, 2024, from Barcelona. That voyage continues on from Greenwich to New York.

Cruise lines are also mixing it up with journeys that combine sailings on multiple voyages. Cunard Line offers an eclectic journey with travel on all four of its “Queens,” with an extensive part of that journey in Europe. In June 2024, travelers will board the 2,061-passenger Queen Victoria and sail the Mediterranean to Croatia, Malta and Italy. Then, after a few days in Rome, they’ll embark the new 2,996-passenger Queen Anne, which will sail into Spanish ports and Sardinia, Italy, before traveling to Southampton, U.K.

Switching ships at Southampton, guests will board the line’s grand dame, the 2,691-passenger Queen Mary 2, for a westbound transatlantic crossing to New York. After air travel from New York to Vancouver, they’ll embark the 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth for the final leg of this journey, an Alaska cruise. Also, travelers can also book this “four Queens” experience in reverse in August 2024; that sails from Alaska to New York, London, the Norwegian Fjords and the Mediterranean.

Pergamon, Turkey
Seabourn guests can head on an excursion to the ruins of Pergamon, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which cascade down a steep peak above the modern town of Bergama, Turkey. (Getty Images)

New Itineraries

As part of Azamara Journey’s 12-night “The Best of the Med” voyage, Azamara returns to Venice, Italy starting this month. Azamara’s four-ship fleet will access the Venetian Lagoon ports of Chioggia and Fusina, allowing guests a more seamless opportunity to explore the city. Chioggia has recently experienced a rise in tourism thanks to the flourishing of bacari—bars serving wine and finger food along the central canal, Riva Vena.

Sailing from Barcelona to Rome, Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream will set sail on its first-ever summer European season with four- to 11-night cruises. One highlight is a seven-night sailing to the Greek Isles with stops in Santorini and Mykonos. In late summer and fall, Disney Dream will then reposition and sail from Southampton, U.K., to destinations in Spain, France, the British Isles, Norway and Iceland. New ports of call will include La Rochelle, France, and two new Norwegian ports—Skjolden, home to a wealth of natural attractions, and Sandnes, a small city just outside Stavanger that’s known for its outdoor activities.

In northern Europe, Holland America Line’s Rotterdam will return to its namesake city, Rotterdam, Netherlands, with several new Baltic / Northern Europe itineraries. The ship will sail roundtrip from that city on new, seven-day cruises to Norway, Sweden and Denmark; new seven- or 14-day itineraries to Norway and Scotland; new 14-day cruises to England, Scotland, Ireland and Belgium; a new 14-day itinerary to Norway, Scotland and Iceland; and more.

Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Holland America Line’s Rotterdam will return to its namesake city, Rotterdam,  The Netherlands (shown here), with several new Baltic / Northern Europe itineraries. (Getty Images)

More Cruise Tidbits

Windstar Cruises is launching the high-speed, advanced broadband satellite Internet of Starlink Maritime. Star Pride, now sailing in the Mediterranean, has received this new Wi-Fi technology; Star Legend is next and other ships (except perhaps Wind Spirit in French Polynesia, where the system isn’t yet available) will follow by mid-2023. In May 2023, Virgin Voyages will launch the new Resilient Lady on an inaugural cruise in Greece, and it’s also unveiled new razzle-dazzle entertainment fleetwide.

The world’s fastest growing sport, Pickleball, has arrived on nine ships of Celebrity Cruises. Princess Cruises has floated out its next generation ship, Sun Princess. Lindblad-National Geographic has expanded its expedition cruise portfolio by adding chartered voyages on the 88-passenger Sea Cloud II. Swan Hellenic and SETI Institute have partnered to provide enrichment lecturers for the line’s “Explore Space at Sea Series.” And other upscale lines, too, have new ships, itineraries or European options to entice cruise guests.

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