The cruise map is ever expanding and 2017 will see new ports of call make their mark. We look at some of the most unusual and alluring of them.
Doha and the UAE
The Arabian Gulf cruising market is still relatively young compared to most established destinations such as the Caribbean and Mediterranean, but it’s quite clear that Qatar wants a piece of the action.
Doha has suddenly mushroomed as a destination, with a 1,000 per cent increase in visitors from the 2015/16 season to the 2016/17 season. This is largely due to the MSC Fantasia, the first of the mega-cruisers to pay Doha a visit, which will call by several times on its Gulf itineraries. There will be a cultural emphasis to the shore excursions, with passengers shuttled between the Museum of Islamic Art, the Msheireb Museums, the Katara cultural village and Souq Waqif www.msccruises.com
Sir Bani Yas Island
The MSC Fantasia will also be the first to make the new cruise beach on Sir Bani Yas Island a regular port of call. Here, a 1.3km sand-and-shell beach has been set aside for cruise ship passengers, 70,000 of whom are expected this season. The Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach officially opened in December, and is being developed as a beach stop for passengers on a Gulf-wide cruise.
Beach volleyball courts, freshwater showers, a children’s play area and an inflatable aqua park are available for those who just want fun in the sun, while excursion options include a safari through the island’s 4,100-hectare wildlife reserve.
Little Bay, Montserrat
Montserrat hasn’t been on the cruise calendar since the eruptions of the Soufrière Hills volcano in 1995. The capital, Plymouth, was buried under a cavalcade of ash, lava and mudflows, and about two-thirds of the small Caribbean island suffered the same fate.
Since the eruptions, efforts have been made to resettle the population on the remaining, hilly third of the island. And what has been abandoned acts as a chilling, and visually striking, modern Pompeii. Viewing the ash-filled valleys and spires peeking out of the aftermath is the unique selling point here for visitors.
Well, that and the very unflashy “real Caribbean” vibe. It’s not a place of luxury resorts and white sand beaches – and that’s what will make it such an intriguing break from the norm in Windstar’s San Juan & the Virgin Islands and Caribbean Hideaway itineraries. Both are on board the Star Legend www.windstarcruises.com.
Flores, the Azores
Some ships do stop by the Azores, usually on repositioning trips between Europe and North America. But almost all of these stop at Ponta Delgada.
Flores – the most western of the Azores – is a different beast altogether. On the American tectonic plate while its cousins to the east are on the European plate, Flores is a Unesco biosphere reserve. And while there are a couple of settlements, the majority of it is wild cliffs, lakes and photogenic peaks. The greenness, the nature and the waterfalls are what hold the appeal.
Fred Olsen is the bold cruise operator deciding to take a punt on Flores, which will be a port of call on June’s 2017 trip from Liverpool to Bermuda to see the 35th America’s Cup (www.fredolsencruises.com)
The Albanian coast has been bubbling under as Europe’s next big thing for a few years now, and MSC is the first major cruise company to take a chance on the port of Sarande. It’s being built into the itinerary for the MSC Poesia’s Adriatic cruises.
In the very south of the country, the beaches are the obvious attraction, but the World Heritage-listed Roman site of Butrint is close to hand. A recent sensitive restoration there has restored it to its former glory.
There’s also plenty of beautiful countryside, with the nearby Blue Eye karst spring being worth the detour (www.msccruises.com).