Not since the summer of 1985 have there been so many cruise vessels scheduled in the Mediterranean. Almost three dozen ships will be sailing Homer's "wine-dark sea" this season, up 25% from last season.
This should be good news for inveterate cruisers, who would be loath to let another year go by without visiting this most culturally fascinating destination.
And North American travelers may find a fixed cruise price, quoted in U.S. currency, easier to handle on a European holiday than the fluctuating U.S. dollar, which this year looks puny against the franc, mark, peseta and even the lira.
Greek-flag cruise ships such as Royal Cruise Line's Royal Odyssey, which spent last summer in Northern Europe, and Sun Lines' Stella Solaris, which sailed in the Atlantic Ocean all last year, will be back in their home waters beginning in April.
Ocean Cruise Lines' 460-passenger Ocean Princess, which was in Canada and New England last summer, is scheduled to replace the Ocean Islander in Northern Europe while its smaller sister ship comes back to the Mediterranean in May.
New this season is Windstar Sail Cruises' Wind Spirit, making its inaugural sailing from Monte Carlo on April 9. Its computer-trimmed sails and launching platform for water sports give this luxurious 150-passenger ship a tremendous appeal.
Seven-day Mediterranean cruises are $2,495 or $2,895 per person double, depending on the season, through Sept. 11, when the Wind Spirit will offer a 10-day sailing between Monte Carlo and Las Palmas before repositioning in the Caribbean for the winter season.
The fledgling American Star Line and its Betsy Ross, a renovated version of Dolphin Hellas Shippings' Leda/Albatross, canceled its early spring Caribbean/South American sailings due to contract disputes in Athens, but has announced plans to offer three- and four-day Greek Island sailings from Piraeus March 25-Oct. 31.
The 700-passenger Azur, which used to belong to Paquet, is scheduled to sail out of Venice this summer under the Chandris banner, along with the Romanza, to Egypt, Turkey, the Greek Isles and Yugoslavia.
Prices and ambiance, geared to the footloose young and budgetminded, begin at $105 a day per person double on the Romanza and $128 on the Azur, for an inside double, plus air and port charges.
Princess Cruises' popular and polished Pacific Princess, one of the few North American-based ships that returned to the Mediterranean last year, is back with varied itineraries from Lisbon to Barcelona, Naples to Venice, the Holy Land, Egypt and the Greek Isles.
Average daily fare per person double is about $350, including air fare for the 12- to 14-night cruises.
The newly refurbished Royal Viking Sky is offering a 15-day air/sea package between Venice and Lisbon May 2 and again Sept. 8 and Oct. 4, calling in Yugoslavia, Italy, France and Spain, for $3,052 to $10,930 per person double.
Cunard's Vistafjord and two Sea Goddess ships will divide the summer between Northern and Southern European waters, while the regal QE2 will sandwich in some European cruises between transatlantic crossings.
Some sailings offer special free or low-cost British Airways Concorde flights. If you book a Vistafjord or QE2 European cruise, you can add a transatlantic QE2 crossing and a free economy seat on a British Airways flight for only 25% more.
The handsome mid-size Astor of Astor Cruises was launched last year but its sailings first marketed in the United States this year. It sails from the Caribbean in early April for a series of spring and fall cruises, about two weeks long, in the Aegean, the Black Sea, around Greece, to Yugoslavia and Italy, and to Egypt and the Suez through mid-December. Average per-diems are about $325 per person double, including air fare.
The Royal Odyssey, sailing for its last summer with Royal Cruise Line, will roam the Mediterranean, offering new seven-day cruises with various itineraries from Venice, Lisbon, Athens and Villefranche on the French Riviera in April, May, August, September and October.
Fares are from $1,698 to $3,438 per person double, plus air, with single supplements of $1,325 and additional people in a cabin with two full-fare passengers at $1,170 each. The ship will offer some longer Mediterranean cruises as well during the season.
Greek Island Cruises
All three Sun Line vessels, Stella Solaris, Stella Oceanis and Stella Maris, will sail between April and October in the Greek Islands, Turkey, Egypt and Israel, on itineraries from three to 21 days with per-diems from $150 to $365.
The 180-passenger Stella Maris will also make seven-day cruises around Italy in June, July and August.
The Ocean Islander will sail between Nice and Venice on seven-day itineraries to Yugoslavia, Italy and France. From $1,095 to $2,095 per person double, depending on accommodations and dates, plus air and port charges.