Europe by sea? More options on deck

June 15, 2008|By Spud Hilton | Spud Hilton,San Francisco Chronicle

If your plan is to bypass the mighty euro by cruising Europe on a North American ship next year (and paying in dollars), you better hurry before everyone else snaps up the 63,000 beds.

The six large cruise lines that sail predominantly in North America -- Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean -- plan to base 31 ships in Europe for part or all of 2009.

The armada, including several ships that aren't finished yet, will have the capacity to carry more than 63,000 passengers at any one time, depending on season. And that doesn't include European-based lines that market to North American passengers: MSC Cruises, Costa and, to a lesser extent, Cunard.

By comparison, in 2000, Royal Caribbean based just one ship in Europe with a capacity of 1,800 passengers. Next year, the company's eight ships in European waters will be able to carry 19,600 passengers at any one time.

For further comparison, the daily capacity for all six lines is about half of the 130,000-troop force that landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Some numbers are misleading: Carnival is sending only three ships. The three, however -- Carnival Freedom, Liberty and Splendor -- are among the company's newest and largest, each with a 3,000-passenger capacity.

What follows is a brief synopsis of European plans for 2009:

Carnival: Three ships; mostly 12-day voyages covering eastern and western Mediterranean, Greece and Northern Europe.

Celebrity: Five ships (Century, Constellation, Summit and yet-to-be launched Solstice and Equinox). Variety of trip lengths covering eastern and western Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Russia, Arctic Circle and North Cape and the "Ancient Empires" itinerary, with stops in Rome, Israel and Egypt; and ports throughout Greece, Turkey and Italy.

Holland America: Six ships (Maasdam, Noordam, Oosterdam, Prinsendam and Rotterdam and the not-yet-launched Eurodam); 10- to 50-day itineraries from the Arctic Circle to North Africa to the Black Sea.

Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Jade; nine-day trips to Canary Islands and Morocco, and 12-day Mediterranean voyages.

Princess: Six ships (Ruby Princess, Tahitian Princess, Emerald Princess, Crown Princess, Grand Princess and Royal Princess); 10- to 18-day itineraries covering the Holy Land, Greek Isles and Egypt, Iceland and Greenland, and Scandinavia and Russia.

Royal Caribbean: Eight ships (Independence, Navigator, Voyager, Brilliance, Jewel, Legend, Splendor and Vision of the Seas); four- to 14-night trips covering the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, Egypt, the Holy Land, Scandinavia and the Baltic, the British Isles and Norway's fjords.

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