As opposition to cruise ships refuses to subside in some of Europe’s most popular ports, the region’s cruise map is being subtly redrawn as companies look for alternative stops.
Norwegian Cruise Line announced this week that it would stop visiting Venice due to the requirement to receive guests from outside the lagoon, introduced in 2021. “Large cruise ships must anchor outside and use tender boats,” the line said. “While we have made every effort to maintain these calls, the tender and overall experience falls short of the standard we aim to deliver.”
And in October last year, Barcelona took action to stop cruise ships and ferries from visiting due to concerns about overtourism. The proximity of the now closed cruise terminal to the city center was such that passengers could walk to the popular shopping street Las Ramblas in just a few minutes. Now they face a shuttle bus journey from the more distant Adossat wharf, where ships must dock.
These developments illustrate the increasing pressure on cruise ships from a number of destinations, prompting cruise lines to substitute other ports where possible. Instead of Venice, for example, lines with larger ships have been forced to find alternative cities along Italy’s Adriatic coast, such as Ravenna.
Not only do new destinations spice up itineraries as new sights, but they also promise a better overall experience for cruise guests, away from the general crowds that flock to Europe’s tourist hotspots, and especially the Mediterranean.
Here’s a taste of how some of them are being replaced or supplemented by alternative ports.
Instead of Venice there is Ravenna
The protests of Venetians under the No Grandi Navi (no big ships) campaign were well documented and after years of arguing, the ban on big ships has led to many shipping companies, including Norwegian Cruise Line, using Ravenna instead.
This ancient city is located more than 200 kilometers south of Venice and has a rich history with Roman roots and medieval churches full of beautiful mosaics. In addition to Ravenna, some lines use Trieste on the border of Italy and Slovenia or Fusina, a small town just 12 miles from Venice that attracts the smaller ships of boutique lines including Seabourn, from where passengers can hop on the ferry to Venice.
Instead of Dubrovnik there is Split
The city’s mayor introduced a cap on cruise ship visits in 2018, limiting the number of arriving ships to two per day and carrying no more than 8,000 passengers between them. Many lines, such as P&O Cruises, have sought to replace or supplement visits with visits to Split, Croatia’s second city dominated by remains of Diocletian’s Roman Palace, whose extensive stone colonnades house an extraordinary collection of restaurants and shops .
Another alternative is Sibenik, a lesser-known but charming town north of Split, which is a gateway to the Kornati Islands and the Kornati National Park. Game of Thrones fans who are naturally drawn to Dubrovnik can also indulge themselves here, as scenes from the cult series were also filmed in Sibenik.
Instead of Santorini there is Naxos
Such is the appeal of Santorini and its ability to accommodate larger ships anchored in its vast caldera that the Greek island remains a fixture on many cruise itineraries. Cruise ship arrivals are already limited to 8,000 per day, but the overall visitor load makes the high summer season unbearable, as the small stone streets in the capital Fira and the beautiful whitewashed town of Oia are packed to bursting.
It’s easier for small and medium-sized ships to find alternative islands and nearby Naxos, as the largest and most fertile of the Cyclades has Venetian history in abundance, while the capital Hora boasts Venetian mansions, winding alleys and small streets full of bars . and restaurants, with lines such as Explora Journeys, Silversea and Seabourn.
Instead of Barcelona there is Tarragona
In addition to closing the north terminal at the World Trade Center, Barcelona is also limiting the number of cruise ships to seven at a time. Because it is a major port where many cruises start and end, substituting another port is more problematic.
However, on sailings where the Catalan city is just a day stop, Tarragona, further west, is attracting attention as an alternative, as lines such as MSC Cruises already call there. This port city exudes ancient flavors and is one of Spain’s most important Roman sites, with a seaside amphitheater and a characteristic medieval centre. Further west is Spain’s third largest city, Valencia, which already boasts several lines, including Cunard, and is bursting with the culture that underpins its atmospheric old quarter and striking collection of modernist buildings.
Instead of Amsterdam there is Rotterdam
When the so-called Venice of the North suddenly increased taxes on cruise passengers in 2019, a number of cruise lines skipped the city and called at Rotterdam instead. Now Amsterdam’s politicians have the cruise industry back in their sights, after voting last July to ban seagoing vessels from docking in the city center’s port.
However, this is unlikely to happen in the near future as port visits are planned until 2026, although there are ongoing discussions about moving the port away from its current location close to the main station.
Some lines, such as Viking Cruises, already call at the somewhat industrial port city of IJmuiden on the Dutch coast, about 20 miles from Amsterdam and considered the port city with ocean views. However, Rotterdam, with its dynamic atmosphere and varied architecture, offers a contrasting flavor with, for example, Princess Cruises that visit there.