Whether your thing is soaking up the local scene or getting a culture fix, there are destinations around the Med to suit every cruise fan. BY GILLY PICKUP

In cruise-speak, the Mediterranean stretches from the Iberian peninsula to Turkey, then south to North Africa and is Cinque Terresstill the most popular region for British cruise passengers. Andy Harmer, VP Operations CLIA Europe said, “Latest figures show more than 670,000 guests cruised the region in 2015. It’s the perfect choice for agents looking to introduce cruise to those who have yet to enjoy this type of holiday.”

Fans of Spain, France, Italy and her islands generally opt for the Western Med, while the Eastern side, where sailings typically visit the Greek Isles but also include ports in Turkey and Croatia, is tailor-made for cultural cruises. In 2016 Mediterranean flycruise passengers went up 9% to a peak of 482,000, well ahead of Caribbean fly-cruises, though perhaps that’s not surprising given the huge choice of ships and itineraries. What’s more, options are always increasing. More new ships on the scene this year include Royal Caribbean’s mega-ship Harmony of the Seas, Koningsdam, which sardiniaintroduces Holland America’s new Pinnacle Class, Thomson Discovery, specialising in Med cruises with a Spanish focus, and Carnival Cruise Lines, returning to the Med after a break of three years with new ship, Carnival Vista.

Flights from the UK to departure ports are generally not too traumatic – most are between two and four hours and there is always the ex-UK cruise option for people who prefer not to fly. In fact, the number of holidaymakers cruising from a UK port increased sharply in 2015.

For those in this bracket, Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas, replacing Anthem of the Seas, sails from Southampton with 15 European itineraries throughout the year. Ben Bouldin, director of sales UK and Ireland, said that a two week Med cruise is Kotorcurrently the company’s most popular offering.  “This summer, with both Independence of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas returning to the UK, we have a real opportunity to provide British holidaymakers with a range of holidays to the Mediterranean at a time when visiting the region has never been more popular.”

Cunard’s Queen Victoria, Medbased this summer, has a 14-night round trip from Southampton departing in October calling at Cadiz, Villefranche on the French Riviera, Sardinia and Gibraltar. Another no-fly option is with P&O Cruises adults-only vessel Oriana, with a 19-night round trip from Southampton to the eastern Med on October 3. That’s long enough to really get your teeth into the region and also provides the chance to visit some more out-of-the-ordinary Zadarports such as Catania in Sicily, Zadar in Croatia and Kotor in Montenegro.  Oriana’s maiden calls include Italian ports Corigliano Calabro and the lesser known Crotone, a city steeped in history.  The ship visits the ancient Catalonian city of Tarragon too, where attractions include UNESCO-listed Roman ruins as well as sandy

beaches. P&O’s Arcadia’s new itinerary on her 17-night Western Mediterranean cruise departing October 5 visits the less frequented ports of Toulon, Elba, Cagliari in Sardinia and Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa.

Rachel Poultney, head of sales, Princess UK, said: “This summer Princess has two ships cruising the Med. Emerald bonifacioPrincess will be sailing roundtrip from Southampton while Royal Princess sails from Barcelona, Athens and Rome. This allows guests the chance to discover some destinations that are well known and others which are more under the radar.”  Norwegian Cruise Line is also offering new ports of call. These include Piran in Slovenia and Imerovigli (Santorini), famed for its glorious sunsets. Christian Boell, managing director EMEA, points out: “There are so many hidden gems within Europe that even holidaymakers who have cruised there before can continue to explore and experience something new.” Meanwhile, some lines are taking a fresh look at on board activities and themed cruises to tempt clients. Kyriakos Anastassiadis, CEO of Celestyal Cruises, said:  “Celestyal now goes deeper into the authentic Greek experience with thematic cruises. We believe these contribute to the global promotion of Hellenism and Greek tourism.”  Hence Celestyal’s offerings, which include theatrical performances, concerts and cookery lessons.

Talking of cooking, Celebrity Cruises offers foodie excursions hosted by a ship’s chef. Guests meet food producers and tour markets before enjoying the fruits of their labours with an on board dinner using ingredients from the day’sSantorini market haul.  Jo Rzymowska, managing director UK and Ireland, said, “One of the best experiences of a holiday is enjoying fresh local produce unique to that destination. Celebrity Cruises’ Chef’s Market Discoveries delivers our guests the culture and flavours of a destination through an authentic gourmet experience.”  Also bringing a taste of la dolce vita to passengers is Saga Pearl’s 18-night ‘Flavours of the Mediterranean’ cruise.  Departing in July, it showcases culinary demonstrations from Michelinstarred chef Theo Randall.

Prefer culture to cooking? Voyages to Antiquity fits the bill and, with four new itineraries this year, gives guests the chance to get under the skin of ancient civilisations. Premium class ship Aegean Odyssey explores areas bigger ships are unable to access with seventeen different shore excursions included in the fare. Seabourn’s three ships are also able to reach places that others can’t. Its 17-night September cruise takes in Amalfi, Antibes and the Corsican port of Bonifacio.

SALES TIPS

1  Suggest Mediterranean cruises as an ideal choice for those who prefer not to spend too many days at sea.
2  Key embarkation ports in the Med are within a comfortable flying distance from British airports, while non-flyers can choose a round-trip cruise from the UK.
3 One-week cruises tend to be destination heavy.  For customers who prefer to have more relaxation time, suggest two week itineraries.
4 Tempt those who don’t like crowds and hot weather with off-season cruises. May, September and October are pleasant months to visit the Med.
5 On shorter cruises, clients who intend to spend most days sightseeing may be happy to book a cheaper cabin rather than splash their cash on a balcony.

SELL IT

ROYAL CARIBBEAN offers a sevennight Western Mediterranean cruise on Harmony of the Seas departing September 11 2016 on a round trip from Barcelona. Prices from £1119 pp (based on two people sharing an interior stateroom) including return flights from London Gatwick. royalcaribbean.co.uk
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE offers a seven-night Adriatic and Greece fly- cruise on Norwegian Jade departing Venice on various dates up to September 24 2016 with stops including Corfu, Santorini and Split. Prices from £972 pp for an inside cabin. ncl.co.uk
P&O CRUISES offers a fourteennight ex-UK round trip Mediterranean cruise on Britannia. Prices from £1,369 pp for an inside cabin. Departing September 3 2016, price includes full-board meals and afternoon tea, round the clock kids’ clubs and entertainment on board. Ports of call are Cadiz, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome, Naples, Cartagena and Gibraltar. This is a Food Heroes cruise with chef James Martin on board. pocruises.com