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9 of the best small ship cruises to the Black Sea

Cruise Advice
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One of the advantages of cruise travel is that, in the event of political turmoil or natural disaster, ships can be repositioned to ensure that nervous guests feel safe in the course of their travels.

Of course, during the Covid period, nothing has gone anywhere, which means that forward itinerary planning has undergone something of a reset; it is harder for cruise lines to use historic booking patterns to make a judgement on the future.

Itinerary planners are therefore working with a variety of suppositions as they look forward to 2022 and even 2023. The Mediterranean is of course strong, with easy access through excellent air gateways, and plenty of opportunity for flexibility. After a long period of caution relating to cruising in the Black Sea, we saw a tentative return planned for 2020. Just to remind you, the unrest in Ukraine began with a small revolution early in 2014, resulting in a political crisis after Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. The Crimea itself is still a no-go area, which means that two of the jewels of Black Sea cruise itineraries, Sevastopol and Yalta, can no longer be visited.

Black Sea coast, Turkey

We therefore see two key Black Sea options from the creative Itinerary planners. The first is a focus on the western region of the Black Sea, calling at such ports as Constanta, the gateway to Romania's capital, Bucharest; Bulgaria's UNESCO World Heritage Site at Nessebar; and, of course, elegant Odessa, with her broad boulevards and Parisian-style architecture. These western itineraries often combine with a more extended eastern Mediterranean programme to include Istanbul, the Dardanelles and northern Greece or the Turkish coast.

The second is a more comprehensive Black Sea exploration including lovely Sochi in Russia, with the backdrop of the Caucasus mountains, the rich cultural heritage of Batumi in Georgia, and a variety of intriguing calls along Turkey's northern coast, boasting national parks, archaeological sites and a fascinating history of Ottomans, Goths and Romans.

Some of our favourite small ship cruise lines are featuring Black Sea itineraries both this summer and in 2022 and 2023...

Odessa Opera House, Ukraine

1. Silversea

Whilst the single Black Sea option from Silversea this summer is waitlist only in September 2021, you have some excellent options in summer 2022 on the lovely Silver Spirit (608 guests) in May, July and September, all of them featuring an in-depth 15-day exploration out of Athens and all of them including an overnight stay in Istanbul.

Istanbul, Turkey

2. Saga Cruises

Saga's new boutique ship Spirit of Adventure (999 guests), purpose built for the UK market, sails on a long and intriguing 32-night journey from Southampton in May 2022, taking you all the way through the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and back. Highlights include calls in the Turkish ports of Trabzon, Sinop and Istanbul, the charming old town of Nessebar and the Georgian resort town of Batumi. You'll also visit some fascinating ports on your way to and from the Black Sea, including Tunis, Cagliari and Valletta.

Nessebar, Bulgaria

3. SeaDream Yacht Club

Exploring off the beaten track on a tiny ship is always exciting, and when combined with the laid-back luxury of a SeaDream yacht (112 guests) you have a winner. Their cruise in September 2021 is sold out, but take the opportunity to snap up 10- and 11-day cruises to the western Black Sea in June and August 2022. These itineraries take you from Athens up to Odessa then back down to Istanbul, and also include lovely Aegean islands such as Skyros and Bozcaada.

Skyros island, Greece

4. Ponant

Ponant's chic Explorer class yacht Le Bougainville (184 guests) features an appealing 10-night itinerary in July 2021, ending in magical Istanbul where an extended stay is recommended. Unusual ports of call include Bartin, the jumping off point for the UNESCO-listed Ottoman old town of Safranbolu.

Traditional Ottoman houses in Safranbolu, Turkey

5. Atlas Ocean Voyages

New entrant to the market Atlas Ocean Voyages will bring its newly built World Navigator (196 guests) to the Black Sea in July 2021. Long days and overnights in port, as well as extensive land programmes, are key features of an Atlas itinerary. This is a stand-out programme, with an exciting option to add on a trip to Cappadocia after the cruise.

Hot air balloons over Cappadocia, Turkey

6. Azamara

Trailblazer Azamara has committed to the Black Sea as a destination with an extensive programme of itineraries, and the option to do a full tour around the shores of the Black Sea on a longer itinerary, or simply to explore the western regions: choose from multiple departures in 2021 on Azamara Quest (710 guests) or in 2022 on Azamara Pursuit (684 guests).

Trojan horse in Cannakale, Turkey

7. Crystal Cruises

In August 2021, Crystal Symphony (848 guests) sets forth from Athens for her own Black Sea itinerary, currently sold out, with alternative options in 2022 and 2023. Crystal's itineraries include all the key Black Sea calls such as Odessa and Constanta, and some also visit the Russian ports of Sochi, host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and Novorossiysk, with its fascinating naval history.

Church in Novorossiysk, Russia

8. Regent Seven Seas Cruises

The all-inclusive Regent Seven Seas is particularly appealing when you are sailing to new and remote ports, where you are likely to take advantage of the intriguing range of included shore excursions to make your exploration even more exciting. Join Seven Seas Explorer (750 guests) and explore the western regions of the Black Sea in May 2022 on a varied itinerary that also includes the glamorous Greek isles of Santorini and Mykonos.

Sunset over Santorini, Greece

9. Scenic River Cruises

No Black Sea feature would be complete without a mention of river cruising. European river collectors will be more than familiar with the lower Danube itinerary, starting out from Budapest to explore as far as the Danube Delta on the shores of the Black Sea, with the opportunity to visit Romania's capital Bucharest. Take a look at Scenic's Black Sea Explorer options travelling all the way to Silistra.

Great white pelicans in the Danube Delta, Romania
Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina
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