Back to Black: 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.

In the event of a natural disaster, the aim is to resume normal operations at the earliest opportunity in order to support the local economy - the Caribbean hurricanes of 2017 are a prime example. In the case of political unrest, it is intriguing to watch how cruise line itinerary planners gauge resumed demand, tentatively putting their toe back in the water and assessing sales.

This is exactly what is now happening in the Black Sea. 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. Whilst the Crimea itself is still a no-go area, we are seeing a tentative return to the Black Sea with a highly popular Azamara cruise in 2020, and other cruise lines following suit in 2021.

Black Sea coast, Turkey

Itinerary planners have been extremely creative, including unusual and interesting ports of call which will appeal to those who prefer to travel close to home, and are looking for new travel options.

Trailblazer Azamara has paved the way with a 14-night itinerary from Athens on board Azamara Journey in July 2020. Highlights of this appealing itinerary include Kusadasi, for a visit to the amazing site of Ephesus; the magnificent crossroads which is Istanbul, with its extraordinary mix of influences and fascinating history; Constanta, the gateway to Romania's capital Bucharest; elegant Odessa with her broad boulevards and Parisian-style architecture; an exciting introduction to Russia in Sochi, and to Georgia in Batumi; and, for history lovers, an afternoon cruise through the Dardanelles. In 2021, Azamara Pursuit takes up the baton, with a slightly amended itinerary which will appeal to port collectors and lovers of the ancient world alike.

Istanbul, Turkey

In August 2021, Crystal Symphony sets forth from Athens for her own Black Sea itinerary, with highlights to include a late night in Odessa, allowing guests to enjoy an opera performance in the magnificent National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, plus an introduction to amazing Georgian wines in Batumi and two full days in Istanbul to explore the only city in the world that spans two continents.

Odessa Opera House, Ukraine

The newly released 2021 programme from Regent Seven Seas shows that Mariner, too, will venture into the Black Sea, sticking to the western region with calls at Nessebar, Constanta and Odessa.

Meanwhile SeaDream plans to visit three amazing ports: Odessa, the 'pearl of the Black Sea'; Varna in Bulgaria, with its beaches and thermal springs; and Burgas, also in Bulgaria, a dynamic city with great museums and restaurants.

Nessebar, Bulgaria

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 Black Sea delta, 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.

Andrew's Church in Kiev, Ukraine

More unusually, don't forget Viking's Dnieper itinerary from the Ukrainian capital Kiev, joining the Black Sea at Kherson and following an ancient trade route to Odessa and Tulcea.

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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