Late-season tweaks to Middle East cruises

Combine ongoing unrest in the Middle East with widespread economic anxiety, and what do you get?

Combine ongoing unrest in the Middle East with widespread economic anxiety, and what do you get? For luxury lines Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas, it appears to mean highly unusual last-minute changes to autumn itineraries.

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It’s no secret to the industry that passengers are wary of ports caught up in the so-called “Arab Spring” revolts — which rocked Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain, among others — and ports where economically fueled protests (including the recent taxi strikes in Greece) have occurred. The turmoil has already led to months of itinerary changes, cancelled voyages and booking woes.

And now this: For October and November 2011 Mediterranean sailings, Crystal has decided to offer six- and seven-night truncated versions of its October and November Mediterranean sailings. The three cruises are a segment of 12-night voyages that haven’t sold out; a line spokeswoman said it made the move to accommodate busy professionals’ shorter vacation breaks and attention spans. These cruisers will visit four or five fewer ports than those booked for the entire voyage.

Regent Seven Seas has also sliced and diced existing Mediterranean and Africa fall voyages into segments. The reasoning? The line told us it wanted to offer a greater selection of shorter cruises while keeping existing itineraries. However, we notice that the eight-night Limassol-to-Barcelona segment visits only Europe ports, and an eight-night Barcelona-to-Ashdod segment visits only Europe and Israel ports. Neither segment enters the Suez Canal or Red Sea.

The Luxor-to-Limassol and the Ashdod-to-Dubai segments transit the Suez Canal, while the latter segment also cruises the Red Sea. The two segments visit multiple North Africa and Middle East ports.

Further out, Crystal has already dropped a 2012 holiday cruise that included Middle East ports; the Holiday in the Holy Land sailing in mid-December had included calls in Ashdod and Alexandria. Crystal said that interest in the Holy Land cruise was weak. Instead, Crystal has opted to offer a Caribbean cruise for the 2012 holiday season, sending Crystal Serenity to Miami earlier than planned. Those few who had already booked the original offering were given the choice of refunds or credit toward another cruise.

The U.K.’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office issued an update on July 27 stating that “there are no travel restrictions in place” for Egypt. Still, it warns that there remains a “high threat from terrorism throughout Egypt, including in Sinai.”

Similarly, the U. S. Department of State has updated a travel warning for U.S. citizens in northern Africa and the Middle East to be alert for the potential for violence. The department recommended “extreme caution” when traveling by sea near the Horn of Africa or in the southern Red Sea due to “a notable increase in armed attacks, robberies and kidnappings for ransom by pirates.”

Regent said that its Marine Operations department, security consultants and risk management staff are in constant contact with local and national authorities regarding the safety of passengers and crew.