‘We need to combine the efforts of the mass media, port authorities and regional authorities to change the mentality of cruise lines and tell people that Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Turkey Black Sea ports are absolutely safe, and open,’ Pryadko told Seatrade Cruise. Together with TBS and Select Black Sea Tours, he has devised an itinerary specially for these exceptional items comprising Istanbul, Trabzon and Sinop in Turkey, Burgas and Varna in Bulgaria, ‘Constanța in Romania and Batumi in Georgia.
In summer 2024, Odessa is scheduled to receive Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas for an overnight call. ‘The Ukrainian government and Ukrainian regional tourism authorities will provide the maximum attention to groups, and especially to cruise ships,’ stated Pryadko, outlining the special treatment tourists can expect to receive. ‘Tourism authorities are on the line with Odessa Port authorities every week to see what can be done… But anyway, I think if we bring some expedition cruise lines to the Black Sea for Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Georgia they will be satisfied. And in several months, when we proceed towards a change for the better, it will be back to Odessa.’
While Odessa is currently off the map, the town of Kherson and almost the full territory of the Mykolaiv region neighbouring Odessa have been liberated by the Ukrainian army, moving the war zone away from the city at a distance of 200km and improving the security situation in the South West of Ukraine. ‘Odessa is the pearl of the Black Sea,’ added the director, ‘It is a multinational city that practically all nations can find historical links to: Germans, British and especially Greeks whose modern independence was born in Odessa. Every year, we would usually accept a lot of Greek groups to celebrate Greek Independence Day in March. Plus, Odessa is a centre for the Jewish faith. For every call by US cruise lines, we would provide 4-6 buses for a special interest Odessa Jewish heritage tour.’
Nights 1-3: Turkey and Bulgaria
Pryadko recommends a turnaround at Istanbul followed by a full-day in Burgas, which ‘has a modern cruise terminal and is a gateway to Bulgaria’s ancient city of Nessebar included on the UNESCO World Heritage list and ancient Sozopol.’ Nessebar is located within a 40-minute drive of Burgas port, which is already booked to accommodate Norwegian Jade in April and May next year.
Another full-day follows in Varna where the ancient Roman settlement of Odessus formerly stood in an area today well-known for its Greek, Roman and Ottoman antiquities. Located just 33 km away from the port is a new activity park offering reconstructions of historic sites with authentic reenactments, horseback riding, martial arts training and demonstrations and lectures on birds of prey.
According to Bulgaria’s Ministry of Tourism, the 2022 tourism season came in at approximately 80% of 2019. The top international markets were Romania (more than 260, 000), Poland (98, 000), Germany (70, 000), Czech Republic (56, 000), the United Kingdom (50, 000), Israel (more than 33,000) and Moldova (more than 29, 000.)
The distance between the two Bulgarian cities is 130km, with Varna conveniently located enroute to Constanța.
Night 4 - Romania
‘Constanța city centre has been completely renovated over the last seven years; Cazinoul (Constanta Casino), one of the symbols of the city, is being reconstructed and should be ready in summer 2023,’ continued Pryadko of Romania - his next recommended full-day destination.
‘For expedition and luxury ships, we suggest using Constanța port for two or three other destinations. [For example] The second biggest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon in the US is located in Bucharest, what we call the small Paris of Eastern Europe, and it has a lot of special interest sites that when you see them, is like you’ve made a discovery.
‘Overland from Constanța it’s further possible from Bucharest to visit Brașov, for Dracula’s Castle [Bran Castle in the Southern Carpathians]
‘Romania is for discovery tours, it’s not for the mass market,’ he said, highlighting that TBS is connected with several well-respected lecturers that it can recommend for cruise lines to bring the Black Sea region alive.
River cruise vessels docked frequently at Constanța over the summer, with Pryadko sharing that ‘a lot of premium, luxury level cruise ships visited with US, Canadian and Australian tourists as part of a Danube River cruise.
‘It’s absolutely a safe place and an interesting destination.’
Night 6-7: Georgia
After a full-day at sea, Pryadko recommends two days in ‘amazing’ Georgia from Batumi.‘‘Batumi can offer an amazing impression because it has a good combination of history, culture, gastronomy, Georgian dancing and Georgian winemaking,’ he stated.
In 2019, works to better preserve the 6th century ruins of Petra Fortress in western Georgia were carried out. Completed in 2021, it resides alongside a visitor centre, archaeological museum, film screening room, café and more, as part of a government-backed project. The inclusion of pedestrian paths, a glass handrail and an elevator adapted for disabled visitors were also part of the project.
‘Passengers should spend a minimum of one full day in Georgia. An overnight stay could involve a show with Georgian dancing or an overland trip to Azerbaijan - another country that is a gateway to the Caucuses,’ asserted Pryadko.
Batumi offers a great opportunity for overnight calls, Pryadko went on to explain, because the Old Town is within walking distance from the cruise pier, the tourism infrastructure has been extensively developed and the number of attractions allows for different tours over two days. And, he noted, the local highways infrastructure has been updated making it a comfortable and convenient drive from Batumi on to Kutaisi in West Georgia, home to monasteries, cathedrals, ceramics and textiles.
Nights 8-9: Turkey
Trabzon, a melting pot of religions, languages and culture for centuries, Sinop known for its Greek connections and wilderness, and Istanbul steeped in history and striking architecture round off the itinerary.
Concluded Pryadko, ‘Our region can offer four countries. We need to promote the culture and historical heritage of the Black Sea.’