Murmansk and Arkhangelsk will see fewer foreign cruise vessels this summer

Despite a new quay and a program to allow foreign cruise visitors 72-hour visa-free visits, the Russian ports won't see an uptick in ships visiting this summer.

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Cruise ship passengers at the Alosha statue in Murmansk. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Baerts Observer)

A 72-hours visa-free program and a new multi-million cruise port weren’t enough to attract more cruise ships to Murmansk. Compared with 2015,Russia’s largest Arctic city will see only half the number of port calls this season.

A new 206-meter long quay and newly renovated port facilities in Murmansk’s central harbor will be far from overcrowded this summer. Only six cruise ships will make port calls to what Russia brands as the “Gateway to the Arctic.”

Three years ago, foreign cruise vessels made 13 port calls to Murmansk, bringing more than 10,000 visitors. While the ships in 2015 had to dock at the remote and messy fishery port, today’s passengers can disembark in the central harbor next to the nuclear powered icebreaker Lenin which nowadays serves as a museum. Also — and maybe more important — cruise vessel passengers can visit Murmansk without a holding a Russian visa, as long as they do not overstay the 72-hours visa-freedom stipulated for Murmansk in a decree signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev 2016.

Regional authorities in Murmansk said in a statement at the time “the successful implementation of projects for passenger port infrastructure for the tourism market enables Murmansk to become one of the most unique cruise and ferry points.”

2018-season starts with Braemar on June 21. A week later, Pacific Princess arrives. The largest cruise vessel this summer is Pullmantur Zenith coming to Murmansk on July 11. The ship can take up to 1,789 people. The three other vessels are Oceania Nautica on July 8, Seven Seas Navigator on August 9 and Marco Polo on August 30. All vessels will just stay in port for half a day.

A cruise vessel at port in Arkhangelsk with immigration control. A program to allow 72-hour visa-free visits in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk hasn’t yet translated into more cruise ship visits. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Arkhangelsk was the second port in the Russian north that got 72-hours visa freedom for foreigners arriving on board cruise vessels or ferries. This season, however, the only three foreign passenger ships to visit Arkhangelsk are both staying in Russian waters for more than 72-hours, since their voyages includes Murmansk and Solovki in the White Sea.

Oceania Nautica will come to Solovki on July 10 and Arkhangelsk the day after. Marco Polo — a well known visitor to the White Sea region — arrives in Arkhangelsk on August 28. Seven Seas Navigator will sail the White Sea in mid-August and include port calls to both Solovki and Arkhangelsk.

Like in Murmansk, also Arkhangelsk regional authorities highlights tourism and visits by cruise vessels as a priority for economic development in the region.

All cruise ships sailing in to Russian waters in the north this summer are arriving from and departing to Northern Norway or Svalbard.

Northern Norway gets a boost with 20 percent more visitors in 2018 compared with last cruise season, Nord24 reports. In total, 480,000 passengers are on board the vessels making 456 port calls at different harbors in the north. Most popular are Lofoten, Tromsø, North Cape and Svalbard.

Hurtigruten, the largest cruise-liner in Norway, recently announced two voyages to Russia’s Franz Josef Land in 2019. En route from Tromsø, the vessel will make port call to Murmansk both ways.