EuroCruises Charters Ship for Sailings on Russia's White Sea

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NEW YORK -- EuroCruises said it will charter the Kristina Regina for cruises next summer on Russia's White Sea -- an area that has been closed to non-Russian vessels for the past 70 years.

The 200-passenger, Finnish-flagged Kristina Regina will call on White Sea ports in the Solovetski Islands and Archangel as part of a two-week sailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, to the north of Norway, departing June 18.

Bjarne Mikkelsen, EuroCruises' president, said he is positioning the ship for White Sea itineraries because "people are always interested in what's new and this is the last area within Russia that has not been explored by tourists. I went there myself, and the rich cultural history of the region is reason enough to take the cruise," he said.

The closest that most U.S. visitors usually come to the White Sea is an area south of the sea at Lake Onega, which is included on some Volga River cruises between Moscow and St. Petersburg. EuroCruises' White Sea/ White Nights Expedition Cruise already is half booked, according to Mikkelsen.

Before arriving from the North Cape, the Kristina Regina will call at Murmansk, Russia, a busy port where the Allied Forces supported the Russians' struggle during the latter part of World War II.

Entering the White Sea, the ship will call on the Solovetski Islands, which consist of three large islands and several smaller ones that cover 140 square miles.

The largest island was a notorious gulag for political prisoners under the Communist regime. "You cannot see any traces of the work camps here," said Mikkelsen, "but it is estimated that hundreds of thousands perished on the islands during Stalin's reign of terror."

The same island that operated the gulag also was home to a shining star of Byzantine architecture -- the Solovetski Monastery, founded in the 1420s by an order of monks that continues its work today.

The monastery was taken over by the Naval Academy of the Soviet Army but was reopened in 1991 and has been the subject of a United Nations reconstruction program.

"Under Communism, the monastery fell into disrepair and the wear and tear shows. But after you pass through the monastery's dreary fortress, the walls are dripping with gold, and the icons are spectacular," Mikkelsen said. "The island is so peaceful and there's nothing there but countryside and monks growing their potatoes."

Archangel, the other White Sea port of call, is a major timber and fishing port surrounded by small villages and the Open Air Wooden Architecture Museum Reserve.

The full cruise itinerary includes Norway's Kristiansand, Bergen, Geirangerfjord, Bronnoysund, Svolvaer (Lofoten Islands) and Tromsoe. The sailing concludes in Kirkenes, Norway, and is followed by a Lapland safari to nearby Ivalo, Finland.

The cruise is priced from $3,399, double, including roundtrip air from New York, transfers and one night in Helsinki. For information and reservations, agents can call (800) 688-3876 or (212) 691-2099.

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