Cruise Lines are gearing up for a bumper year says Penny McCormick, as holiday makers look for exciting, easy and all inclusive holidays
With the prospect of belt-tightening in 2023, many are now seeing the benefits of all-inclusive cruise holidays, especially families. And if your idea of the typical cruise passenger is a badly-dressed, overweight Saga retiree, think again. Cruise lines are gearing up for a bumper year (apparently Black Friday in November 2022 was the single largest booking day for cruises in history) with the demographic pointing to young, affluent travellers who are attracted to exciting new itineraries, innovative shore excursions and smaller, more technologically advanced, ships. This tallies with my own experience: several friends, formerly cruise-averse, have taken and raved about Celebrity Cruises (around Florida), Celestyal Cruises (around the Greek islands) and Silversea cruises (around Norway). As a further incentive, more cruise companies are sailing in April and May and September and October to avoid crowds. Fast internet and having to unpack just once seals the deal for many cruise novices.
Trends suggest that grand voyages – longer than 21 days – are increasing in popularity. Seabourn’s multi-continent grand voyage will become two 80-day adventures in 2024. When Holland America Line launched a 73-day African voyage taking passengers from Zanzibar to Petra in 2022 it sold out; another is planned this year. This year, Royal Caribbean launches its inaugural Ultimate World Cruise, an epic 274-night adventure which visits all seven continents, comprising more than 150 destinations in 65 countries and eleven wonders of the world. This immersive experience on Serenade of the Seas is the longest and most comprehensive world cruise.
Yet even the more intimate river cruises, traditionally a week long, are offering longer sailings. Uniworld Boutique Cruises are offering a nine-country 47-day rivers of the world cruise this year. Themed cruising too is on the rise too – from wellness to wine tasting, even on short haul journeys. Take Brittany Ferry’s arty new Salamanca line which launched at Rosslare Europort in November. This new state-of-the-art ship promises lower emissions and a smoother, quieter voyage in addition to a destination-themed experience from the moment you step on board. This includes a collection of some 200 artworks by local Spanish artists throughout, and local Spanish cuisine in the Azul and Taberna de Tapas restaurants.
The ship’s numerous lounges offer plenty of space to relax, while the central Plaza Mayor bar has been designed to evoke Salamanca city’s spectacular main square. If a luxury cruise is more your bag, the “six star” upmarket lines such as Silversea, Seabourn, Cunard and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, offer plenty of scope for a champagne-and-couture experience, though the ante has been upped by the addition of the Evrima part of the Ritz Carlton’s Yacht Collection. Setting sail for the Caribbean and the Med, with a personal concierge assigned to every suite and a Michelin-starred menu, it’s highly sophisticated. On my vision board is one of Belmond’s posh barge cruises. The fleet of bijou Bateaux Belmond, or “floating villas” for up to six passengers, are a leisurely way to enjoy the Champagne region (aboard its new Coquelicot) or enjoy the castles and wineries of Dijon (on Fleur de Lys), Burgundy and Provence.
Regardless of whether you book a barge or a behemoth mega-ship, on a ship the biggest luxury is space. Insiders suggest that aside from timing voyages carefully (avoiding school holidays) the best way to maximise space is to study your chosen ship and compare its size with the number of passengers it carries. This can vary enormously. A larger ship can feel just as spacious as a smaller ship, it all depends on what is known as the passenger space ratio (PSR). This is worked out by dividing the ship’s gross registered tonnage by the number of passengers on board. The higher the ? gure, the more space passengers will enjoy.
Consistently scoring top in terms of passenger popularity and its PSR is Royal Caribbean International’s Icon of the Seas. Also in the top ten are Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Apex, Fred Olsen’s Bolette and Borealis and Saga Cruises Spirit of Discovery. As for dress codes, a smart casual rule applies aboard most ships. Cunard is the most dressy, while Seabourn has recently relaxed its dress code, welcoming smart jeans until 6pm. The only sartorial faux pas, it seems, is wearing swimwear inside. As a cruise novice, last autumn I boarded Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas (offcially the world’s largest cruise ship) with some trepidation. Disembarking, while not quite a cruise evangelist, I can see the undoubted attraction of these immersive journeys.