There is perhaps no area of travel more prone to stereotyping. Put any preconceptions aside because the cruise holiday now transcends age, taste and interests.
It’s time to banish any notions of communal dining and group jollity because holidays on the high seas – or on the world’s great rivers – now represent a seriously broad mix of experiences from luxury to educational, culinary to cultural, and high art to pioneering adventures.
Almost 26 million people around the world are expected to take a cruise holiday in 2017 and, as if to reinforce the appeal and success, demand has increased 62% in the last decade.
October is Plan a Cruise Month (www.cruising.org) so we set sail in search of some advice as well as the most interesting journeys around.
Ask the Expert
Trevor Ridler of Baldwins Travel in Tonbridge is a cruise holiday specialist. We asked him for some pointers.
Have you seen the cruise market change in recent years?
The last few years have seen amazing growth. Cruising has become more accessible with a better choice of departure points and an exceptional range of ideas and destinations.
What do you think is behind its appeal?
Without a doubt it’s the choice. It’s a holiday representing great value for money, which is really important with an under-pressure pound. But it’s also about the range of ships and experiences, from fine dining to world-class entertainment, superb spas to comedy clubs, rock climbing and cinemas to ships for families, adults, adventurers and lounge lizards.
What advice would you give to someone who says: “You’ll never get me on a cruise”?
There is a huge choice and there really is now a cruise for every age, interest and budget. Ask yourself a few questions. Do you like formal or informal dining? Do you want lots of facilities? Is on-board entertainment and five-star service important?
I don’t want to be “stuck” dining with the same people every day?
On many cruises you have the option of a freedom style dining where you eat when it suits you and with whom it suits you, even if you’re travelling alone.
Don’t you have to pay a fortune for a decent cabin?
Generally these are priced extremely well and any upgrades would be no more, and on many occasions less, than you’d pay in an equivalent hotel.
• Baldwins Travel Group (www.baldwinstravel.co.uk) has eight branches across Kent and Sussex, with highly experienced “cruise champions” in
Pick of the Best
It’s a Mystery
Fred Olsen (www.fredolsencruises.com) don’t do flashy, indoor climbing walls or wave machines – its ethos is more of a relaxed atmosphere with smaller ships able to navigate rivers and waterways. Next Easter it has a five-day trip from Dover… It’s a snip from £499 but there’s a catch – it’s a mystery cruise! Don’t let that put you off though because the cuisine is sumptuous, the entertainment excellent and the service award-winning.
G for Galapagos
For anyone passionate about the natural world, there are few places that conjure up expectations like the Galapagos Islands. G Adventures (www.gadventures.com) has a seven-day trip from £1,999 excluding flights. It’s a small group cruise accompanied by a certified guide and marine wildlife expert.
The Northern Lights – Guaranteed!
Twelve days and some 2,500 nautical miles of Norwegian beauty is on offer with Hurtigruten (www.hurtigruten.co.uk). Crossing the Arctic Circle with seven days spent sailing the Auroral Sound in search of the Northern Lights, it costs from £1,193 on a full-board basis with return flights. October to March is the best time to see the lights and Hurtigruten is so confident you will it offers a free six or seven-day voyage if your cruise doesn’t catch the magical phenomenon.
Down Mexico Way
If it’s luxury you’re after, then Regent Seven Seas Cruises (www.rssc.com) has the perfect combination. Departing Los Angeles on 29th December, the 10-night Devine Mexican Riviera costs from £5,106 in a penthouse suite.
Incredible cuisine matched with the beauty of southern France – what’s not to like? Scenic (www.scenic.co.uk) incorporates its Scenic Culinaire experience (complete with on-board cooking demonstrations, fine dining and vineyard visits) into a 13-day cruise. Costing from £3,595 you’ll sail on the Saone and Rhone rivers with stops in towns and cities from Burgundy to Provence and into the gastronomic heart of the country. Oceania Cruises (www.oceaniacruises.com) has voyages worldwide and is renowned for its concept of ‘The Finest Cuisine
Vietnam with Luke Nguyen
The acclaimed Vietnamese-Australian chef and TV presenter Luke Nguyen hosts a 16-day luxury trip on the Mekong River next August. Visiting areas where his parents were raised, you’ll meet the charming people of this fascinating country and learn about the importance of food in Vietnamese culture and the way it bonds families and cements traditions. From £5,395 including flights (www.aptouring.co.uk).
Land of the Komodo Dragon
Spread across 17,000 islands, Indonesia is famed for its volcanoes, exotic wildlife and miles of beaches. A seven-night cruise from Star Clippers (www.starclippers.co.uk) – whose fleet features three strikingly elegant tall ships – takes in the country’s most noted island, Bali, along with Lombok, the Gili islands, and Komodo – home to the fearsome dragon (well, the world’s largest lizard to be precise). From £1,495 excluding flights.
Do I Hear a Waltz?
The Danube is at the heart of Europe and a backdrop to centuries of artistic and historical riches. A 10-day Budapest to Prague cruise takes in five countries and features a packed programme from £2,430 excluding flights with Uniworld (www.uniworld.com). Tauck (www.tauck.co.uk) has an eight-day cruise along the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam through Germany, France, Switzerland and The Netherlands from £3,020 including flights.
From the Costa del Sol to the Cote d’Azur via the cosmopolitan vibe of Ibiza and the lower-key charms of Menorca, a seven-night trip from Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruises.co.uk) next August journeys from the glamour of Monte Carlo to the chameleon-like city of Barcelona. From £2,067 excluding flights.
Departing next month, Voyages to Antiquity (www.voyagestoantiquity.com), which specialises in the art, history, and culture of the ancient world, has a 12-day cruise taking in Seville, Morocco and the Canary Islands. And to really help you get beneath the skin of these destinations, it features expert speakers such as award-winning broadcaster Michael Buerk. From £2,095 including flights.
It comes with a hefty price tag but a new 13-day cruise from Ponant (www.ponant.com) along the Amazon is designed to enable you to immerse yourself in the unique atmosphere of this mythical river and into a region of dense vegetation, myriad animal species, hamlets and stilt houses, and an ecosystem that remains the cradle of protected tropical life. From £6,500 including flights.
Still Not Convinced?
If, after all those ideas, you still need some persuading, check out P&O’s (www.pocruises.com) short breaks. They range from two-nights and feature destinations such as Hamburg, Amsterdam and Bruges with prices from £260.