28 JANUARY 2013

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Article from BTNews 28 JANUARY 2013

Choosing a cruise It is not easy

In 2013 over 1.7 million individual cruise packages are expected to be sold in the United Kingdom.  When you think that these will average out at £1,200 each you will realise that cruising is immensely popular and getting even more so. Your Editor was a ‘ten pound pom’ at the age of eight, his parents emigrating to Australia in the early fifties.  Since those early days he has spent time on more than 30 cruise ships, big and small and still gets the magic feeling when stepping on board.  Here he discusses cruising holidays.  As he says “it is not easy”. 

"Go to a dinner party, sit down and chat with friends about future (and past) holidays and inevitably the subject of cruising comes up.  Usually there is one person amongst the crowd who knows something about seaborne holidays given the numbers that take a cruise.  Six new major ships are due to be launched this year, 7,500 more berths.  The industry, and its backers, are very confident for the future.  It is a wonderful way of visiting a place for the day, enjoying what is a superficial look, and returning by other means for a longer visit.

As a travel writer the question is raised “I would like to go cruising, what would you recommend?” 

There are more permutations than with a BMW. 

And there is one thing about cruising that is not even thought about in terms of questions.  It is probably the best way to make friends for life.  From all over the world.

•    How much do you want to spend?

•    How long do you want to be away?  If you are investigating cruises four nights must be a minimum.

•    Deep sea or river cruising?  Some of the boats on the Rhine and Danube are enormous, even with swimming pools.

•    Are you happy to fly to your start/finish port or would you prefer a Dover, Southampton or Harwich rendezvous?  Or maybe fly one way?  The warmer weather is usually two days from these shores.

•    The ship choice is large.  Big liners, 2,500+ passengers (6,000 is the present maximum, but the ships are very well organised to take care of such numbers), medium sized vessels 1,250 upwards, or something in the boutique class, which can mean from 50 other guests, to 500/750.  Whatever size of ship your choice of boarding and departure point is usually no problem (and really shows up the airports). 

Putting it another way.  Sophisticated cruising or mass market!

•    Modern ships are very well thought out and designed.  You will not get lost.  The signage is usually very good and lifts will take you to every deck.

•    A safety drill is compulsory.

•    Do you want to dine at a fixed time with the same company each meal time, or to suit you?  Some ships offer both.  Or eat at a different venue virtually every night.  It can be done.

•    You can cruise across the North Atlantic, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Alaska, North and South America, the Far East, Antipodes and the Pacific.  New areas are being discovered for sea holidays all the time.  And of course World Cruises (and parts of) are proving more and more popular.

•    Do you want a cruise that takes in a new port every day, or one that has a day at sea and a day in port.  Or more time at sea?  Some cruise overnight, ideal for places like St Petersburg and Venice where a one day visit is not enough.

•    Is your requirement to make it a holiday with children, or completely without?  Both markets are catered for.

•    Are you really into the budget cruise business, or do you want six-star luxury?  The requirements of both are very well catered for.

•    Inside or outside cabin?  A balcony can easily double the cost of the trip.

•    Specialised cruises.  As part of their marketing efforts many companies offer unique cruises typically dedicated to cooking, wine tasting, music, the American theatre, jazz, specialised cuisine and sporting interests.  One company often has a golf professional on board who will plan ahead to visit major courses at each port of call.  Edinburgh to St Andrews is not that far.

Don’t worry if you have a disability.  The cruise companies were amongst the first members of the holiday trade to realise there was a big market for people with limited, or no, walking ability. The same goes for those who have specialised eating requirements.  Within reason the chefs really want to help and the latest ships have some spectacular kitchens.  And do not be concerned with being ill at sea.  You must be covered by adequate insurance but the medical facilities on modern ships are exceptional, better than in many UK regional hospitals in terms of equipment provided.  Virtually every ship, of any size, has at least one full time doctor on board and helicopter evacuation is not unknown in emergency cases.  The big ships are organised for it.

All vessels have strict smoking rules designed to keep everyone happy.  That is one to watch out for if you are that way inclined.

There are currently getting on for 300 deep sea cruise ships operating with at least a dozen new ones due over the next couple of years, and few paid off.  A general industry joke is that old ships are sold to Saga, but that company has a reputation of serving well its particular market and by all accounts its latest acquisition, Saga Sapphire, 37,000 tons and 700 passengers, the former Europa, is a gem.

In a survey carried out for the Passenger Shipping Association the question was put “which is of greater importance to you, the quality of the facilities or the choice of destination”.  The ship won.  Business Travel News continues with its monthly reviews starting with Azamara Journey on the last Monday of February.

Ready to confirm a cruise?  You can book direct with a cruise company, but unlike airlines cruising is more complicated and you will need the ship, the insurance, travel, transfer, and possibly hotel and other facilities at each end.  A good specialised travel agent will be able to do all this for you.  In the UK ACE (Association of Cruise Experts) supplies the training for the trade.  Make sure whoever you choose is a member". www.cruiseexperts.org

CRUISE NEWS

Passenger rights regarding cruises have been improved following new EU rules which came into force 18 December 2012.  These are now much in line with those for air and rail travel.  For the purposes of implementation, the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) has agreed to act as the voluntary complaint handling body for England and Wales.  The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) will operate as the national enforcement agency for the whole of the UK. www.the-psa.co.uk

Crystal Cruises has added 26 voyage options called ‘Getaways’ throughout Europe from April to November this year.  The new five - to eight-night cruise segments provide a break for experienced cruisers and an introduction to all inclusive, luxury holiday experience for newcomers.  Twelve Mediterranean, 10 Baltic and four Western Europe cruise ‘Getaways’ offer a plethora of choice for compact, port-packed visits to the Greek Isles, Eastern Europe, Russia, Italian and French Rivieras, the Iberian Peninsula, French wine country, Scandinavia, Germany, North Cape and the UK – in addition to 37 seven- to 15-night Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony itineraries already offered on the continent in 2013. ‘Getaways’ fares start as low as £1,248 per person if booked by 28 February, with one or more local overnights on most sailings, as well as time onboard for relaxing rejuvenation and pampering. www.crystalcruises.co.uk

Norwegian Cruise Line
is starting off 2013 with a "bang" by announcing that Norwegian Breakaway, the line's newest ship debuting this May in New York City, will feature an exciting fireworks show on every cruise. The environmentally-friendly pyrotechnics display will dazzle guests on the second to last night at sea each week, after the ship departs Bermuda during her summer inaugural season.  The new 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway will arrive in her year-round home port of New York City on 7 May 2013.  From October 2013 until April 2014 she will operate voyages from the heart of Manhattan to the Bahamas, Florida and the Southern Caribbean. www.ncl.co.uk

Princess Cruises has announced two preview cruises aboard Royal Princess, giving passengers a unique opportunity to get a taste of the new ship before its official inaugural voyage.  The 9 and 14 June cruises will sail round trip from Southampton on a two-night itinerary featuring a call in St Peter Port, on the island of Guernsey.  Passengers on the short sailings will be able to sample many ground-breaking features on Royal Princess, including the dramatic over-water SeaWalk, Princess Live! television studio, and plush new poolside cabanas before the ship’s inaugural sailing on 16 June 2013.  Both voyages will go on sale tomorrow (29 January). www.princess.com

Silversea is to host renowned Michelin Star Chef Jason Atherton on a special Silver Shadow cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore on 25 November.  The nine-day cruise also visits Chan May, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City (where, due to its size the Saigon River allows it to berth within walking distance of the central area).  Jason will cook a unique four-course meal for guests and also lecture on his art.  He owns the successful Pollen Street Social Club tucked away behind London’s Oxford Circus, Pollen in Singapore, Table No 1 in Shanghai and 22 Ships in Hong Kong. www.silversea.com

Viking, best known for their European river cruises are heavily promoting trips to South East Asia including a 12 day passage from Shanghai to Beijing including seven days on the Yangtze between Wuhan and Chongqing .  The Viking Emerald is purpose built 256 passenger river cruiser.  The tour includes the Three Gorges Dam, an engineering marvel that has changed the face of China. Xian and the Terra Cotta Warriors is part of the package.  Finally Beijing and the  Forbidden City, Great Wall,Summer Palace and Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest public venue. www.vikingrivercruises.co.uk

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