A friend of mine told me he had spent much of a recent redundancy payment on seeing the world. When I asked whether he’d tried cruising, he crossed his index fingers in front of his face as if the very suggestion were blasphemous.
That sort of prejudice is rapidly disappearing, largely thanks to customer satisfaction. Two-thirds of passengers have cruised at least once before and over half cruise more than once a year. Then there’s been the buzz generated by ever-bigger ships and what they have to offer. Britannia, the largest ship built for P&O Cruises and the largest dedicated to the British market, takes 3,647 passengers. She’s on a par with the American-owned Royal Princess, star of ITV series The Cruise.
Both, though, are dwarfed by Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas: 226,000-tonners, each carrying 5,400 passengers. Size allows for what cruise-line executives call “a more customised experience”: an ever-greater variety of ways of passing time, from ballroom dancing to simulated skydiving. It allows, too, for “freestyle dining” – giving passengers a choice of where, when and with whom they eatOn smaller ships, “entertainment” might mean expert talks and film screenings, and eating options will be less plentiful, but both will be included with accommodation in the price of your ticket, which is why cruising is often great value. Over a fortnight, you could be transported to ten different ports yet need to unpack only once. If you’re curious about cruising, here’s what you need to consider…
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO?
Few places can’t be seen from a ship, and some can really only be explored from one: the Norwegian fjords, the Panama Canal, the South Pacific islands. Ocean cruises can take you to the Arctic and the Antarctic, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. On a river ship (among 150 passengers) you could explore the Seine or the St Lawrence, the Mississippi or the Mekong.
Passenger liner sailing along the Neroyfjord, Norway
There are half a dozen cruise ports around the British Isles, making it possible to avoid airport queues and luggage restrictions. But on a fly-cruise, where you fly to the area or country where you’re cruising, you can escape more quickly to the sun and see more of the world.
WHAT WILL IT COST?
The average price paid for a cruise in 2014 was about £1,380 (the average length of cruise was just under 11 days). Some recent best-value trips have been off-season ones to the Baltic, at about £75 a night, and fly-cruises to the Mediterranean (£103 a night). You’ll need to budget, too, for drinks, shore excursions, services such as spa treatments, and tips. Some lines charge tips to your account per person per day, others let you pay in advance, and ultra-luxury operators include all tips. Some lines charge single supplements; some have smaller cabins for single people with no extra charge.
PICK A SHIP THAT’S YOUR SHAPE
On a new ship on the Yangtse, when someone pointed out that hairdryers weren’t fitted in cabins, I heard the cruise line’s chairman say: “Our customers are not so fussed about the hair; they are more concerned about what is going on inside the head.” Whether your priorities are children’s clubs, evening entertainment with West End production values or morning walks with an archaeologist, there’s likely to be a cruise that suits among the offerings of the 50-or-so lines selling holidays in the UK. Consider whether you’d like the sense of being on Britain-at-sea (as offered by P&O, Fred Olsen and Saga) or part of a multinational community (as on most river ships).
CHOOSE THE RIGHT CABIN
The higher up the ship, the bigger the cabin (or “stateroom”). If you don’t want to splash out on a veranda, you might, on a long cruise, be glad at least of a porthole. Think about position: near a lift, you might be disturbed late at night; near the bow on a big ship, you could have a long walk to the restaurants. Most cabins will have an en-suite bathroom, television, telephone, hair-dryer, safe and air conditioning. If there’s no in-room internet access, it will usually be available in cafés or hotspots. Some ships have cabins for wheelchair users (and hoists by the pools).
Bedroom of Ronin Suite, Freedom of the Seas cruise ship, Royal Caribbean International cruise line
WILL YOU BE SEASICK?
You’re unlikely to suffer if you stick to bigger ships with motion stabilisers, but avoid North Atlantic crossings and the Caribbean in hurricane season (mid-August to late September). And whatever scare stories might suggest, noro-virus is a common stomach bug, not a “cruise-ship virus”; health officials are required to track illnesses on ships, so outbreaks are reported more quickly at sea.