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Splurging on a luxury cruise guarantees you'll be well looked after. Credit: Regent Seven Seas Cruises

The future of luxury cruising

Author: Dave Monk

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Luxury cruising has never been more exciting as new companies and old favourites fight hard to wow customers with the very best ships and experiences.

Luxury cruising is changing. Previously, holidaymakers and travel agents both understood the difference between high-end operators with their butlers, acres of marble and spacious suites and the rest of the market, which is broadly split into ‘premium’ and ‘budget’ lines.

But fast forward to 2022, and this neat classification is becoming ever more blurred. Mass-market brand MSC Cruises is developing its elite ‘ship-within-a-ship’ concept of the Yacht Club into a new fleet under the name Explora Journeys, with the first ship Explora I due to launch next year.

Other lines such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line are also expanding their own offerings for suite guests with exclusive restaurants, pools and sundecks, while providing all the choice of dining and entertainment of a big ship.

Sister brands Scenic and Emerald are also taking to the oceans with opulent ships starting with Scenic Eclipse and Emerald Azzurra.

Ultra-luxury yacht Scenic Eclipse is making waves in the cruise industry. Credit: Scenic Cruises

Competition is hotting up
Competition is coming from outside, as well, with five-star hotel group Ritz-Carlton about to launch the first of five ships and Atlas Ocean Voyages joining the expedition market.

At the same time, lines such as Saga, Holland America, Azamara, Cunard and Viking are raising the stakes in the premium sector.

Even with the demise of Crystal Cruises, the luxury end of cruising is becoming more crowded. So how are top-end brands such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn and Silversea facing up to their new rivals?

Silversea UK, Ireland, Middle East and Africa MD Peter Shanks says: "In ultra-luxury and expedition cruising there’s an optimal ship size– 600 to 700 guests – to deliver the space, an element of privacy and an element of variety.

"A ship has to be big enough to have spacious suites and offer a variety of dining venues, a good spa and pool and a strong variety of bars. Some of the new entrants to the market, which are very small, don’t have that space.

"On the other hand, there are some cruise lines that offer the top couple of decks for a more luxurious experience but you’re still on a 3,000- to 4,000-passenger ship."

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Another key difference is being all-inclusive, he says, with Silversea looking after everything from a chauffeur pick-up service to the flight, transfer, hotel and a "very wide choice of fine wines, all the fine gins and whiskies, shore excursions and gratuities’ on board. When you look at the extras on a premium cruise line, I sometimes say, 'the only thing you don’t pay for is oxygen' – whereas, with Silversea, when you look at what’s included the value for money is exceptional," he adds.

The final difference is offering exotic destinations, as Shanks explains: "We’re reaching people who love going on safaris, or Asian holidays or touring Australia, who want the adventure and the destination, but they’d rather do it in boutique and luxury accommodation rather than on a large ship.

"With a smaller ship you can get to those destinations that others can’t. Ultimately, luxury is about space and experiencing incredible places, and that’s what we do."

Silversea is expanding its offering by adding the Sea and LandTaste (S.A.L.T.) dining programme and the Otium wellness regime, giving guests a more immersive experience of the destinations they are visiting.

Silversea has launched its new culinary programme, Sea and Land Taste or SALT. Credit: Silversea Cruises

What’s new in luxury cruising
In a hot and increasingly crowded market, the top luxury lines know that this is no time to rest on their laurels. So each line has dug deep to offer its guests more great extras both on and off board.

For example, Regent Seven Seas, which offers one of the highest space-to-guest ratios in the industry, has added complimentary laundry and dry cleaning to its all-inclusive offering, plus two new types of shore excursion – Behind The Design and Eco-connect tours.

Meanwhile, Lynn Narraway, Seabourn MD for UK and Ireland, cites entertainment such as An Evening with Tim Rice and a performance at Ephesus by tenor Jonathan Antoine as part of the line’s unique special offering.

Seabourn
is also expanding into the expedition market with two all-veranda ships, Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit, that will include a 26-strong team of experts plus two six-seater submarines (complete with champagne coolers).

Explora 1, the first ship to launch from Explora Journeys, will feature ocean terrace suites. Credit: Explora Journeys

What about the newcomers? Explora Journeys’ chief commercial sales officer, Chris Austin, says its five central elements are design, space, choice, destinations and shore experiences. The company is investing in four super yacht-style ships and has lined up more than 20,000 potential guests across the US, UK, Western Europe, Japan and China.

Established players also want a share of the prestige market. Royal Caribbean has dedicated a whole new ‘neighbourhood’ to suite guests on new megaship Wonder of the Seas.

Ben Bouldin, the line’s vice-president EMEA, points out that the line has more suites than sister brand Silversea: "It’s our upper-end space that sells first," he says. "Suite guests like what we have to offer."

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