For adventure seekers, the Arctic is a wish list destination that’s easier to reach than Antarctica and easier to experience. It’s a vast area, stretching across the North Pole and including Alaska and northern Canada, as well as the northern regions of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, and Norway.
With the cruising public’s growing taste for exotic river cruising, whether from the “been there, done that” mindset or the desire for bragging rights to ports never seen by most vacationers, river cruise lines have responded. Virtually all lines offer cruises in Asia. There are new boats and amped-up itineraries along the Yangtze and Mekong, some extending out to Burma’s Irawaddy River. Often the cruises include lectures on the various countries’ history and culture.
Last year I wrote that U.S. river cruising was continuing to grow in popularity, especially with Americans who perceive it as a safer and more stress-free choice than cruises on Europe’s rivers. And in spite of the proposed travel bans, some international travelers who are interested in the cultural and historic richness of our rivers share that sentiment. This growth is reflected in new ships and refurbishments, new itineraries and added sailings.
Despite a slight cooling of travel on Europe’s rivers, new ships (and refits), new itineraries and new land-based components are set to launch this year-with an ever stronger focus on food and wine.
In response to consumer interest, designated wine cruises in particular offer comprehensive programs that include daily tastings, lectures, food pairings, land-based wine activities such as visits to vineyards, chateaux, wine cellars and local markets.
When a famous poet wrote: “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky,” he wasn’t talking about a 5,000-passenger ship with a climbing wall and a dozen or so places to dine. The romance of the sea has always been embodied in the sailing ships, with their soaring masts and billowing sails. And today, a cruise on a modern clipper ship can be a glorious and unforgettable experience.
For clients who want to leave holiday preparations behind and have someone else do the cooking, the decorations and the activities, the cruise lines can indulge those wishes with celebrations on ships almost anywhere in the world. More than ever, cruise lines are going all in for the holidays, from Hanukah through New Year, with holiday shows, over-the-top decorations, elaborate meals, religious services, caroling, contests and special activities for children. All this comes at a price, of course, and the cost for virtually all holiday itineraries is bumped up.
U.S. river cruising continues to grow in popularity, especially with Americans who, more than ever, prefer to travel within the U.S.A. Thanks to the cultural richness associated with America’s great rivers (especially the Mississippi), there has also been growth among international travelers who have an interest in this country’s history.
To me the words “luxury” and “expedition ships” don’t quite match. I have always believed that an expedition cruise should reflect the “roughing it” elements experienced by “real” explorers. (My favorite expedition was to Antarctica was aboard the no-frills Explorer I (aka “the little red boat”), which sank in Antarctic waters in 2007.
The luxury market disagrees and wants no part of “roughing it.” So instead we see extravagances galore, like infinity pools, French restaurants and spas on ships sailing to places like Antarctica and the Northwest Passage.
Alaska is gearing up for a big tourist season. With 30 large cruise ships carrying a projected one million passengers calling this year, expect to see new ports, new docks, new excursions-and more luxury ships.
Ships scheduled for the 2016 season for the first time include: Crystal Serenity, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas, Princess’s Island Princess, Holland America’s Maasdam and Nieuw Amsterdam and Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner.
As river cruises continue to grow in popularity, those on Europe’s rivers still top the list. CLIA cruise line members currently have 170 ships on the world’s rivers (most in Europe), with 18 new vessels (most will sail in Europe) on order for 2016.