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The Latest in Luxury at SeaFebruary 23, 2015 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
|Rendering of the Viking Star’s Explorers’ Lounge, which affords maximum views from its two-story panoramic windows.|
In the past decade, luxury cruising has soared in demand, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Also, 37 percent of agents responding to a recent CLIA survey reported an increase in bookings of 14- to 100-day cruises and that these longer sailings, including world cruises of several months, are increasingly popular among affluent travelers. And while long cruises are not the exclusive domain of luxury lines, your well-to-do clients are going to expect the best accommodations on upper-end ships.
Also consider that, according to MMGY Global’s 2014 Portrait of American Travelers, one in six vacationers take a trip to celebrate a special occasion — and generally speaking they are usually inclined to spend more than they would on a typical family vacation. When it comes to honeymoons, for example, newlyweds spend up to four times the average vacation cost. So consider these clients candidates for a luxury upgrade from the premium or even mainstream cruise they might otherwise book.
For 2015 and beyond, the luxury cruise landscape is rapidly evolving. Here’s a snapshot of major developments to help you stay ahead of the curve — or should we say, on top of the wave.
The launch early this year of the 930-passenger Viking Star, Viking Ocean Cruises’ first luxury ship, is creating plenty of buzz. After a christening in Bergen, Norway, in May, the ship will set sail on European itineraries. All Viking Star accommodations have private balconies, so just head outside to soak in the views as the ship sails to such scenic destinations as Venice, Monte Carlo or Stockholm. Desire the absolute best viewing platform? We’d suggest sailing in a two-room Explorer Suite (757 square feet to 1,163 square feet), as the bonus feature is a wrap-around private veranda.
Onboard, guests will cool off in either a Main Pool with a retractable dome or a glass-backed infinity pool cantilevered off the stern. At the ship’s holistic wellness spa, it’s our bet that cruisers will eagerly flock to check out the “wow” — a snow grotto where snowflakes will drop gently from the ceiling through chilled air. The Explorers’ Lounge has double-height windows, while we’d suggest the more serene Wintergarden for sipping chamomile or Darjeeling tea.
Viking Star’s dining options will include The Restaurant and the World Café, plus the more intimate Chef’s Table, Italian Grill and The Kitchen Table, where cruisers can roll up their sleeves in cooking classes. The ship will also have the Aquavit Terrace, the indoor-outdoor, light-cuisine concept that’s wildly popular with travelers on Viking’s river vessels.
Two other sister ships, Viking Sea and Viking Sky, will launch in 2016.
While Viking is just beginning ocean operations, another line is celebrating its storied history. In 2015, Cunard Line spotlights its 175th year of sailing with special events, anniversary activities and special “Grills Package” and “Anniversary Package” (must be booked by February 28) with added value perks.
In January, Cunard’s Queen Victoria entered the Blohm & Voss Shipyard in Hamburg, Germany, for a multimillion-dollar refit. Solo travelers will likely cheer at the addition of nine single staterooms, carved from part of the casino’s space. Carpeting is also being replaced throughout the ship and large flatscreen TVs — mostly 32” or above — added to all staterooms. At the ship’s informal Lido restaurant, waiters will soon be serving hot drinks at all meals.
Sun awnings will be erected at the open area near the stern Lido pool and also on both sides of the Grills Upper Terrace area atop the ship. New fine jewelry and watch shops are opening, plus the shopping area will have a new layout and better lighting.
Also celebrating an anniversary this year — its 25th — is Crystal Cruises, which is adding a celebratory twist to its Experiences of Discovery-themed cruises. Designated cruises will offer commemorative parties and receptions where guests can rub elbows with the line’s leadership. Four sailings will be the line’s first “Captain’s Cruises,” where former captains share their memories with guests.
Now sailing its World Cruise, Crystal Serenity is making a rare Indian Ocean sailing, two Madagascar maiden calls and four South Africa port calls, including a maiden call in Richards Bay on March 13. This winter, Crystal Symphony is spending an expanded season in Southeast Asia, with eight voyages sailing between Bali, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong.
|A waterfall is the focal point of the redesigned Crystal Plaza, Crystal Symphony‘s centrally located two-story atrium.|
In Europe this summer, Crystal will offer more seven-day cruises. For luxury travelers seeking new ports, the 18-day North Cape and White Sea sailing on July 8 offers five maiden calls. In addition, Mexico and South America are back on Crystal’s roster. One transatlantic voyage calls overnight at Bermuda and visits Ponta Delgada, Portugal, for only the second time in the line’s history. At Ponta Delgada, we’d suggest a trip to Caldeira das Sete Cidades (“caldera of the seven towns”) for stunning views of the volcanic crater walls, caldera filled with lakes, the Sete Cidades hamlet and azure-blue-green waters.
Last fall, Crystal completed a $20 million-plus dry dock redesign of Crystal Symphony. It now has an updated lobby and Cove Bar, 48 new PURE hypoallergenic staterooms and a new outdoor Fitness Garden. The interior fitness room also has more equipment and a tablet-like Unity interface programming system. It’s a hoot to enjoy music and television, send e-mails or receive text messages, while tracking your workout progress.
A new show, “My Life: The Music of Billy Joel,” recently debuted on Crystal Serenity. Starting this fall, Crystal Society guests also will receive one hour of complimentary Internet access for every cruise day. So for a couple taking a 10-day cruise, that’s 600 free minutes per person. The program starts on Crystal Serenity on September 19 and Crystal Symphony on October 15.
|The newly refurbished Deluxe Veranda Suite on Silversea’s Silver Galapagos comes with a private balcony.|
Seabourn is readying for the delivery of two new 40, 350-ton luxury ships, the first in late 2016, the second in spring 2018; both will be designed by hospitality-design icon Adam Tihany. Similarly configured to Seabourn’s Odyssey-class ships, these all-suite, all-balcony ships will have many of the same spaces plus one additional deck and new expanded public areas.
As for renovations, Seabourn Sojourn will receive four new 516 to 538 spa suites prior to this summer’s European season. Expect the décor to dovetail with the look of the Spa at Seabourn. Each spa suite will have a living and dining area with seating for four, separate bedroom, walk-in closet, flat-screen TVs, a glass door and floor-to-ceiling windows with views onto a 172-square-foot verandah. Bathrooms will have a tub and special spa shower. Pampering spa suite perks? It’s certainly indulging to choose from both a menu of bath sponges and L’Occitane fragrances to be diffused during evening turndown.
Seabourn Sojourn’s Mediterranean itineraries this year will incorporate Italy’s Amalfi Coast, marking the luxury line’s return there. For an “aah” shore excursion, we’d opt for “Picturesque Positano with Lunch.” Then sit back and enjoy a scenic boat ride to view soaring cliffs and the Amalfi Coast, browse at Positano’s boutiques — perhaps buying some lovely cotton clothing for which the town is noted — and enjoy an Italian-style lunch atop cliffs at the luxurious Il San Pietro di Positano, a Relais & Châteaux hotel.
Also new this year, Seabourn will offer new UNESCO Discovery Tours, shore trips and enrichment speakers. On Seabourn Quest’s May 12 cruise, Dr. Juan Jose Negro, director of Spain’s Donana Biological Station, will lecture about natural heritage.
Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Spirit, the line’s two smallest ships, will leave Seabourn in spring and begin sailing for Windstar Cruises, increasing that line’s fleet to six vessels. The 212-passenger vessels will undergo a $18 million, three-week drydock in Genoa, Italy, providing stem-to-stern upgrades to suites, public areas and dining spaces. Every suite will receive new carpets, linens, couches and mattresses. Public spaces will have more deck space, plus new colors, upholstery, lighting, wall coverings and carpeting. In May, the two ships will be christened Star Breeze and Star Legend. On May 6, Star Breeze sets sail on a four-day inaugural voyage to Nice, Monte Carlo, Portofino, Portoferraio and Rome. Star Legend debuts May 25, 2015, in Rome.
Seabourn Pride, which left Seabourn’s fleet last year, is now sailing as Windstar’s Star Pride; it received a partial overhaul in 2014, but Windstar plans an additional $3 million in updates.
In May, Windstar will return to sailing year-round in French Polynesia, specifically the Society and Tuamotu Islands of Tahiti, with the 148-passenger Wind Spirit sailing yacht. Staterooms will have an updated seating area, new dressers and a more open layout. Something a bit unusual? This year, Windstar returns to the Caribbean island of Montserrat at the new Little Bay port. It’s the first time a line is “back” after the island’s massive volcanic eruption in the mid-90s.
Starting this year, Windstar is adding a new onshore private event for all voyages. Those on the “Greek Isles and Turkish Delights” voyage will have an after-hours tour of Ephesus’ Celsus Library, paired with an elegant, five-course meal under the stars in the library courtyard with music by the Aegean Chamber Orchestra.
Ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises will also add dozens of new destinations to its schedules this year. In Europe, its ships will make inaugural calls at such ports as Huelva, San Antonio, Ibiza; Igoumenitsa, Greece; and Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy, to name a few. What’s most enticing, though, are the 11 new, mid-voyage overland adventures. To walk on the wild side, luxury cruisers sailing on Silver Whisper’s March 6 voyage can book a new two-day Tsavo East National Park bush-walking safari in Kenya. Or on the ship’s April 5 voyage, they can get up close to mountain gorillas in Uganda.
Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Discoverer will call in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati, and spend three days in the Kanton & Phoenix Islands Marine Park. Most intriguing from our perspective is that, local conditions permitting, Silver Discoverer may stop at Kiribati’s Nikumaroro Island. Here, sonar exploration has located an aircraft wing suspected to be from aviator Amelia Earhart’s plane, which vanished in 1937.
|Seabourn Sojourn’s Mediterranean itineraries this year include Italy’s Amalfi Coast, where guests can enjoy lunch, a scenic boat ride and browse the boutiques.|
After a year’s absence, Africa’s west coast is back on the schedule for Silver Explorer, including Congo’s Pointe Noire, known for beaches and the red rock cliffs at Diosso Gorge. Newly refreshed in a late 2014 drydock, Silver Galapagos will again operate year-round voyages exploring Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands.
Onboard, Silversea is ramping up its Show Lounge entertainment so every ship has four full-scale production shows per sailing in the main Show Lounge. Three new ones on every ship? “Musica Maestro” is a tribute to operatic arias and classical crossover music. What’s nifty is that it features conductor Richard Balcombe with a musical score performed exclusively for Silversea by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Also new are “Mind the Gap” with a 1960s vibe, mod fashions, imagery and music, and “Don’t Stop the Music,” a disco-era tribute with dancing, a DJ and guest interaction. Other shows will rotate among the ships.
Oceania Cruises recently completed a $50 million refurbishment program for Regatta, Insignia and Nautica. All public rooms, suites and staterooms now boast new furnishings and décor, yet they retain the “warm feel” Oceania’s guests expect. So sip a cup of java at Baristas, the line’s specialty coffee bar, or order cooked-to-order dishes at the Terrace Café’s grill.
Itinerary-wise, Oceania Cruises will operate a third 180-day journey on Insignia for the 2016 season, given exceptionally strong consumer demand for these super-long cruises. Currently, the ship is being repaired after an engine room fire in December, but our sources say it will return to service in Singapore on March 22.
Big news for Oceania: The line is expanding its fleet, thanks to new owner Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which recently purchased Ocean Princess (a former R-class ship like Regatta) from Princess Cruises. After its March delivery to Oceania, the newly renamed Sirena will receive a $40 million refurbishment and begin sailing in late April 2016.
Starting with the winter 2015-2016 season, guests staying in Owner’s, Vista and Oceania suites throughout Oceania’s fleet will receive unlimited complimentary Internet access, while those in Penthouse suites or Concierge Level staterooms will receive blocks of complimentary Internet time based on cruise length — for instance, 200 minutes during a seven-night cruise.
In summer 2016, Oceania’s sister brand, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, will launch the new 54,000-ton Seven Seas Explorer. With high space and high staff-to-guest ratios, this all-suite, all-balcony ship will accommodate 750 guests and is eagerly anticipated by luxury cruisers and travel advisors. All 375 suites will have a large balcony (93 of which will extend beyond 83 square feet), European king-sized Suite Slumber Beds and oversized bathrooms highlighted by marble and decorative tile.
Seven Seas Mariner has just emerged from a multi-million-dollar refurbishment, with new furnishings, upholstery, custom-milled carpeting and accents for its suites and lounges. Among the new ports visited by Regent’s fleet this year are Palamos and Almeria, Spain; Walvis Bay, Namibia; Tyne in Newcastle, England; Izmir, Turkey; and Malmo, Sweden.
Regent Seven Seas, which already offers free Internet for its top suites, is expanding that inclusive program. Now, all guests in Master, Grand, Seven Seas, Horizon, Mariner, Navigator and Voyager suites will also receive free Internet access, both in public spaces and suites.
Simply put, it’s all about “the destination” for Azamara Club Cruises, which is spending more time in ports, adding more overnights and debuting night-time touring options. For 2015, a new “Cruise Global, Eat Local” program also means guests can dine at authentic local restaurants vetted by Azamara ashore, such as Singapore’s TungLok Teahouse or Osteria del Contadino in Livorno, Italy.
In 2016, look for Azamara’s ships to stay past 8 p.m. during more than 175 port calls and overnight during more than 100 port calls. Azamara also has many new itineraries with 44 new maiden calls in Australia and New Zealand, United Arab Emirates and Oman, Europe and the West Indies.
For guest pampering, Azamara will offer new, targeted wrinkle treatments and dermal fillers at the Azamara Spa. These are non-invasive, non-surgical facial rejuvenation treatments performed by a licensed medical doctor and specialist. The doctor also will give guest seminars on such topics as “How to Look Ten Years Younger Today,” “Wrinkle Remedies” and the “Non-Surgical Facelift.”
So whether it’s a new ship, new cruise line, renovated ship, ships that are shifting ownership or have just added pampering and perks, luxury cruisers have plenty of new options for 2015 and beyond.
|In a recent refurbishment, the Grand Suite of Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner received all-new furniture, upholstery, lighting and wall coverings.|
Upping Their Game
Certain SeaDream Yacht Club itineraries within Croatia, Greece and Italy will be “country intensive” this summer with calls at up to nine ports. On June 20, a week-long voyage from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Venice, Italy, will call at Mljet, Hvar, Split, Sibenik, Rab, Opatija and Rovinj, Croatia.
What’s in a name? A lot apparently, as Compagnie du Ponant has changed its name simply to Ponant, stressing the name is easier to remember and has a stronger visual impact.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2 now has an onboard bike guide, 14 hardtail mountain bikes and new four- to five-hour bicycle tours in certain ports. Guests may book a bike tour after a quick fitness check onboard. “Easy-going”, “Active and high-energy”, and “Active lite” are the three levels offered.
Jean-Michel Cousteau, oceanographer and environmentalist, will lecture onboard and accompany dive excursions on several Paul Gauguin Cruises’ departures this year, including Paul Gauguin’s voyage to the Society Islands & Tuamotus Marquesas on July 29, Cook Islands & Society Islands voyage on April 11 and a Marquesas, Tuamotus & Society Islands cruise on November 21.
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic will send National Geographic Orion to Europe after its early 2016 Antarctica season concludes, rather than keeping it in the South Pacific and Australia’s Kimberley region.
Cuba on the horizon: Pearl Seas Cruises says it’s exploring possible itinerary options on Cuba’s northern and southern coasts and that its small ships can easily call at both small cities and big cities without further land-based infrastructure updates.