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Why is luxury cruising on the rise?

Why is luxury cruising on the rise?

Luxury cruising is booming and there’s never been a more exciting time to explore the world with an ocean of choices, writes Andrew Conway.

What is it about cruising that has caught the world’s imagination? Is it the ability to explore the farthest reaches of the planet in the unbridled luxury and comfort of a floating five-star resort?

Is it the joy of unpacking once, and once only, before embarking on a voyage of discovery lasting several days, weeks, even months, while an ever-attentive crew deliver gilt-edged service, be it a sundowner cocktail on the aft deck, a gourmet dinner in a romantic restaurant, or a blissful treatment in the spa?

Perhaps it’s the ability to reconnect with family, friends and loved ones – who knows, even yourself? – when you can reclaim your personal sense of time, space and wellness, three of life’s most cherished, yet often elusive, necessities.

Or maybe it’s the extraordinary choice of itineraries, destinations and ports now on offer that take passengers by ocean, river and expedition ships to the most remote, exotic and fascinating places on the planet from North to South Pole and all points in between.

An astonishing 122 new cruise ships are due for delivery by 2027 at a total cost of US$64 billion

Whatever your motivation, luxury cruising is booming – a multi-billion-dollar global industry that seems to know no bounds – and there’s never been a better time to pull up anchor and set sail.

The changes

Modest cabins have morphed into spacious and luxurious staterooms, suites and penthouses, many with private verandahs. The single-seating dining policy and ubiquitous midnight buffets have been replaced by chic themed celebrity-chef restaurants, and onboard entertainment is now on a Broadway scale.

Service is delivered by highly trained butlers, while unique and curated shore tours open doors to an intimate world of luxury, art, food, wine and culture in glorious palaces, castles, wineries, galleries and museums.

Fleets of sleek ocean liners and river cruisers are sailing full steam ahead, offering an array of new destinations and itineraries, while luxury expedition cruise operators chart bold new courses to once inaccessible wilderness regions featuring brand-new, purpose-built and ecologically sound small ships.

Oceania Cruises daily afternoon high tea
Oceania Cruises daily afternoon high tea

Who is cruising

The average age of passengers is down from the mid-70s of the 1970s to the late-40s of today. Major cruise lines are catering to the family and multigenerational markets like never before, and many are positioning their flagships in Australian waters for ever-longer cruise seasons.

The latest statistics bear testament to cruising’s expansion, especially in local waters. The 2018 Ocean Source Market report by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia reveals Australian cruise passenger numbers hit a record high last year, with 1.35 million passengers taking a cruise.

Nearly one in every 17 Australians, or 5.8% of the population, took a cruise last year, giving Australia the highest market penetration of the world’s major established cruise markets, ahead of the US, UK and Germany.

The majority of Australians cruised within Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Europe and the Mediterranean were the most popular long-haul destinations, followed by North America, the Caribbean and Asia.

Worldwide, 28.5 million people took a cruise in 2018 – an increase of 6.7% on the previous year – a figure that’s set to exceed 30 million this year. CLIA also reports an astonishing 122 new cruise ships are due for delivery by 2027 at a total cost of US$64 billion.

Viking Ocean Cruises takes travellers to the Seven Sisters Waterfall, Norway
Viking Ocean Cruises takes travellers to the Seven Sisters Waterfall, Norway

“Cruising continues to be exceptionally popular among Australian travellers after many years of growth,” says CLIA Australasia Managing Director Joel Katz. “A lack of berthing capacity in Sydney has hampered cruise lines’ efforts to expand their operations in local waters, but the increasing number of Australians flying to ports overseas shows the market is still strong and holds great potential for the future.”

Katz says cruise lines have already announced significant new vessel deployments in this region, with smaller, older ships to be replaced with newer and larger options.

“Combined with the construction of a new International Cruise Terminal in Brisbane and other infrastructure projects announced in Cairns, Eden and Broome, this is expected to reignite growth in the Australian market,” Katz adds.

So, what’s the essence of this new wave in luxury travel? “Today’s luxury cruise passenger is seeking freedom and choice,” says Amanda McClelland, CEO of Cruiseco, the largest distributor of luxury cruise product in the Southern Hemisphere.

“They expect cutting-edge design, outstanding personalised service, ‘wow’ experiences and the freedom to do what they want, when they want and how they want.”

“My idea of luxury cruising is being with like-minded people who share similar interests, along with a curated experience and great value,” she adds. “Luxury cruising must cater to the individual’s needs, wants and desires, such as dining in the comfort of your suite or stateroom or in one of the ship’s five-star restaurants.”

Antarctic exploration with Hapag-Lloyd © Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Antarctic exploration with Hapag-Lloyd © Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Managing director of award-winning cruise specialist Wiltrans International, Diane Patrick, who has represented some of the world’s bestknown luxury cruise brands for three decades, insists the market has never been more exciting.

“This is a wonderful time to be cruising or to be planning a cruise holiday,” she says. “The evolution of ship design, onboard choices and services, combined with compelling itineraries to an ever-growing array of destinations, has been so dynamic in recent years. Cruising will fulfil your spirit of adventure in comfort and with ease.”

Whatever the motivation to cruise, there’s also a deeper, more spiritual connection that travellers are tapping into that goes far beyond the stage shows and shore tours of contemporary cruising.

Award-winning American travel photographer Steve McCurry – who shot the iconic ‘Afghan Girl’ image for National Geographic in the 1980s and is now a roving ambassador for Silversea Cruises – sums it up best.

“It’s when all your senses become aware and you are fully present, in focus – that’s travelling to me,” he says. “It’s an urgent need to go and observe this world that we all share … a ray of light, a pair of eyes that tell a story, an instant of perfection.”

“It’s like images printing on your soul, this is authentic beauty,” he adds. “It’s all out there, and trust me, there’s always room for discovery. You just have to stay curious.”

This article originally appeared in volume 34 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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