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Exploring the world from the comfort of a luxury cruise liner is an unforgettable experience. Breathtaking views, exciting port excursions and one-of-a-kind onboard experiences are all trademarks of the new standard in luxury cruising.
With top cruise companies now adding intimate yachts and flexible river boats to their fleets of top-of-the-line ocean cruisers, today’s discerning travellers have more choice than ever when booking a luxury voyage. We sat down with Tully Luxury Travel’s top Senior Travel Designers and resident cruise experts to discuss how the definition of luxury has evolved in the cruising market.
Meet the Experts:
Gerri Grant joined Tully Luxury Travel in 1991 and has helped countless clients make their cruising dreams come true. One of her favourite travel moments was a private lunch on the Great Wall of China that she helped to organize for a group of Tully’s clients.
Kit Neil has been with the company for 14 years and enjoys helping her clients find the best deals while exceeding their expectations. She counts India and Costa Rica among her favourite destinations. The most rewarding part of the job is seeing how travel changes people’s lives for the better.
Loretta Darcy was hired as Tully Luxury Travel’s first employee back in 1987. Her long career at Tully has been spent helping clients create memories all around the world. She’s enjoyed many amazing journeys, including a trip to the Galápagos Islands and a safari in Africa. Her dream trip is to see Machu Picchu with her family.
What are clients looking for in a vessel when booking luxury cruises?
LD: What is important to our luxury guests is more spacious suites that include a walk-in closet, balconies and bathrooms with a separate tub and shower. Well-equipped exercise and spa facilities are very important as well.
KN: And our guests now want an all-inclusive experience; they don’t want to nickel and dime while on board the vessel. Many packages are being offered with gratuities and beverages all included. Some like group shore excursions to be included, but many are seeking private tours while in port.
LD: Yes, many of our clients don’t want to board a larger motor coach tour, but would rather have a more intimate experience. We’re finding that pre- and post-cruise packages are also important, so our guests can extend their trip.
GG: Value for their money is important to many as well. When I first started in this industry over 30 years ago, the options for luxury vessels were limited to only a few. Now we have a range of companies that offer the luxury experience and that has made this market more affordable.
How are itineraries different now than in the past?
KN: Longer itineraries are becoming more popular. Crystal, for example, offers two or three night stops in some ports (particularly on their World Cruise and Grand Voyages) so guests can have more time to explore each destination, rather than get a snippet of a trip.
LD: Our well-traveled clientele is looking for bucket-list destinations, which means cruise lines are becoming more creative with their offerings and are designing exotic itineraries in destinations not typically reached by cruise ships.
KN: One that comes to mind is Crystal Serenity’s recently completed voyage through the Northwest Passage, the first time a cruise ship has ever navigated those waters.
GG: Absolutely. Clients want unique experiences both on and off the ship. Having the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg open one hour earlier for their group or enjoying a private dinner party at a vineyard are all exclusive experiences that our clients find attractive.
In terms of activities, what can luxury cruisers expect to find on board?
KN: Speciality dining options are becoming very popular. Traditional dining rooms, with formal attire, are no longer the norm aboard luxury ships. Some have reduced requirements to black tie optional and country club attire. And cruise lines are providing open seating so you can eat with whom you want and when you want.
GG: Unique culinary experiences, such as celebrity chefs and cooking classes are also very trendy right now. As is entertainment that teaches, such as onboard enrichment lectures, computer classes and bridge lessons.
LD: Indeed, entertainment is less of the Vegas style that you will find on the mass market ships and more focussed on learning. Regent, for example, offers the Smithsonian Collection with experts on board. And Crystal offers voluntourism adventures, where guests can volunteer on a community-building project at their destinations.
What are you most excited about in the next few years of cruising?
LD: For our more adventurous guests, I’m really excited about the new yacht cruises from Crystal Cruise Line. They’ve added a yacht, the Esprit, to their fleet that hold up to 60 guests and has a two-passenger submersible for underwater adventures, as well as a high-performance wider 32 speedboat.
GG: River cruising is getting hotter but it is still a very untapped market compared to ocean cruising. I am excited to see what innovative itineraries and vessels will come to that segment of the industry in the next few years.
LD: Crystal just added a new river cruise ship in July, called the Mozart, and has two new ships scheduled to enter service next year. The overall trend we are seeing there is ships with larger suites, including balconies. The packages are also all-inclusive, with beverages, gratuities and a daily complimentary shore excursion.
KN: Yes, definitely river cruising is a growing market. And another segment that we are seeing growing in popularity is expedition cruising. I think this type of cruising is very exciting because it is in depth, up close and educational — all aspects that are important to us and our clients. National Geographic, Tauck and Silversea are the top three cruise lines for expeditions.
GG: Of course, ocean cruising continues to be very popular and our top cruise companies are continually finding new ways to improve the luxury traveller’s experience. It is always very exciting to see the new amenities that come on the market.
KN: The Regent Explorer, for example, just came on the market and is rated as the most luxurious ship afloat today. Two other new ships debuting in 2016-2017 are Silversea’s Silver Muse and Seabourn Encore. Clients are always wanting to go on the inaugural
– The Tully Team