Sailing The Seas

Posted on: 13 November 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

We take a look at a range of cruise deals around the globe available in the coming year.

This November, it’s the end of an era as the iconic ocean liner QE2 stops cruising after a successful 40-year career and sails off to become a hotel in Dubai.

But this year has also seen a new wave of modern ships bursting onto the scene, with 10 launched in the UK alone, including Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas - the world’s largest cruise ship carrying around 3,700 passengers.

The current boom in the cruise industry is set to increase with cruise bookings by Brits expected to reach 1.5 million for the first time this year - partly down to cheaper fares and a more modern, informal ambience onboard than in previous decades.

But with an ever-increasing number of cruises on offer, how do you start choosing which one to go on? You don’t want to be stuck on the wrong type of cruise for you.

Consider whether you want a large ship packed with facilities or a more intimate ship which could visit more offbeat ports. Which part of the world would best suit the month you want to travel? How important to you is the itinerary and number of places?

Would you prefer a traditional ship with few children and a formal dress code at dinner or one with a more casual, free-seating dining policy? Teetotallers may think it a waste to choose a cruise where drinks are included in the price.

We contacted UK specialist cruise agents so that we could bring you a selection of their suggestions, spanning the globe for various tastes and budgets.

According to the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA), the average amount spent on a cruise per person in 2007 was around £1,300, but as we show here, you could just as easily spend around £400 or £4,000.

Prices shown are approximate, per person, and unless stated otherwise are based on a cruise only, flights excluded, for two people sharing a standard, outside-facing cabin. You may well be able to get our recommended trips more cheaply by booking for a date in a less popular month, finding discounts from cruise companies and agents and going for an inside cabin.

Signing up to a company’s email newsletters may alert you to discounts before the deals disappear.

Cruise prices almost always include your accommodation, meals in certain restaurants, most onboard entertainment and port taxes, but usually exclude the cost of most drinks, excursions and often gratuities, so make sure you budget extra for these.

Test The Water & Channel Hop

Instead of staying on land for your next weekend break, why not try out the cruise experience for two or three nights? Ferry companies, such as DFDS Seaways and P&O Ferries, offer mini-cruises, but novices should go for a dedicated cruise ship to get a real sense of what a longer trip would be like.

Launched this year by Norwegian Cruise Line, the Norwegian Jade offers two and three week trips around the Mediterranean, plus tasters like this three-night round trip from Southampton to Guernsey and French Le Havre.

This huge 15-deck ship takes up to 2,400 passengers, so you’re spoilt for choice with 12 dining areas, 11 bars and lounges and entertainment galore for all ages. The informal setting means eating where, when and with whom you like, while excursions are arranged just as on longer cruises.

So during the day, you could visit the Normandy landing beaches or even whizz off to Paris. Another option is to start the cruise from Rotterdam if you want to add another destination.

Cost: £407 (June 2009)

On A Mediterranean Budget

Cruises used to be seen as only for the wealthy. Not any more. In recent years, companies such as EasyCruise have started to sell cheaper holidays for people who don’t need frills on their floating hotels.

Ocean Village concentrated on value for money over elegance with its tagline ‘the cruise for people who don’t do cruises’. And its seven-night trip on the cheery Ocean Village 2 from Palma down to classic ports such as Tunis, Rome and Barcelona, seems very reasonably priced, especially as this cost includes return flights from London and all basic onboard gratuities.

The family-friendly ship may be a little too lively and casual for some, but it doesn’t skimp on facilities. You can expect the usual luxury spa, free theatrical shows, a casino, a plethora of bars and even a restaurant, for an extra cover charge, where TV chef James Martin sometimes cooks.

Cost: £681 (October 2009)

Blow The Budget In Central America

Most cruise ships these days will be comfortable and provide a good range of facilities, but a few pricier companies offer top-notch trips for those wanting that extra special treatment and attention to detail.

For a wallet-busting yuletide treat, consider the luxurious Mariner from Regent Seven Seas which has a 16-night cruise starting in Los Angeles. The mid-size ship visits resorts in Mexico and Costa Rica, heads through the Panama Canal, and then up to Florida via Grand Cayman in the West Caribbean.

A high crew-to-passenger ratio of 3:2 should mean great service, and deck space won’t be cramped, particularly as many passengers will want to stay on their own balconies.

Live lavishly with fine dining created by Cordon Bleu chefs, unlimited drinks included in the cost as are gratuities and pampering at the Carita de Paris spa for an extra charge. Or maybe a soak in your cabin’s marblelined bathroom will do just fine.

Cost: £3,972, in a balcony suite (December 2009)

To Russia & The Baltics

If you want to avoid flying, there are hundreds of cruises leaving UK ports every year - in 2007, more people than ever took one of these.

One advantage is that with no airline restrictions to worry about, you can take as much luggage as you like.

Those loving the thought of long periods at sea may like a six-night transatlantic crossing, perhaps with Cunard, but here we select a 14-night trip with many destinations on the Aurora from P&O.

From Southampton, the British ship sails via Scandinavian capitals such as Stockholm and Helsinki to St Petersburg, where you get two days to visit the Hermitage and other classic sights. Expect an air of familiarity onboard, with mostly Brits as fellow passengers, English-style pubs and sterling as the onboard currency.

The ship also provides Tate Britain talks on modern art. A Marco Pierre White restaurant is a new addition, while other facilities include a cinema, three pools and a golf simulator.

Cost: £1549 (May 2009)

Into The Wild Galapagos Islands

Much of the world’s pristine wilderness and its rare wildlife is only accessible by sea. Now, small expedition cruises are increasingly popular in places like Alaska and even Antarctica.

A seven-night tour around the equatorial Galapagos islands with Celebrity should be ideal for nature-loving explorers. A maximum of 100 like-minded passengers join the educational Xpedition for the chance to spot endemic species such as giant tortoises, iguanas and some of the world’s smallest penguins.

To make as little impact as possible on the environment, inflatable rafts are used to get up close. Naturalists give nightly lectures, there are no raucous entertainment shows here, and binoculars and telescopes are available, however, there’s no swimming pool.

The aptly named Darwin’s Restaurant and Beagle Grill may serve fresh fish caught by locals.

Cost: £1818, including onboard drinks and gratuities (April 2009)

Have you been on a cruise before? Where did you go? Would you go again?

Share your tips and recommendations with other readers by leaving a comment in the box below. Alternatviely, share your thoughts in the 50connect forums.

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