Cruising is one of the best ways to cover a lot of ground (well, also sea) in one single trip, and explore remote regions. And if anyone thought the cruise industry was suffering after the pandemic setback, there is nothing to worry about cruising is back, and how. According to the experts, the latest cruise trends demonstrate that travellers are looking for new and different experiences.
“The cruising industry is definitely back in full swing,” says Michelle Black, Viking’s managing director Australia and New Zealand. “In fact, I’d say bigger than ever before and because of this so many of our 2023 voyages have sold out and 2024 is filling fast. It’s great to see so many people back exploring the world.”
“The very latest trend in cruising is higher-end experiences, and expedition cruising is booming,” says Travel Associates general manager Rachel Kingswell. “As the planet warms, the sense of urgency can’t be ignored and we’ve been seeing new expedition ships and itineraries being launched consistently over the past six months.”
Demand for trips to the Arctic and Antarctic has almost doubled, she says, and “clients are no longer waiting for the ‘right time’ to book a milestone or celebration holiday. It’s now, or it may be never. Clients are saying, ‘Why wait, we deserve this trip!’
River cruising is a trend that’s here to stay
“Aside from polar journeys, there’s a real trend in luxury river cruising, especially around countries like Egypt,” says Rachel. “Clients are combining an amazing river cruise with a fabulous tour and really making the most of their time by keeping things simple and high end.”
“We also had incredible interest recently in the 2023 Uniworld Rivers of the World journey, which is absolutely epic,” Rachel says. “This is pure luxury for 46 nights, nine countries and five ships!” It departs on Cairo on May 20 and finishes in Lisbon, but the 2024 Rivers of the World trip will be even bigger: a 55-day odyssey from Lima to Ho Chi Minh City starting on October 3. Only 68 people can do Uniworld’s 2024 world jaunt, but there are many enticing options for the rest of us.
Viking, for example, is offering 15 new itineraries, and has released additional 2023 departures on some of its most popular river routes.Egypt is currently one of Viking’s hottest destinations, Michelle says, “and the iconic Amsterdam to Budapest itinerary continues to be a favourite; it’s such an enchanting journey along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers”. An intriguing variation on the Danube theme is Viking’s new 17-day, seven-country Capitals of Eastern Europe cruise between Vienna and Bucharest, with six new ports of call en route.
“The challenge for us all at the moment is still the air capacity out of Australia for this year and access to premium cabin seats,” Michelle says, “but it’s not deterring our clients from making up for lost time and travelling.”
Limited edition itineraries are trending
Regular cruises with departure dates of your choice are great, but every now and then an operator will announce a special one-off trip with an itinerary to drool over. One such cruise that taps into this trend is Viking’s 32-day Grand Australia Circumnavigation in early 2025. Not only will it cover the best of Australia, it goes to Komodo and Bali in Indonesia too. “We are so excited to introduce our Australia circumnavigation voyage,” says Viking’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Michelle Black. “Our past guests have been requesting this itinerary for some time, so we are thrilled to be able to deliver this opportunity. Demand is already strong, and with just one departure date, it will sell out fast, so we encourage clients to book early to avoid disappointment.” The cruise runs from January 20 to February 20, 2025, from Sydney to Sydney and includes 15 guided tours. Prices start from $19,995 per person, vikingcruises.com.au
Small ship cruising for grown-ups
Located along the beautiful Adriatic shore, Croatia and its many islands are best explored by leisurely small-ship cruising. Which is where Sail Croatia comes in, using a flotilla of luxury yachts and small ships that are locally owned and operated to showcase the regions. Forget any notions you may have had around small ships – yes, there are party boats for the 18-39-year-olds, but the new wave of this cruise trend caters to mature travellers too, particularly on the ‘Elegance Cruises’. These offer the comforts of air-conditioned ensuite rooms, spacious dining saloons and large sundecks. Typical itineraries are seven nights in either direction between Dubrovnik and Split, but there are return cruises from both cities too. More at sail-croatia.com
A scenic view of the coastline of Capetown
The new cruise destination: Africa
it may not be the most obvious cruise destination, but trending new cruises are heading to the mother continent. Norwegian Cruise Line’s inaugural season of sailing from South Africa has been so successful that it’s coming back for more. The Norwegian Dawn will be on duty between January and March 2024, using Cape Town (above) and Port Louis in Mauritius as home ports. There are 12- and 17-day itineraries to choose from, but the plum one is the 21-day voyage from Cape Town to Barcelona. Stops include São Tomé and Príncipe, Santa Maria in Cape Verde, Tenerife and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and Agadir and Casablanca in Morocco.
Going off the beaten path is the latest travel trend
Cruising in Asian waters is proving so popular that Oceania Cruises has deployed its newly refurbished Riviera there to help meet demand over the 2023-24 season. The 1238-guest ship will undertake 25 voyages ranging from 10 to 82 days, going to India, Arabia, Myanmar, China, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines. It’s part of Oceania’s Tropics & Exotics series, taking guests to “remote, wondrous destinations for off-the-beaten-path experiences,” says Oceania’s president, Frank A. Del Rio. See oceaniacruises.com
Royal Caribbean, meanwhile, has added two 12-night sailings on Spectrum of the Seas: one departing from Singapore on September 19, the other from Tokyo on October 1. They can be done back-to-back, allowing travellers to visit various destinations in Japan and Vietnam plus Hong Kong on the 24-night trip.
The new style of cruise ships
Bookings are open for Princess Cruises’ newest and largest ship, the Sun Princess, which will sail for the first time in February 2024 on the Mediterranean. The 21-deck ship features “a show-stopping, first-of-its-kind Dome on the top deck,” says Princess Cruises president John Padgett. During the day, the multi-level, glass-enclosed Dome (below) features an indoor/outdoor pool and water feature; at night, the pool becomes a stage, and the Dome transforms into an entertainment venue with a Miami South Beach vibe. The Sun Princess’s full European season includes 10-day itineraries visiting popular stops throughout the Western and Eastern Mediterranean, and a series of seven-day voyages departing from either Barcelona, Rome (Civitavecchia) or Athens which can be combined to make 14-day or 21-day cruises. princess.com
And if a barge holiday on a serene canal somewhere appeals, but you’re worried about the self-drive aspect of it (I, for one, have visions of barging into every bridge along the way), here’s the perfect solution: Hotel barges. European Waterways has a fleet of 17 hotel barges, accommodating between six and 20 guests, operating in nine countries. “Relaxed luxury” experiences are among the biggest trends this year, notes European Waterways’ managing director Derek Banks. “We offer luxury accommodations, daily gourmet meals prepared on board by a master chef, fine wine, as well as private and often exclusive excursions as part of our all-inclusive cruises.” europeanwaterways.com
Exploring new frontiers is the latest cruise trend
Founders’ voyages are becoming “a thing”, and Aurora Expeditions is offering two opportunities to discover the natural wonders of the Arctic with one of the world’s renowned explorers, Greg Mortimer, on board the polar ship named after him. Greg will be expedition leader on the 15-day Across the Arctic Circle voyage aboard the Greg Mortimer sailing from Aberdeen in Scotland to Norway on May 16, 2023. And in July 2024, Greg will lead a 24-day Arctic Complete voyage departing from Reykjavik, Iceland, visiting Greenland and Svalbard.
Meanwhile in Australia, French luxury small ship operator PONANT is bringing its newest Explorer-class ship, Le Jacques-Cartier, to Australia for its 2024 Kimberley sailing season, where it will join sister ship Le Lapérouse in making forays into the spectacular landscapes. Each has 92 staterooms and suites, making a comfy base camp from which PONANT’s 10-person Zodiac craft can make landings ashore. Itinerary highlights include the King George River, reaching the Twin Falls, and a visit to Montgomery Reef. The ships will do 22 departures between Broome and Darwin from April to September 2024.