My appetite for sailing was whetted in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, watching occasional four or five-masted schooners sail by, bound from Maine to New York. They looked magical and romantic, with all sails set. Enthusiasm for traveling began on trans-Atlantic voyages aboard the France and the Queen Mary in the 1950s. Though both liners were old then, a five- or six-day transatlantic crossing was never long enough when the moon shimmered on the dark sea at night and the occasional whale was spotted.
As the pace of new builds slows, there has been a steady growth in refurbishments and enhancements. Among the notable refurbs in 2013 was Disney Magic’s comprehensive makeover, which included replacing the Mickey Pool with a new water fun zone and water slide and total revamping of deck-top areas, restaurants and children’s clubs.
Slow, leisurely, tranquil, intimate, even stress-relieving and culturally enriching, these are a few of the adjectives that describe a barge cruise. A barge holiday could be a perfect choice for a client whose idea of luxury includes fine food cooked a la minute by a master chef, using top local ingredients; the opportunity to sample excellent regional wines, perhaps two dozen during a week’s cruise; personalized service, and the opportunity to explore in some depth a particular region.
According to the American Express internal cruise survey released during this year’s Cruise3Sixty Conference, 38% of the Amex counselors queried said that the cruise product they’re seeing the greatest demand for are small ship cruises. River cruising, which also falls into the small ship category, was close behind at 27%. CLIA reported similar trends in this year’s industry report.
Clients like small ship cruises because they tend to be fairly inclusive, a big plus for those who resent being nickel-and-dimed, who appreciate the comfort and convenience of not signing for every beverage, and not having to add up cruise expenses on a daily basis. And there is the appeal of visiting small ports not accessible to bigger vessels.
Whether on land, sea or river, the buzzword is “experiential.” Not content to merely “see” or “visit,” seasoned travelers want to participate, to connect with the culture and people of a place - and to come home feeling that their lives have been enriched.
Voyages of Discovery cruises aboard the 550-passenger mv Voyager embrace this concept by offering guests an education about the history, culture and people of the places the ship visits. During the Tales of India and Arabia itinerary, for example, guest lecturers cover the history of India, starting from the days of the Raj, trade across the Indian Ocean and two of the world’s richest cities, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This allows cruise passengers to relate to the people and places they see on a deeper and richer level than if they disembarked armed only with brochures listing well-known attractions.