Americans looking for the gentle rhythms and relaxed atmosphere of river cruising don’t need to fly to Europe. Vessels ranging from replica paddle wheelers to sleek, contemporary ships cruise not just the ever-popular Mississippi and Columbia rivers but the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee and even the Hudson.
© FRASER YACHTS
Less than five years ago the world’s first hybrid cruise ship, Hurtigruten Expeditions’ MS Roald Amundsen, set sail for Antarctica in November 2019 with 450 passengers. The battery-hybrid-powered ship, named for the first man to cross the continent and reach the South Pole, was built specifically for voyages in polar waters. Its battery-hybrid power reduces the ship’s consumption and CO2 emissions by 20 percent compared to equally sized ships.
I hadn’t even made it to my first cup of coffee when I got an early phone call from my sister, who lives two time zones away. “OMG, Kristy, Patsy Cline came on twice while I was driving the kids to school today,” she laughed. “You know what that means, right?” We both gasped and then instantly began singing the lyrics to “La Bamba,” an inside joke we’d shared since our family’s Alaskan cruise decades ago when we, unintentionally, won the ship’s karaoke contest among a sea of Patsy Cline tributes.
Powered by oars and, later, the wind, the world’s first seagoing vessels were, as we would call them today, zero-emission. That all changed in the 18th century when industrial-age engineers figured out how to harness the steam engine’s power for maritime use. Diesel engines soon followed and, before long, ocean liners plied seas around the world.
All aboard for a floating heavy metal festival! From March 2 to 7, 2024, the Monsters of Rock Cruise hoists anchor and takes to the water for its 12th year of live music and fun.
Last year ground broke on a new cruise port at Cabo Rojo in Pedernales on the Dominican Republic’s southwest coast. The first phase of the port, scheduled to open in December 2023, will have the capacity to handle up to 1 million passengers annually when fully operational.
As soon as I slip into the cool water and don my mask and snorkel, a penguin darts by. Then another. And another. As soon as I catch a glimpse, they’re gone in a flash, replaced by sea turtles and marine iguanas effortlessly floating above the submerged rocks, nibbling algae as the current sweeps them to and fro. A few yards away a trio of sea lions performs a playful underwater ballet, casting quick, curious glances my way before continuing on with their fun.
Get on Board: Cruising Trends for 2024 Reflect Advanced Technology, Far-Flung Itineraries and Unique Experiences
According to Cruise Lines International Association, cruise passenger volume in 2023 is expected to reach 106 percent of 2019 levels, with 31.5 million passengers sailing. Clearly, in a post-pandemic travel world, cruising remains as popular as ever. Lines are responding, with next-generation ships being fabricated at shipyards and brands tapping into passenger demands to explore new destinations ashore and enjoy creative dining options and memorable activities. Read on for what to expect in 2024.
When Francesco I set sail from Naples in 1831, she was weighted down with aristocrats and card-carrying nobility garlanded in jewels and finery, each of whom responded to the siren call of a seductive advertising promotion. Embarking upon a floating version of the era’s popular European Grand Tour, those who crossed the ship’s gangplank were technically the first passengers on record to sail as leisure guests aboard a vessel in the Mediterranean.
The islands of the South Pacific have long drawn travelers and explorers, starting around 4000 B.C. when the seafaring people of the Solomon Islands sailed across the ocean to settle Tonga and Samoa, followed by Fiji, Vanuatu, Hawai‘i and Tahiti. In the mid-1500s, European explorers made their way to the islands of the South Pacific; French artist Paul Gaugin arrived in Tahiti in 1891 for a self-imposed creative exile. American novelist James Michener was inspired by his time in the Solomon Islands during World War II to write Tales of the South Pacific, adapted into the musical South Pacific.
Cruises are one of the most inclusive vacation offerings out there and often considered the perfect vessel, pun intended, for a multigenerational escape. They are able to gather everyone together under one floating roof, with something for everyone from the 7-month-old to the septuagenarian in your group.
Deep within Royal Caribbean’s sprawling Miami headquarters, in what is known by employees as The Cave, Jay Schneider, Royal Caribbean International’s chief product innovation officer, does some of his best thinking. “One issue that the industry deals with is elevators,” he explained. “Waiting in line then being confused about where to go is frustrating for guests.”
If you enjoy cruising, you’re not alone. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, in 2019 the global cruise industry welcomed nearly 30 million passengers. During that time the industry created jobs for 1.8 million people worldwide and contributed more than $154 billion to the global economy. Now that cruising is back to pre-pandemic operations, the seafaring future looks bright for cruise lines: CLIA is expecting a full recovery by the end of 2023 ... and even an increase of 12 percent over 2019 numbers in 2024.
Since my last name is Kapitanski, I had to learn how to sail!” joked Boris Kapitanski while telling me about the 45-foot catamaran yacht he chartered with his wife and friends to sail through Croatia. They could have had it all: the captain, the chef, all the water toys, everything anyone would want to make their trip exactly how they desired. Yet they chose to forego most of that. “We like to cook. The kitchen was enclosed with windows on the top deck. We sailed past the most beautiful surroundings,” he reminisced. Jagged cliffs, textured forests and land singing with wildlife drifted by while they grilled freshly caught fish.
In 1817, when New York’s Black Ball Line launched the first regularly scheduled passenger service between New York and England, the journey eastward took about 40 days and the return 23. Amenities were limited and included in-cabin skylights and, in the dining room, whale-oil lanterns and silver service.
One could argue the cruising experience and industry have improved by leaps and bounds, thanks in part to the way cruise lines used the pandemic downtime to raise standards in dining, safety and comfort. However, trend reports from trade organizations like Cruise Lines International Association and conversations with representatives from ocean and river cruises reveal old tropes associated with cruising (slow-paced, large group walking tours, buffet dining) began sailing into the sunset long before 2020.
As the second-most populated river island on the planet (behind Zhongshan in China), Montréal offers visitors and its 1.9 million residents a plethora of urban amenities, from its Parisian atmosphere, great restaurants and hotels to cultural and sporting venues, along with seafaring opportunities from St. Lawrence River cruises to kayaking local canals.
A city of 2 million people sinks into the river. Less than an hour earlier we were stuck there in heavy traffic. We finally arrived at the riverside, where the three-decked wooden boat Tucano awaited. We transferred to it and cast off, heading upstream. The near bank became dense with greenery. Pairs of scarlet macaws flapped over us. Insects and birds and howler monkeys provided a natural soundtrack above the rhythmic throb of the engine. Manaus disappeared in our wake.
The idea of getting away from it all is the driving force behind many vacation plans. That’s easier thought than done. Oftentimes, as soon as “all” seems far behind, the trip is over and reality brings “it” back.
PHOTOS:© CULTURAL HERITAGE ALLIANCE FOR TOURISM, INC.
It is not surprising popular destinations like Nassau in the Bahamas, Saint-Tropez along the French Riviera and the Greek island of Santoríni host record numbers of cruise ships year after year. These world-renowned locations often find themselves at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. Popular cruise ports of call offer many appealing traits such as history, natural beauty and exciting attractions that keep the masses returning time and again. But they also offer throngs of tourists, pricey shops and restaurants, and gimmicky tourist attractions.
Whether you like to line dance, swing dance, rock out, salsa or just chill and listen to tunes, there’s a music- themed cruise for you. Mix all the best components of a music festival with the ease, amenities and excursion opportunities of a cruise, and you can see why music lovers are ready to set sail. In the past 20 years music cruises have proved popular, with just about every genre represented.
As the crew lined the gangway, glaciers and mountains filled my view, and I snapped a selfie to document the surreal moment from where I stood at the north bank of the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia, Argentina. I was destined for Antarctica, and the ship in front of me would be the vessel that brought me to my seventh continent.
At the beginning of the late August christening cruise of AmaSiena, cruise manager Martina Valachova and hotel manager Romeo Luchian exuded warmth and humor to set the tone for its COVID-era maiden voyage by explaining how AmaWaterways’ new health and sanitation practices would enhance the experience. Their PA announcements throughout the cruise positioned the necessities of masking up, pre-meal temperature checks and pre-departure COVID tests as extensions of the safety protocols that existed in the “before-times.”
Contrary to impressions gleaned from the familiar title of Strauss’ beloved waltz, the Danube is not blue. Like most rivers, it has a grayish hue, and in some parts a muddy murkiness. However, catch the Danube in the right light, perhaps as you picnic on its banks after a bike ride, and an ultramarine glimmer might catch your eye. Despite misleading references regarding its color, the marvelous Danube surely conjures more storybook visions than any other river on Earth. The second-longest river in Europe, a serpentine enormity, it flows through 10 countries for more than 1,770 miles, from Bavaria to the Black Sea. A fount of legends and history, it has harbored ancient cultures, served as a key trade route for centuries, and today provides its best-known cities — Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade — with drinking water.
For 20 consecutive months, the world’s seas and waterways were nearly devoid of travelers, furloughed by viral winds, and the ships of major cruise lines remained anchored in a ghostly quarantine stretching around the globe. Only this summer has the maritime lockdown begun to loosen, ports reopen and regulations relax to the point where operators can set sail on a course toward normalcy. The restart has been rocky, however, and it would require a boatload of crystal balls to predict precisely when — and even if — cruise lines can resume full operations. Passengers are therefore advised to scrutinize a cruise line’s refund policies before taking the plunge.
Seabourn recently announced the name of its second new ultra-luxury purpose-built expedition ship: Seabourn Pursuit. The name reflects the passion of expedition travelers to seek out and explore natural wonders and destinations through activities around the globe.
Galataport Istanbul, a new cruise and lifestyle destination on the Bosphorus in Istanbul, welcomed its first ship, SeaDream II, on Oct. 1. Approximately 150 passengers and crew from Bulgaria Varna arrived at 10 a.m. for a two-day homeport operation before continuing to Bulgaria Burgaz.
Beyond ocean cruising and river cruising lies a third form of maritime travel — lake cruising — and the Great Lakes of North America offer the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth for just such pleasures. Bordering the Canadian province of Ontario and eight American states, from Minnesota to New York, the Great Lakes’ system of five interconnected, land-encased gargantuan bodies of water holds more than one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. The shoreline is gigantic, too, measuring some 10,000 miles, studded with world-class natural, cultural, historic and urban sites. Nevertheless, far fewer major cruise lines venture here than into other major North American waterways such as the Mississippi River and the Alaskan coast.
Following a decade of phenomenal growth, Asia has become the second-most popular cruise destination in the world, trailing only the Caribbean. Most of the nearly 4 million passengers who annually sail in Asia are drawn to the ports and cultural sites in China and Japan, but one in five maritime travelers go on to explore the world-class temples, multiple cuisines, vast jungles, glowing beaches and exotic markets of Southeast Asia.
In this era of 6,500-passenger mega-ships, any cruise vessel conveying fewer than a thousand voyagers is considered a small ship, including high-end luxury liners, deluxe expedition ships and the world’s riverboats. The focus on many small ships is the destination rather than the conveyance, the expert chat rather than the Broadway show, the watersport rather than the casino, the scenery and culture rather than the full-service spa and specialty restaurant. Passengers make a travel style choice, forgoing the options and pleasures of a resort-sized vessel for the deeper, more immersive experience of a yacht-scaled ship.
While cruising is still at a halt for the most part, many cruise lines are starting to plan for the future when cruising makes its comeback. Some travelers are eager to set sail for the first time in more than one year and Azamara is here to get them back at sea with its new Country-Intensive Voyage in Japan.
After a catastrophic no-sail season, cruise lines were buoyant about forthcoming operations in Alaska, the world’s fifth-most popular cruise destination. One in 10 Alaskans work in tourism-related industries, with passenger ships accounting for more than 1 million annual visitors. The desire to sail the waters of America’s last frontier has been pent up for many months by the pandemic, and the 49th state, along with cruise lines worldwide, was eager to see a vigorous return of coastal cruising this year, followed by full recovery in 2022.
The general forecast for cruises is perhaps a bit surprising: clear sailing ahead. But buoyed by strict new health protocols and the pent-up demand for vacations at sea, most major cruise lines do indeed expect a full deployment for their fleets in the coming months. Bookings for 2021 are pushing record levels, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 2023 World Cruise is already sold out.
Cruises offer a deluge of opportunities to overindulge, but cruise lines also increasingly cater to passengers who want to disembark in better shape than when they boarded. This means more than expanding gym space or updating exercise equipment. New programs to maintain (or even improve) health and wellness for mind as well as body are multiplying.
Far from the Rhine, the Nile, the Amazon and the Yangtze, the great rivers of America have also served boat passengers for centuries, and such cruises continue to be popular, primarily on the Mississippi and Columbia river systems. Replicas of 19th- century paddle wheelers still hold sway. Small-town ports masquerade as pages from an American storybook. Shorelines are all aglitter with the romance of history, reflecting the lives and times of Lewis and Clark and Mark Twain.
WITH HYBRID AND ELECTRIC CARS sparking a revolution in land-based vehicles, cruise lines worldwide are riding a green wave as well. Everything from diesel fuel to plastic drinking straws is walking the plank in the name of improving the environment and combating climate change.
IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO FIND a cruise company more kid-friendly than Disney Cruise Line, but even at Disney, where animated characters rule the waves, adults can still take command of the helm. Each of Disney’s four ships features areas open from morning to night where adults can enjoy kid-free dining, recreation and entertainment options. The Quiet Cove offers an adults-only pool, hot tub and splash-up bar. One deck up lies an adult sundeck and sunbathing area. The Remy and Palo restaurants are adults-only, too, as is the Senses Spa & Salon with a full range of spa and beauty treatments including a thermal suite with sauna, whirlpools and heated ceramic loungers. Cruises offer mixology and tasting classes and shore excursions off-limits to kids, and in the Caribbean, Disney’s private island even includes an adults-only beach with cabanas, bar and barbecue buffet. Back on board, in The District, Disney created an animated corridor of pubs, cocktail bars and nightclubs restricted to the 18-or-older crowd.
A YEAR AGO, OPRAH WINFREY took the helm, along with “chief officer” Gayle King and mates from O, The Oprah Magazine, to launch the ultimate girls’ getaway cruise. The event sold out in less than 24 hours, and the ensuing spectacle, aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam, consisted of a three-day cruise to the Bahamas out of Fort Lauderdale. Nearly 2,400 women (and 59 men) helped Oprah celebrate her 65th birthday with a non-stop party at sea that included Oprah talks, meditation and fitness classes, book club readings, health and beauty sessions, fashion shows and shopping marathons — in short, all the workshops and workouts women dreamed of finding time for in their busy lives on land.
EUROPE’S BUSIEST AND MOST picturesque waterway, the Rhine River winds for more than 700 miles from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea. It is a traveler’s feast for the eye, mind and palate, a complete banquet of castles, museums, medieval towns, vineyards, restaurants and shops. Sightseers have focused on its wonders for centuries. With the popularity of river cruises spreading, the Rhine River remains at the top of the charts, drawing more than 300 cruise ships to its waters each year, including many of the world’s most luxurious river vessels.
WHEN SILVERSEA CRUISES began operations in 1994, it became the world’s first all-inclusive, ultra-luxury cruise line. For sheer elegance in small-ship cruising, Silversea continues to top the charts. Its fleet expanded to nine ships, with five more on order, and its itineraries now cover the globe. In this, its silver jubilee year, Silversea was elected GT’s Cruise Line of the Year, a position it achieved by continuing to enhance its offerings. For the near future, Silversea will place more emphasis on its longer voyages and expedition cruising.
ALTHOUGH THE UNITED STATES ELIMINATED its cruise travel to Cuba in June, affecting some 800,000 passengers, travel by sea shows no sign of slowing worldwide, and cruise lines are expanding their fleets and destinations for 2020, expected to be a record year. North Americans will make up nearly half of the expected 30 million passengers in the coming year, an increase spurred on by the continuing popularity of cruises to Alaska, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, along with the rising tide of river cruises and expedition-style sailing.
POP ICONS ADD ZEST TO ANY CRUISE, so it’s no wonder cruises with popular-culture themes are proliferating. In fact, pop culture now rules the deck on every voyage with Disney Cruises and its roaming crew of stars from Pixar, Marvel, Disney and Star Wars productions. Disney’s deck parties, 3-D movies and Broadway-style shows are designed for families, as are the staterooms, which feature split baths and extra space and storage. On select 2020 itineraries in the Caribbean, passengers can enjoy a Star Wars Day at Sea featuring a throng of Star Wars characters; and on many five-night cruises from Miami, a Marvel Day at Sea brings aboard stunt shows, movie marathons and a chance to cavort with the likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man and Captain America. Disney Cruises to Alaska are headlined by Pixar Pals at Sea programs put on by the characters of Toy Story, The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc. and highlighted by an all-hands-on-deck Super Hero Shuffle.
LONG REGARDED AS AMONG the finest small-ship cruise lines, Windstar made its name with its first three ships, the 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit and the 312-passenger Wind Surf, each featuring computer-controlled sails. Three more conventional 212-passenger boutique ships were recently added to the fleet: Star Pride (2014), Star Legend (2015) and Star Breeze (2015). Together, the six ships now call on some 300 ports in 80 countries, taking passengers to places larger luxury ships do not go, from Little Bay on Montserrat to Surtsey Island in Iceland, while remaining true to the Windstar motto, “180 degrees from ordinary.”
FINE CRUISES ARE SYNONYMOUS with fine cuisine, and luxury cruise lines fine-tune dining programs with that in mind. From visits to local farms and markets to cooking schools where passengers fix their own repasts, the latest culinary trends at sea promise passengers a deeper immersion in what’s behind the menu.
PONANT, THE ONLY MAJOR French-owned cruise line serving destinations worldwide, is campaigning to attract more North American passengers, having recently opened offices in New York and Miami. Ponant presents dual appeal in its fleet of small luxury ships featuring gourmet French dining and the wide range of exotic ports it serves from pole to pole.
ONCE KNOWN AS THE “END OF THE WORLD” or the “Untouchable Continent,” Antarctica welcomed 51,707 passengers between 2017 and 2018. Travel to Antarctica moved closer to the limelight over the years, all thanks to the pioneering work of one man who had a vision to bring adventurous and education-minded tourists to remote destinations around the world in small expedition ships.
MORE THAN A CENTURY AGO, the great ocean liners, including the original Queen Mary and the ill-fated Titanic, provided space for passengers to exercise. These fitness centers of yesteryear, usually situated in rooms without so much as a porthole for views, were equipped with the iron weights and intricate wooden exercise machines of the time. Passengers worked out on rowing machines and static bicycles in full Edwardian dress, from suits and ties to dresses and hats.
RIVER CRUISING HAS BECOME one of the fastest-growing segments of water travel, enabling passengers to take in the sights of the world’s great inland waterways, especially in Europe. The rising tide of interest in river travel prompted an upgrade of the ships themselves, where the facilities and amenities increasingly resemble those of their big sisters, the swank, ocean-going, “all-inclusive” luxury cruise ships.
FOR PASSENGERS DRAWN TO cold-water sailing, from the Arctic to Antarctica, and those who delight in exploring as well as cruising, Hurtigruten (although not well-known in North America) is the byword. Since 1893 Hurtigruten carried passengers as well as mail and other shipping commodities up and down the icy, fjordlaced Atlantic coast of Norway, and recently the line branched out into full-fledged expedition cruising at a time when this has become the hottest trend in the industry. Nearly half of the new ships to be launched this year by cruise lines worldwide are smaller craft dedicated to adventurous explorations at sea. Hurtigruten, which bills itself as “the world’s largest expedition cruise operator,” keeps pace in a number of ways.
MANY CRUISE LINES are only too happy to keep the whole family entertained these days, as some 42 percent of parties now sail with children under 18. Mid-sized to mega-sized ships offer the widest range of programs and facilities dedicated to kids and teens, although these playgrounds at sea are not the only option. Some all-inclusive luxury liners and smaller expedition ships are also family-friendly.
DESPITE A SHORT SAILING SEASON (May through September), Alaska attracts a million cruise passengers annually, ranking it among the five most popular cruise destinations in the world. Most lines plying Alaskan waters sell out far in advance, and that’s true for the two largest operators in the 49th state, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. Headquartered in Seattle and Santa Clarita, California, respectively, these two lines handle a quarter-million Alaska visitors yearly, employing mid-sized, full-service ships that hit the highlights of Southeast Alaska’s virtually roadless 1,000-mile-long Inside Passage. This seashore gallery is rife with monumental glaciers and fjords, towering snowy peaks and abundant wildlife; and its rustic ports retain elements of their Native American and pioneer heritages.
UNIWORLD IS THE BYWORD for all-inclusive luxury river cruising, especially on the magnificent rivers of Europe. That’s where the Uniworld Boutique River Collection of more than a dozen small vessels really shines. The fares are high, but the inclusions are striking: all gratuities, ship-wide WiFi connections, a free excursion at each port, most beverages and farm-to-table gourmet cuisine, not to mention complimentary fitness classes, fleets of Uniworld bicycles and an ample assortment of Nordic walking sticks.
FEW HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS are more lavish and exhilarating than those held on special cruises, especially when it’s cold at home. Fortunately, many cruise lines offer seasonal galas in the winter, especially in the Caribbean during the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s holidays. While it’s too late to book such a cruise this winter, plenty of notable holiday cruises will make it easy to shake off the chills in 2019.
Ports of Call: Nautica sailed from Mumbai, India, to Dubai and Fujairah, United Arab Emirates; Muscat and Salālah, Oman; Aqaba, Jordan; Luxor, Egypt; Haifa, Israel; Limassol, Cyprus; Rhodes and Santoríni, Greece; Ephesus, Turkey; Valletta, Malta; and Palermo, Sorrento and Civitavecchia, Italy.
Ports of Call: Seven Seas Voyager made stops at Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah, United Arab Emirates; Muscat, Oman; Mumbai, Goa and Cochin, India; Maldives; Seychelles; Kenya; Zanzibar, Tanzania; Madagascar; Maputo, Mozambique; and Richards Bay, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa.
Ports of Call: The 28-night cruise from San Diego to Lima and back aboard the Maasdam included Cabo San Lucas, Huatulco and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico; Fuerte Amador, Panama; Salaverry (Trujillo) and Lima (Callao), Peru, overnight; Manta, Ecuador; Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica; Corinto, Nicaragua; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; and returning to San Diego, California.
THE RIGHT TO EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY may not be among the first 10 Constitutional Amendments. But when it comes to drink especially, it may well define what it is like to sail on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. With 16 ships and five more in the making, the 51-year-old line calls on nearly 300 destinations throughout the world year-round. And on each of those voyages, its ships carry about 100 varieties of wines.
OVER THE PAST DECADE, Crystal Cruises soared to the top echelons of ocean cruising with its two fine ships, the Crystal Symphony and the Crystal Serenity, two of the largest vessels in this rarefied class, each carrying about a thousand passengers. Crystal has been able to offer more options in entertainment, enrichment and activities than its top-of-the-line competitors while maintaining superb service with extremely high passenger-to-staff and passenger-to-space ratios. Crystal passengers have come to expect gratuities to be covered and fine wines, premium spirits, Champagne and specialty coffees to be complimentary. The cruise line recently added free internet and WiFi connections, too. Along the way, Crystal became the leader in providing multigenerational family cruises for well-to-do travelers.
LEANING OVER THE POLISHED DECK RAIL, I’m aware latitude and longitude have given way to vast stretches of deep blues and a multitude of grays. Beneath my feet, depth is measured in fathoms, a deep well filled with countless mysteries likely to remain forever hidden beneath the shifting surface.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I AM A FAN OF integrative medicine guru Dr. Andrew Weil. So I had high expectations for an enriching experience as I settled onto my yoga mat at his Crystal Sound Bath class, covered myself with a blanket, applied an eye pillow and retreated from the world around me. After welcoming us to what promised to be a deeply meditative experience, our instructor/wellness guide proceeded to create a sequence of varying sound wave vibrations with three different crystal bowls, also known as singing bowls. As the atonal, haunting sounds of the bowls filled the room, the vibrations seemed to harmonize with each other and flow into my being. I lost consciousness of time and slipped into a trance-like state. When I emerged 50 minutes later, I felt relaxed and renewed.
VIKING RIVER CRUISES has become familiar to millions of TV viewers, chiefly through its sponsorship of the hit PBS series Downton Abbey. Those beguiling ads paint a picture of a premium cruise line delivering unforgettable experiences on the legendary riverways of northern Europe — the Danube, the Rhine, the Seine — and the picture is accurate. Passengers can expect a grand river tour filled with spectacles and special experiences, rendered in sophisticated style. Founded in 1997 by Torstein Hagen, who often appears in the Viking ads, the line grew especially rapidly, adding 40 of its signature 190-passenger Longships between 2012 and 2016 to become the largest river cruise line in the world.
HOMER FIRST SANG OF THE WINE-DARK seas Odysseus cruised 3,000 years ago, and today’s cruise lines paint a similar picture with their expanding wine lists, onboard tastings and visits to local wineries. When world-class varietals and vintages become the focus of a specially themed wine cruise, so much the better. Fortunately for oenophiles, many top cruise lines host designated wine cruises featuring resident experts and regional winemakers who preside over workshops, tastings, wine dinners and shore excursions to rare or legendary vineyards. Here we uncork a few standout wine cruises for 2019.
THE RITZ-CARLTON IS ON THE VERGE of becoming the first luxury hotel chain to launch its own cruise line, The Ritz- Carlton Yacht Collection, combining the experience of private yachting with the range and deluxe facilities of premium ocean cruising. The first of its three 298-passenger mega-yachts (yet unnamed) will set sail Feb. 1, 2020, from Fort Lauderdale, two nights before Super Bowl LIV kicks off in nearby Miami.
IT IS SAID SALT SEA AIR has profound curative powers, so what better place to immerse oneself in these healthful properties than on an ocean cruise? Spas have long been a staple on cruises, but many ships expanded their fitness and beauty facilities to embrace programs dedicated to promoting wellness of mind, body and spirit. This fresh focus on wellness and holistic lifestyles already spawned a wide range of alternative classes, exotic spa treatments, leaner cuisines and New Age activities from meditation to yoga, all designed to return passengers to shore in fitter and trimmer condition — enlightened, rather than bloated.
BILLING ITSELF AS “the world’s finest ultra-luxury cruise line,” Seabourn celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and remains highly popular with passengers seeking modern, understated elegance. Its far-flung all-inclusive cruises visit more than 170 UNESCO World Heritage sites from Australia and Asia to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Each of its ships accommodates just 458–600 guests, all staterooms are suites with spacious bathrooms and walk-in closets, most drinks are complimentary, gratuities are included, waiting lines are kept to a minimum, and service is intensively personalized — all in keeping with the founders’ intent to create a yacht-like atmosphere.
AS CRUISE SHIPS BECOME LARGER, they also become greener. This movement to make cruising eco-friendly comes at a time when cruise ships draw fire for their negative effects on the environment. A typical cruise ship with 3,000 passengers aboard puts out 1 million gallons of gray water; 210,000 gallons of sewage; 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water; and 50 tons of garbage and solid waste on a 10-day voyage. By one estimate, a medium-sized ship emits the same volume of air pollutants as 5 million cars going the same distance. Air quality on deck can reach the same unhealthful level as that measured on the streets of the world’s most polluted cities.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE IS, by many measures, a large cruise operator, with 14 ships calling on more than 400 ports and all seven continents. Yet its fleet consists solely of medium-sized vessels, each classically designed with sleek, navy-blue hulls evoking the golden age of ocean liners. Holland America resisted adding mega-ships to its line, favoring smaller, tradition-laden vessels while discretely incorporating modern perks and luxury appointments along the way. There are no climbing walls, water slides or amusement park rides on board, but Holland America passengers can expect exceptional afternoon teas and, in colder waters, hearty mugs of pea soup served on deck.
THE MEDITERRANEAN IS THE second-most popular cruise destination in the world, and for good reason. Nowhere else on Earth combines such an array of stunning marine settings with so many iconic, cultural and historic treasures. Cruise passengers can comb the ancient ruins of Greece and Italy, party on the Riviera, sip the wines of southern France, island-hop along the Iberian Peninsula or explore the walled cities of the Dalmatian Coast.
AMAWATERWAYS HAS BEEN at the forefront of river cruising since its launch 15 years ago, establishing its high reputation on the grand rivers of Europe, chiefly the Danube and the Rhine. Now it expands its reputation not only with new highend appointments but also with features designed to appeal to younger, more active passengers.
PRINCESS CRUISES IS THE QUINTESSENTIAL mainstream cruise line, combining all one expects from a large vacation at sea with some enticing innovations. Now owned by Carnival, Princess operates a fleet of 17 ships calling on more than 300 ports around the world. With the exception of one small ship, the 670-passenger Pacific Princess, the vessels carry from 2,000 to 3,500 passengers, providing a full-bore, resort-at-sea experience, replete with casinos and spas, deck lounges and pools, Broadway shows, shops, movies and activity centers, not to mention dining options galore from buffets to bistros to fine, specialty restaurants.
AS WITH AIRLINES THESE DAYS, the list of extra charges on a cruise can be quite staggering — tips, drinks, specialty dining, laundry, fitness classes, shore excursions and more. The bill for so-called “extras” on a cruise can add up to a second fare. Little wonder many cruise passengers, weary of this nickel-and-dime approach, prefer to pay an up-front, all-inclusive fare.
WHEN PARIS STOCKBROKER and would-be painter Paul Gauguin struck out for Tahiti and the South Pacific in 1891, it marked an escape from the confines of civilization. Once he made that leap, Gauguin produced masterpieces on canvas that captured the essence of a tropical paradise. Today, cruise passengers can enter that same magical world aboard the aptly named m/s Paul Gauguin, immersing themselves in the exotic cultures and landscapes that have mesmerized art lovers for more than a century.
IF YOU’VE EVER REACHED the end of a wonderful cruise and wished it could stretch on forever, then a complete circumnavigation of the globe is your dream ticket. You’ll need considerable resources ($35,000–255,000 per guest, depending on stateroom) and ample time (four months, minimum), but for those who relish cruising, an around-the-world voyage is the ultimate splurge.
NO MODERN CRUISE LINE can match Cunard Line’s legacy at sea, dating back to 1840 and its trans-Atlantic steamboat days. Cunard operated the first passenger ship lit by electricity, the first with an indoor swimming pool and the first to offer an around-the-world voyage, in 1922. During World War II, its ocean liners transported more than 2 million service personnel, prompting Churchill to credit Cunard with shortening the war by a full year. Cunard was not only the first line to carry passengers on regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic passages, but today it is the only cruise line to do so.
CRUISE LINES HAVE LONG SOUGHT to bring the pleasures and perks of land-based luxury resorts to passengers at sea. Golf is no exception. Golfers today can get in a round even on board, thanks to the development of sophisticated golf simulators. These high-tech, compact games — employing clubs, balls, tees and computerized projection screens — first appeared in 1997 on Princess Cruises, and they have proliferated. So have netted driving ranges, putting greens and teaching pros at hand to fine-tune a passenger’s swing. For those seeking play on real fairways, some cruise lines now make it easy to book tee times at selected ports of call, while others offer the ultimate golfer’s sailing: a golf-themed cruise.
WHILE MOST CRUISE LINES “sail” the seven seas propelled by engines, Windstar Cruises made its name with three ships that really, truly swept from port to port the old-fashioned way, albeit with up-to-date, computer-controlled sails. Windstar’s first two sailing vessels, the Wind Star and the Wind Spirit, are 148-passenger boutique ships with four 204-foot masts. Windstar’s largest vessel, the 312-passenger Wind Surf, boasts seven triangular, self-furling, computer-operated sails deployed on five masts, each towering 221 feet above teak decks — making it one of the two largest sail cruisers in the world. To be sure, all three of Windstar’s sailing vessels use motors most of the time, but when the sails come out, there’s no far-ranging cruise line with quite so romantic a look and feel.
CRUISE LINES COMPETE to outdo each other with the most extravagant amenities, luxuries and resort activities aboard their ships these days, and they do the same in certain ports by stopping at their own lavishly outfitted private islands. While Paul Gauguin Cruises calls at a private isle in French Polynesia and MSC Cruises recently opened a proprietary port near Abu Dhabi, most cruise lines established their exclusive hideaways in the Caribbean.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE, one of the world’s largest cruise operators, sails a 21st-century fleet of 16 ships, all dedicated to delivering a full resort experience. NCL pioneered its contemporary freestyle cruise mode a quarter-century ago. Quite casual and sporty, Norwegian voyages are rife with recreational facilities and “eat what you want, when you want, where you want” dining, designed to appeal to active adults and families on a spree.
AS CRUISE SHIPS GROW LARGER and more luxurious, cruise ports rush to keep up, modernizing and expanding their facilities across the globe. In Florida, which boasts the three busiest cruise ports in the world, the busiest harbor, Miami, is readying a new terminal for 2018, built by Royal Caribbean for mega-ship passengers. Runner-up rival Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale is lengthening Slip 2 to accommodate more resort-sized ships, too, and remains the only cruise port to offer passengers Global Entry security clearance. As for third-place Port Canaveral in Orlando, the latest enhancement is a $7 million amphitheater.
ELVIS MAY HAVE LEFT the building, but it’s only because his ship’s come in, and you can join the King on a number of upcoming Elvis-themed cruises. A five-night Bermuda cruise departing Baltimore Oct. 14 this year aboard Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas is just one example. Elvis imitators and tribute artists will also entertain passengers during Royal Caribbean’s week-long 14th Annual Memories of the King Birthday Cruise aboard the Allure of the Seas sailing the Eastern Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale come Jan. 21, 2018.
ONE OF THE NEWEST ENTRANTS in the premium cruise category, Azamara Club Cruises operates just two small luxury liners worldwide, the Azamara Journey and the Azamara Quest. Both boutique vessels hold around 700 passengers, and their size enables them to go where the big resort ships can’t. In fact, it’s Azamara’s destination-intensive itineraries that set it apart, as do its late-evening and overnight stays at ports both familiar and exotic. Passengers can explore exceptional locations in greater depth, and these extended dockings are especially sweet during longer sailings in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf, as well as in the Caribbean, Oceania and Asia.
With four small 684-passenger ships and two mid-sized 1,250-passenger vessels, Oceania Cruises is set to call on more than 370 ports in 2017, hitting the high points in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, South America, the South Pacific and Alaska while touching on destinations the bigger ships pass by. More than a hundred of its sailings next year feature new itineraries, and Oceania will call on many ports for its first time ever, ranging from Rijeka, Croatia, to Húsavík, Iceland.
The fabled rivers of Europe, rich with looming castles, shore-side vineyards and romantic cafés, remain the special domain of very small vessels. Among the premium and luxury cruise lines plying the Rhine, the Rhone, the Danube, the Seine and other great European waterways, Viking River Cruises set the standard, and it set it high. The world’s largest river cruise line, Viking has more than one dozen ships based in Europe, including no fewer than six longships launched this year. Viking’s hallmark longships each carry 190 passengers, all in outside-facing cabins, and each European sailing includes guided shore excursions, onboard lectures and open-seat dining with regional specialties and complimentary wines. Viking’s Explorer Suites, two on each longship, are the largest on Europe’s rivers. It’s not surprising many passengers consider Viking’s river cruises an experience of sheer luxury, although its fares are quite affordable.
With just four small ships, Regent Seven Seas Cruises calls on more than 300 ports worldwide each year, from Alaska to Africa, and does so in high contemporary style. Regent is notable for its relaxed luxury, its spacious suites and its all-inclusive fares. The fares cover not only suites with balconies but also basic gratuities, shore excursions, some hotel stays, internet services, pre- and post-cruise tours and virtually all drinks (from soda to liquor). This is a premium cruise line that very much deserves its “all-inclusive” label. And for the 2017–2018 season, Regent will cover even intercontinental round-trip business-class airfare for all its guests.
As the tide of cruise-ship travel rises, major cruise lines have not been slow to lift new ships into service. This year saw the introduction of Holland America Line’s 2,650-passenger ms Koningsdam, its first new vessel since 2010 and largest ever, with solo and family cabins a fresh option. Royal Caribbean International’s new 4,180-passenger Ovation of the Seas also set sail straight into the booming China market this year, complete with such novelties as a skydiving simulator, onboard bumper cars and “virtual balconies’’ for inside cabins. Regent Seven Seas Cruises took to the waves with its first new ship since 2003, the 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer, “the most luxurious cruise ship ever,” with the highest space-to-passenger ratio in the industry. Viking Cruises cast a second ship into the ocean-going fray in 2016, the 930-passenger Viking Sea, a vessel that remains true to Viking’s river-plying origins with extensive deck space, including a wrap-around promenade. And come this December, Seabourn is slated to launch its largest ship ever, the all-suite, all-balcony, 604-passenger Seabourn Encore.
Lars-Eric Lindblad originated expedition sailing for the rest of us 50 years ago, taking regular passengers, rather than scientists and researchers, to remote destinations other cruise lines had never dreamed of serving. His son, Sven-Olof Lindblad, now heads this pioneering company, which expanded its fleet, added luxurious appointments and partnered with the National Geographic Society to add renowned photographers to every voyage. Decade after decade, Lindblad has been the pacesetter in marine eco-tourism, and with National Geographic aboard it now increases passengers’ amenities while enhancing their experience of the wild with new technologies.
Royal Caribbean International, one of the world’s three largest cruise operators, is a mainstream rather than premium line. Many of its passengers are families with children, younger couples and first-time cruisers who relish shows, sun sports, shopping and spas. Accordingly, Royal Caribbean delivers dream vacations by outfitting its megaships — full-scale resorts that happen to float — with shopping malls, water parks and entertainment zones for kids. This makes for what many passengers, especially Americans, consider the ultimate vacation at sea. While Royal Caribbean spans the globe, Caribbean vacations are its forte and megaships its signature. In 2009, Royal Caribbean International launched the world’s largest cruise ship, the 5,408-passenger Oasis of the Seas. The next year, it outdid itself with the debut of a super vessel some two inches longer, Allure of the Seas. This year, the 5,497-passenger Harmony of the Seas surpassed its two sisters to climb to the top of the length and passenger charts. In fact, this newest over-the-top sea-going resort epitomizes much of what Royal Caribbean offers.
No single component of a cruise generates more comments than the food and wine served on board — and those comments usually run the gamut from groans to ovations. Passengers expect exceptional dishes and vintages while at sea, and cruise lines know this. In recent years, nearly all vessels expanded their menus and wine lists, with some reaching into truly gourmet realms. Luxury lines such as Silversea and Seabourn provide the most consistently savory offerings. The price of a cruise often includes superb meals designed by well-known chefs and premium wines selected by certified sommeliers. Michelin-starred and celebrity chefs frequently put their brands on the top luxury lines. Jacques Pepin, executive culinary director, Oceania Cruises, devised some contemporary interpretations of Asian classics for Oceania’s Red Ginger restaurant. Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, a master chef renowned for his fusions of Japanese, European and Peruvian cuisines, personally trained the chefs at Crystal Cruises’ Silk Road restaurant. Silversea Cruises runs the sole Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea, Le Champagne, with a six-course French-inspired menu.
Who wouldn’t relish a cruise on a small luxury ship where every stateroom is a suite, all onboard gratuities are included, most drinks (from sodas and coffees to cocktails and Champagne) are part of the fare and dining is an epicurean delight? Where shore excursions are flawless? Where your butler is always on call? Your butler, did we say? Quite so.
These days, the show’s the thing at sea as well as on land. Cruise lines are increasingly mirroring the best Broadway, the Las Vegas strip and the theaters of London offer, with stellar shows featuring the latest in technological enhancements. Cruise ship versions may be a bit abridged, with smaller casts and stages, but show tickets are cheaper (usually free), and parking is not a problem.
Holding your next meeting at a luxury resort or exotic hideaway? That’s fine, but there’s an alluring, all-inclusive, possibly even money-saving alternative — a cruise ship. Meetings at sea are sailing on a rising tide in the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and events) industry. Christine Duffy, president and CEO, Cruise Line International Association, touts group bookings on a cruise ship, as opposed to a landlocked resort, as “a cost-effective way of producing a meeting that doesn’t look and feel like every other meeting.”
Among major international cruise lines, Celebrity Cruises stands out as a premium operator. Nine of its 10 sleekly modern 21st-century ships carry between 2,000 and 3,000 passengers, each large enough to qualify as a luxury resort at sea. Carrying five times more passengers than the more intimate boutique vessels sailed by the likes of Seabourn and Silversea, Celebrity provides the expansive facilities, numerous amenities and family activities of today’s largest ships while still delivering a lavish cruise experience at a reasonable price.
Like airlines and hotel chains, cruise lines invite repeat customers to join their reward programs. Points are scored for each cruise (or cruise night) a passenger books on the same line; as points accumulate, the value of the perks rises — from exclusive cocktail receptions and loyalty club lapel pins all the way up to free cruises. Joining an elite program is free. Nearly every operator has its own version, including the top premium and luxury lines, but how much sailing does it take to reap a sought-after reward?
Life at sea has expanded by leaps and bounds on luxury cruises, especially with the advent of specialty dining, butler service, full-service spas, spacious suites, photography workshops and a host of other perks once found only at land-based vacation resorts. But shore excursions have kept pace, too. Port calls are no longer restricted to bus tours, museum visits, beach time and shopping sprees. In fact, some of the most memorable cruise experiences these days take place when the cruise ship is at anchor and passengers go ashore, putting aside the life of luxury and leisure for a few hours.
For maritime travelers seeking the closest possible contact with exotic wildlife, the Galapagos archipelago is the unsurpassed choice. Nowhere else are the indigenous birds, reptiles and mammals so at ease with humankind, unintimidated, unafraid, almost tame. “The place is a new creation,” an early visitor proclaimed nearly two centuries ago, and it remains largely so today, a Jurassic Park of sorts, its dinosaurs miniaturized into free-ranging iguanas. The creatures of this Eden are neither fearful of nor hostile to the bands of tourists who island-hop by ship and yacht, disembark from Zodiacs and fan out in small groups on restricted pathways to comb these wild and desolate volcanic islands day after day. From playful sea lions, brown penguins and unruffled blue-footed boobies to the signature giant tortoises themselves, whose life expectancies dwarf those of mankind, these are the residents of a UNESCO World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve that served as the real-life basis for On the Origin of Species, the landmark scientific study penned by Charles Darwin, who was inspired by his own passage to these enchanted islands two centuries ago.
Most cruise lines offer at least one voyage with a twist each year, giving passengers a chance to explore in depth a destination that’s terra incognita among their competitors. Sometimes it’s the destination itself that’s truly unique, as with AdventureSmith Explorations’ Cuba People-to-People Cruise starting this December. Employing the three-masted, 49-passenger schooner Panorama, AdventureSmith will venture into new waters, carrying Americans round-trip from Miami to five Cuban ports, including Havana, for the first time in 50 years. It’s a chance to sail to Cuba ahead of the growing number of cruise lines eyeing this unique destination for later in 2016.
For many, Antarctica, the pristine Seventh Continent, ranks as the ultimate cruise destination — the Kingdom of Ice (stronghold of 99 percent of the world’s frozen water) teeming with marching penguins, elephant seals and albatross but devoid of an indigenous human population as well as shopping ports, trendy cafés and beaches for sunbathers.
With the exception of the Caribbean, the Mediterranean is the most popular cruise destination on the planet, and the western portion, stretching from Portugal and Spain to France and Italy, contains the most stylish ports in the cruising world, including Monaco, Saint-Tropez and the whole Riviera. Passengers have the full lineup of major cruise lines to choose from, but smaller luxury lines are truly in their element here. The selection of the perfect Western Mediterranean cruise comes down to what you want to see within its broad confines and which fine cruise line can get you there in style.
Christopher Columbus got here first — making The Bahamas the first port of call on his first voyage to the New World in 1492. Five centuries later, 4 million cruise passengers a year make landfall in The Bahamas, and perhaps with the same intent as the crews of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria: to experience some much-needed, top-notch R&R. With 300 days of sunshine a year and its very name meaning “shallow seas,” The Bahamas is certainly the right place to tie up for rest and recreation, a world-class tropical getaway. There’s an abundance of the requisite white-sand beaches, water sports and nightlife; and daytime temperatures waver only slightly from the 80-degree mark year-round.
Exploring South America can require the full resources of the independent traveler or the fortitude of the backpacker. It’s a rewarding but vast continent to cover. Fortunately, cruise lines offer a less demanding, more luxurious alternative, enabling visitors to sample a wide range of exotic attractions spread across the varying terrains and cultures of some 17 nations.
Western Europe, from Amsterdam and Paris to Berlin and Barcelona, is familiar ground for many a traveler, but a cruise along the Atlantic coast provides a fresh view of the continent’s riches. Even in the peak coastal cruising season from May through October, sightseers seldom overrun the harbors, islands, towns and villages along Europe’s west coast, and they offer plenty of breathtaking sights and experiences. Moreover, a west coast cruise can be the most cost-efficient and convenient way to explore several countries in a single, carefree trip. Passengers can move from country to country without changing planes, trains or hotel rooms. In addition to hassle-free transportation, superior room and board, free entertainment and other enrichments, a luxury cruise along the Atlantic coast brings the opportunity to explore an exotic, rarely visited location nearly every day.
Arrival/Check-In: The Queen Mary 2’s New York home port is the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. I drove to the terminal and upon arrival found a scene of what looked to be pure chaos — private cars, limos and taxis arriving with outbound passengers and picking up folks who just disembarked from a ship that arrived that morning. I eventually got to where I could deposit my luggage with redcaps who made sure it got to where it should be. I then parked my car and proceeded to check-in. I was impressed at how friendly and efficient the check-in process was. I received a QM2 credit card to be used on board and a group boarding number. Cunard has the boarding procedure down to a science, and I was soon on my way to my room, No. 4134 on Deck 4. My luggage arrived shortly thereafter, so I was ready to explore the ship.
When Cunard Line inaugurated the original trans-Atlantic passenger cruise, departing Liverpool July 4, 1840, it carried 115 first-class passengers, 600 tons of coal, three cats to chase rats and one cow for fresh milk. With some luxurious upgrades 175 years later, a trans-Atlantic crossing remains the iconic ocean cruise, although Cunard is the sole line still offering such voyages on a regularly scheduled year-round basis. Cunard’s 2,620-passenger Queen Mary 2, a state-of-the-art megaship designed for the rigors of such a passage, is packed with posh amenities far exceeding those of the RMS Britannia, the humble wooden paddle steamer that made the original voyage.
Compared to big cruise ships with passengers numbering in the thousands, small cruise ships, carrying a few hundred, are both more expensive to book and leaner on amenities. No casinos, no lavish shows, no choice of gourmet restaurants, no climbing walls, no designer-name boutiques. Instead, a small adventure vessel offers passengers a more intimate expedition to less visited ports and natural sites spread across remote coastlines. In short, an expedition on a very small ship is an adventure rather than a vacation.
In terms of cruise destinations, Australia and New Zealand account for only about 6 percent of the global itinerary, and Southeast Asia even less, according to CLIA, a trade association of international cruise lines. Yet these less-sailed regions encompass some of the most breathtaking ports in the world, making the Australasia region — with its treasure-house of natural sights and cultural landmarks — well worth a distant voyage.
While the Caribbean and the Mediterranean top the list of the world’s most popular cruise destinations, Alaska reigns supreme in the North. With larger-than-life geologic and zoological attractions — from colossal glaciers to prodigious pods of whales — Alaska lures nearly a million cruise passengers each summer, primarily from the ports of Seattle and Vancouver. Its location shortens the cruise season to a matter of weeks, from May to September at best, but the days, stretched out by the midnight sun, are bright and long, and the reasons to visit Alaska by sea are plentiful.
When Magellan took charge of the first around-the-world voyage nearly 500 years ago, he did not survive the long ordeal, but modern passengers can survive a circumnavigation of the globe in comfort and style aboard a number of today’s luxurious cruise ships.
Arrival/Check-In: The Queen Mary 2’s New York home port is the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. I drove to the terminal and upon arrival found a scene of what looked to be pure chaos — private cars, limos and taxis arriving with outbound passengers and picking up folks who just disembarked from a ship that arrived that morning. I eventually got to where I could deposit my luggage with redcaps who made sure it got to where it should be. I then parked my car and proceeded to check-in. I was impressed at how friendly and efficient the check-in process was. I received a QM2 credit card to be used on board and a group boarding number. Cunard has the boarding procedure down to a science, and I was soon on my way to my room, No. 4134 on Deck 4. My luggage arrived shortly thereafter, so I was ready to explore the ship. Guest Quarters: My room included a king-sized bed, a love seat, a desk with desktop outlets and American and European plugs, a desk chair, a coffee table and a fridge. The bathroom was compact and included a shower with a handheld showerhead. The toiletries were Gilchrist & Soames. A cutout balcony featured two recliners and a coffee table. Services/Amenities: The ship is classless except for the three Grill rooms and Grill lounges. Having a room on Deck 4 meant I dined in the Britannia Grill. (Queens Grill and Princess Grill are more exclusive.) Decks 2 and 3 are the main public areas/lobbies, which include the purser’s desk, Cunard’s travel agents for booking future cruises, duty-free shops, a casino, several restaurants/bars, the planetarium, the Royal Court Theatre, an art gallery, the Queens Room ballroom and the disco, G32. The ship offers a plethora of restaurants/bars/cafés throughout. Two of my favorites were the Commodore Club in the bow on Deck 9, where you can have a drink and enjoy a fantastic view of the ocean as the ship plows through the seas; and the Chart Room on Deck 3, a watering hole which hosts a great jazz band every night. I love jazz, so I was in heaven! The gym and Canyon Ranch Spa are on Deck 7, which also offers several dining venues such as the Winter Garden (perfect for tea/coffee and nosh). I spent a part of each morning in the Library in the bow on Deck 8, where you will also find the Bookshop. The Library stocks more than 8,000 volumes and offers a serene spot to while away an hour or two with your nose in a book or staring at the sea. One thing, or should I say several things, I was not expecting to find on the QM2: dogs. Several times a day I met several companion dogs being walked on the Promenade Deck (Deck 7). In fact, there is a 12-dog kennel (Deck 12) always fully booked. I visited it and found a facility that any vet would approve of. The dogs I met were a happy, tail-wagging bunch, and each had its own life vest. The Experience: When I was on board, Cunard was still celebrating the QM2’s 10th anniversary, so there were several notable individuals about who were instrumental in making the ship a reality. They were present at several receptions and approachable for a private chat. Every other evening was formal, so the ladies were in ball gowns and the gents in tuxes, which made the whole experience special. There is so much to do on board that one review does not do the voyage justice. The nice thing is you can immerse yourself in all that is available, or you can sit and relax with a book or stare at the ocean. Experts in their fields conduct the lecture series and enrichment programs. If you love theater, a company of actors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art is there to entertain you. The food at all levels is excellent, from the grillrooms to the Todd English restaurant on Deck 8. My brothers and several friends decided to take a trans-Atlantic crossing after hearing me rave about it. I sailed the eastbound New York-to-Southampton crossing. Now I want to experience the westbound.
Sometimes an adventure cruise can be more than just a bit adventurous. On Christmas Day last year, 26 tourists, along with four journalists, 19 scientists, 22 crew members and the expedition leader’s wife and two children, found themselves stuck in a solid field of ice aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy off Antarctica. The passengers had booked an adventure cruise retracing the route undertaken by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson to the South Pole 100 years earlier, but they did not anticipate making headlines worldwide when their ship was immobilized. Freed nine days later and evacuated by helicopter, everyone fared quite well, indulging themselves in the ship’s amenities, as cruise passengers worldwide will. “We’re in the ice like explorers of old!” tweeted one professor. “All are well and spirits are high. Happy Christmas.”
While the newest mega cruise ships are designed for families, laden bow to stern with the kid-friendly facilities of a land-based resort, plenty of vessels still cater to twosomes seeking a romantic getaway. Some cruise ships offer better options than others for couples wanting to enhance their experience together.
Ever since 1974, when the Cunard Line inaugurated its “Cunard Insights” program of guest speakers — including the likes of Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and John Cleese — onboard lecturers have delighted and enlightened cruise passengers. This trend is gathering momentum, with a variety of major guest speakers slated on upcoming voyages across the globe.
River cruises are riding a tide of popularity worldwide, and cruise lines are racing to construct new vessels that deliver unprecedented levels of luxury. Following in the wake of the oceangoing “blue-water” cruise industry, river cruise lines are responding to the desire for ever-more deluxe accommodations.
Foremost among the concerns of cruise passengers is food — the quality and variety of the cuisine served on board — to the point some guests book a vessel based as much on its restaurants as on its destinations. To meet the tastes of an increasingly discerning audience, cruise lines not only upgraded their offerings in the main dining rooms and buffet lines but launched a flotilla of alternative restaurants that are a cut above the standard fare. These specialty dining venues offer gourmet menus (often developed by celebrity chefs), 5-star service, exclusive à la minute dishes, high-end wine lists and first-class décor, all subject to limited seating and bookings in advance — and extra charges that change often and vary by ship and menu. As luxury alternatives, a vessel’s specialty restaurants meet the demands for a variety of dining options while providing a culinary experience of sufficient magnitude to underline a special week at sea.
One of the prime pleasures of a cruise is a shore excursion at an exotic port of call, but passengers can sometimes make a lesser-known expedition without ever leaving the ship: an inspection tour of all that lies below the passenger decks. If offered at all, a behind-the-scenes jaunt is limited to just a handful of lucky voyagers on a day at sea, and it throws open plenty of forbidden hatches, providing a peek into the inner workings of the ship, from galley to laundry to engine room.
A dream cruise is synonymous with relaxation and rejuvenation, experiences enhanced not only by sailing without a care across vast, tranquil seas but also by a trip now and then to the onboard spa. What began as a few massage tables folded into a windowless annex on many a large cruise vessel blossomed into a state-of-the-art, full-service spa facility. Cruise ships steadily expanded their range of hands-on treatments to the point that, for some passengers, a cruise is less about calling on exotic ports and more about immersing oneself in an extended spa experience.
Atop the new 2,886-passenger Celebrity Silhouette, there’s an incongruous showstopper: a 12,000-square-foot field of real grass known as The Lawn Club. Boasting two restaurants, an art studio, a bocce court and a putting green — plus plenty of hammocks and Adirondack chairs and eight private rail-side cabanas — The Lawn Club hosts picnics at its grill and jazz concerts after dark, making it a super-sized version of the traditional sun deck.
We know them from books (Jeeves in P.J. Wodehouse novels), movies (Alfred in Batman) and British TV (Hudson in Upstairs, Downstairs and now Carson in Downton Abbey). There’s even been a butler in the White House. But with the rise of dot-com millionaires and busy two-professional households, the demand for skilled personal assistants outstripped supply worldwide. With butlers spreading rapidly from high-income homes to high-end hotels, it was only a matter of time before premium cruise lines introduced their own seaworthy fleet of stateroom executives, too.
There may not be snow in Los Angeles this season, but Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills is certainly full of the holiday spirit, with Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s events happening in the hotel’s gorgeous event spaces.
The Islands of Tahiti offer a range of captivating activities for travelers with diverse interests, from hiking to breathtaking waterfalls, riding horses on secluded beaches; swimming with sharks; or immersing in Polynesian culture through traditional dance, music and art. For watersports enthusiasts, the crystal-clear lagoons offer exhilarating experiences like surfing, kiteboarding and paddleboarding. And if you’re looking to relax, the pristine beaches, overwater bungalows and tropical sun offer the perfect setting. With 118 islands and atolls to explore, island hopping is an excellent way to experience the full diversity of The Islands of Tahiti. With its blend of adventure, culture and relaxation, The Islands of Tahiti offer a truly unique travel experience.
United Airlines is in the midst of a major initiative to modernize its fleet over the next several years. After first announcing the plan in 2021, planes fitted with United’s signature interior are finally beginning to appear across the airline’s narrowbody fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes. United flyers are sure to notice these enhancements from the moment they step on board: Each new or updated plane sports remodeled seats, seatback entertainment screens for everyone, Bluetooth connectivity and more, all adding up to a better experience on every journey.
Everyone loves a good Christmas tree, but these iconic hotels around the world take it one step further with designer-styled trees illuminating lobbies and public spaces, wowing all who enter. From Lela Rose to Louis Vuitton, don’t miss these ultra-luxury trees redefining tree decorating as we know it.
As first-time restaurateurs, but with plenty of hospitality-related experience, Ria and Kevol (Kev) Graham were not entirely comfortable opening their first restaurant in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, where several upscale restaurants and 5-star hotel dining is just a block away. And to make matters worse, they opened in July 2020, when New York City was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether it's the people, the craic (fun) or the coasts, travelers always find something to love about the island of Ireland. What fills your heart?
In addition to intimate settings, smaller staff-to-passenger ratios, and personalized food and beverage options, river cruises have the advantage of providing a deeper dive into a region’s culture, food and history. The Rhine, Rhône and Danube in Europe and the Mississippi River and St. Lawrence in North America have much to offer travelers with their itineraries, tying together beloved cities and lesser-known destinations along their routes.