Updated: Oct 5
Who said the cruise industry would not survive the pandemic? Nothing could be further from the truth. Cruise lines are enjoying a bold renaissance, steaming onward, building smartly designed, ecofriendly ships, with every creature comfort, expanding ports of call. Staterooms are filling up. Virgin voyagers are increasing in number, while veterans look to book multiple sailings, often back-to-back, staying aboard 3-4 weeks.
So much to love about the intimacy of river ships, on the Danube, Rhone, Douro, or through Bordeaux. While these domains are famed for their vineyards, regions like the Rhine are not just about wine. Throughout Germany and Austria, pilsners and ales prevail, each charming town having its own unique craft or native beer indigenous to that area. Imagine floating with views, sampling vino or brews.
The favored trend with ocean cruising leans toward boutique style ships, ranging from 930 down to 100 guests or less. These streamlined vessels typically have close to a 1:1 crew/guest ratio, featuring top notch service with full scale amenities found in five star hotels - expansive spa/fitness centers, multiple dining venues, personalized, attentive service, spacious staterooms and verandahs. Docking in iconic ports such as Marseille, Naples, Barcelona, Monaco, enables walk off access to historic sites. Unpack once, see it all! Declaring which ships or cruise lines are best is like choosing a favorite child. Aren’t they all exceptional? Instead, let’s just go with the stellar sailings I've most recently enjoyed. Snapshot impressions:
AZAMARA CRUISES – ship Journey, Rome to Barcelona…Lively luxury! Ambient, social vibe among guests…late nights in port for evening fun…incredible musicians...dancing… best White night ever!...oversized staterooms…fluffy beds…memorably delicious cuisine…phenomenal, doting staff...tuxedoed room service after 6... sociable captain…Broadway caliber talent
SEABOURN – ship Ovation, Round trip Barbados (private charter)…Elegantly casual…outstanding gastronomy…walk in closets!...exclusive shore excursions...surpassed expectations on every level
CELEBRITY ship Infinity, Santiago to Buenos Aires, Patagonia - super family friendly, multigen appeal…wine bar…sushi restaurant…well maintained, upscale décor for a vintage ship... delightful entertainment, tango dancers!
PRINCESS ship Regal Princess, Rome to Athens – abundantly congenial staff…fantastic guides/ shore excursions to Pompeii, Vesuvius, Blue Mosque (Istanbul)... insightful walking tours of Heraklion, Mykonos…diverse culinary options…
VIKING OCEAN ship Neptune, Rome to Barcelona – comfortably stylish…well designed and appointed staterooms… extensive international culinary offerings …loved the Nordic food options …well planned shore excursions with skilled guides
HOLLAND AMERICA – ship Zaandam, Boston to Montreal – quite the surprise! Upscale traditional style... older ship, well preserved…incredible cuisine…huge fitness center on forward bow…terrific pianist…exceedingly fun, engaging staff…thermal room, spa treatments: 5 stars!
AVALON ship Envision, Danube sailing Budapest to Deggendorf - highly impressive! Innovative enclosed balconies…oversize staterooms…excellent regional cuisine
SCENIC ship Jasper, round trip Amsterdam (private charter) – all inclusive…butler service (all staterooms)…hot tub on top deck…well designed fitness center and massage studio…multiple dining venues…
Gastronomy is a prime focus for chefs and guests alike across cruise lines. Chef's tables are more prominent on numerous river and ocean ships. Even with more capacity and expanded dates from November thru mid-December, Christmas Market cruises are selling out far in advance. Global inventory is now open through 2025 and beyond.
EXPEDITION CRUISES – are the new wave frontier. Ships are being custom designed for extreme weather destinations, such as the polar regions. Celebrity's Flora was built specifically for Galapagos, to better navigate the archipelago. Driven by consumer demand, industry leaders such as Swan Hellenic, Lindblad, Silversea, and Viking are adding capacity to adventurous, exotic destinations ~ Antarctica, the Red Sea, Madagascar, Saudi Arabia, the Mekong.
My upcoming wave wanderings... Explora Journeys' EXPLORA I, the newest luxury liner afloat, launched from Copenhagen August 1st, ours is an October sailing aboard this recently debuted, state of the art ship, from New York to Quebec City. It will be a treat to meet the first female captain to skipper a ship out of the shipyard. In November: Swan Hellenic, SH VEGA, to Antarctica! Anticipation is building for this long awaited, select expedition experience with Swan Hellenic, we'll be exploring the white continent on this cozy 152 passenger vessel.
The obligatory question…wherever you haven’t been yet, isn’t it high time to go?
Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson