I'm always being asked if I'd go back to cruising. Without hesitation, I answer: anytime you're ready, issue me a key card, toot the ship's horn – I'm off. Why would I not want to travel in elegant ease? I love cruising's salty spray, the rattle of cocktail shakers, the seascapes, the port panoramas.
Of course, the abundant naysayers, most if not all who have never cruised, roll their eyes and trot out the anti-cruise cliches. Me? I smile and think about some of my best travel experiences: cruising the fiords, swimming with manta rays in Moorea, spotting polar bears on ice floes.
Before you point out that cruising has had its issues, believe me: my love for cruising hasn't blinded me to the enormity of the pandemic. But I've carefully noted, as you may care to do, what has been done to address health issues surrounding cruising since COVID-19.
I'm not at all surprised at the widespread support for cruising among those who've actually cruised and I'm far from the only white-water devotee prepared to sail again.
The wait has been longer than expected, and pent-up demand has grown. Cruise companies from Regent to Ponant are recording record sales for the 2022-23 season. Silversea has launched 315 new voyages, the most in its history. Oceania clocked its highest volume of sales in a single day when its new Tropics & Exotics itineraries launched in March.
"I'm not surprised that travellers demonstrate a great level of support for cruising," says Michelle Black, Viking's Australia-New Zealand's managing director. "Australia is one of the world's biggest cruising populations, and fans of cruising are ready to go.
"With the health and safety protocols that the industry is implementing, and that go above and beyond that required for any other industry, cruises will without a doubt be the safest way to holiday."
While the cruise industry has been in the doldrums before – wars, terrorism, the rise of air travel, financial downturns, issues around its labour policies, its sustainability and its preparedness to address and confront environmental issues – it has always recovered.
Indeed, it's a relief to see, following a recent announcement by Italian authorities, that incongruously large cruise vessels, after years of controversy, will no longer be allowed to berth in the fragile historic centre of Venice. Instead, passenger ships will be required to dock at the city's industrial port.
Those overdue Venice measures may take some time to take effect, what with the general pause in cruising worldwide. However, some cruising has successfully resumed, largely incident-free, in Australia and international destinations such as Singapore, Taiwan, the Mediterranean, Iceland and French Polynesia.
Since that limited resumption, an extremely small number of cruise ships have recorded COVID-19 cases but these have been efficiently controlled without ship-wide outbreaks.
No one is saying this is going to be easy or that the cruise industry is at all beyond reproach. But in the months since the pandemic began, the cruise industry has adopted medical and public-health measures more stringent than in any other tourism sector.
Ships have implemented reduced passenger numbers, mandatory mask wearing where necessary, frequent fogging and sanitising of interiors, and regular testing of passengers.
Passengers must supply health declarations and negative COVID tests before boarding. Crystal and Saga Cruises will be the first companies to make vaccination a requirement for passengers when they resume in May. Odyssey of the Seas will carry fully-vaccinated passengers in Israel.
MSC is already sailing in Europe, Royal Caribbean and Dream Cruises out of Singapore. Odyssey of the Seas is sailing itineraries from Israel from May. Small-ship companies have operated for months. Silversea is set to sail the Eastern Mediterranean by June.
Yes. Risks do remain. They always will exist in travel and they're present in all facets of it, including aviation. The issue of industry-wide mandatory vaccination does remain a fraught legal issue in the dominant US market.
But after a year of waiting, I'm happy to unapologetically pop on my rose-tinted glasses, and present the argument as to why cruising remains a great way to go and, importantly, why it can still enjoy a glorious future.
THE EASE OF TRAVEL
Contrary to popular opinion, cruisers aren't timid travellers. They just want to abandon travel's nitty-gritty and get on with seeing the world. Imagine unpacking once, ignoring train timetables, never worrying about hotel rooms, and floating from A to B overnight. Many cruise ports are within walking distance of town centres and other attractions for easy DIY sightseeing. Shore excursions, which make things even simpler, are more varied than ever. The rise of add-on and extended land packages will open continental interiors to cruise passengers. Luxury companies are also offering more two- and three-day mid-cruise excursions.
SET SAIL Viking's 93-day "Grand Pacific Explorer" takes you to 13 countries and dozens of destinations without hassle – or jet lag. See vikingcruises.com.au
THE EXCITEMENT OF THE PORT ARRIVAL
The pool deck of Oceania Cruises' ship Insignia.
Arriving in cities such as New York and Hong Kong by sea is glamorous, and fortified harbours such as Valletta and Corfu impress from the water. Stockholm, Cape Town and Nagasaki are just some other destinations that ought to be admired from a ship. The approach to islands (Santorini, Komodo, Moorea) is spectacular too, and even the smallest ports (Molde in Norway, Kotor in Montenegro) can be wrapped in grand scenery. Dubai is becoming a regional cruise hub; pre-COVID passenger numbers were soaring. Good news for those who like dramatic arrivals in cities with glittering skylines.
SET SAIL Oceania's "Papeete to Papeete" cruise in March 2022 reveals gorgeous approaches into French Polynesian islands. See oceaniacruises.com
THE ACCESS TO REMOTE PLACES
Scenic Eclipse in Antarctica.
Cruising doesn't confine you to mainstream destinations but gets you into nooks once confined to intrepid explorers. On expedition ships, you can venture into the Arctic or Amazon yet be guaranteed lobster dinners and Egyptian cotton at day's end. Zodiac excursions offer immersive experiences into the environment in the company of wildlife experts. The newest luxury expedition ships, such as Scenic Eclipse, even feature submarines and helicopters. Africa is largely uncharted cruise territory, but ships have begun visiting more often. Senegal, the Gambia River and Cape Verde Islands are among unusual destinations.
SET SAIL Scenic's "Antarctica in Depth" cruise in February 2022 provides stunning Zodiac tours among icebergs, whales and penguins. See scenic.com.au
CRUISING IS GOOD VALUE
Luxury cruising isn't cheap, but tot up the cost of land hotels, four-course meals and transportation and you might find it reasonably priced – and that's before you consider savings in organisational energy and time. Some of the most expensive land destinations such as Norway, Iceland, French Polynesia, the Baltic and parts of the Caribbean, are great places to cruise because you know your upfront cost, and will certainly save. Luxury cruises have become more inclusive, and all will eventually offer a single fare that covers everything from excursions to speciality dining, beverages and gratuities.
SET SAIL Shore excursions, butler service, gourmet food and wine are all included on Silversea's "Colombo to Darwin" expedition cruise in May 2022. See silversea.com
THERE'S A DESTINATION EVERY DAY
Crystal Serenity off Dubrovnik in Croatia.
What other holiday transports you while sleeping, so that you wake up each morning to a new town outside your window? Cruising is about the excitement of new places every day, which guarantees you won't be bored. True, a single day's sightseeing can be frustrating. But remember it's a full day, unencumbered by hotel moves, practicalities and transits through airports. Companies such as Celebrity, Crystal and Oceania have ramped up overnight (and double overnight) stays, allowing more port time and after-dark experiences previously missed by cruisers.
SET SAIL Crystal Cruises' "Istanbul to Monte Carlo" itinerary in April 2022 has you in different Black Sea and Mediterranean ports daily. See crystalcruises.com.au
IT'S AN EDUCATION IN ITS OWN RIGHT
You could replicate many cruise itineraries yourself, but you'd miss the insight from experts and expeditions teams. Ships also offer classes in cooking, dance, languages and more; lecturers cover topics such as art, history and politics. Look for a themed cruise if you have special interests. Pre-COVID there were 700 annually covering interests such as wellness, photography, food, history, archaeology, ballet and battles. There's a focus on sustainability, with passengers invited to learn more through lectures, on-board research facilities and eco-activities on shore excursions.
SET SAIL Cunard's transatlantic "Literature Festival at Sea" in December 2022 features notable authors such as Ian Rankin, Mary Beard and Simon Winchester. See cunard.com
THE GREAT AND UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS
Relax and enjoy ever-changing scenery. You can experience some of travel's best moments on cruises, whether sailing from Bora Bora at sunset, admiring Istanbul's skyline, or feeling waterfalls mist your face in Norway. Sorry if it sounds a bit "kumbaya", but shipboard sociability provides great moments too. Like-minded people with lifetimes of travel and experience make for good conversation. More cruises are now timed for special events such as Rio's carnival, the Edinburgh Tattoo and Monaco Grand Prix, with exclusive behind-the-scenes access and no wrangling over hard-to-get tickets.
SET SAIL APT's "Majestic Norwegian Fiords" cruise in June 2022 showcases some of the Earth's most gobsmacking coastal and island scenery. See aptouring.com.au
THE SHIPBOARD EXPERIENCE
Megaships offer Broadway-style shows, surf simulators, water slides and expansive kids' clubs. But even smaller luxury ships have wellness centres, theatres for lectures and shows, swimming pools and sports options There are no bad cruise ships, only unsuitable ones. You'll find party ships, peaceful ships, and ships that emphasise enrichment, formality or fun. Some companies (notably Viking) have a no-child policy, more shipboard technology, allowing you to access cabins, book restaurant tables and excursions, upload photos, access entertainment and tailor your voyage from a gadget or app.
SET SAIL New Zealand in November 2022 with Celebrity Cruises, whose ships provide ample space and entertainment without the megaship overkill. See celebritycruises.com
THE SENSE OF ADVENTURE
Flop-and-drop cruises do exist, but retirees are ever more active, and the average age of cruise passengers is falling. Pick small, expedition or sailing ships – and off-beat or remote destinations – to raise adventure levels. Water-sport fans should look for luxury vessels with platforms from which to launch kayaks, windsurfs, jet skis and paddle-boards. Companies such as Ponant and Silversea offer occasional scuba-diving cruises. More active and adrenaline-filled excursions are on the rise, featuring anything from swimming with sharks to Antarctic scuba-diving.
SET SAIL Aurora Expeditions' "Costa Rica and the Panama Canal" cruise in April 2022 has you in a buccaneering destination accompanied by top photographer Richard l'Anson. See auroraexpeditions.com.au
THE INSIDER EXPERIENCES
On cruises, you can access experiences impossible to organise yourself, such as entry to World Heritage sites, tours conducted by experts from leading institutions, and on-board workshops led by notable dancers, musicians, writers and historians. Skip queues and get fast-tracked into museums and monuments, with exclusive experiences such as the Sistine Chapel after hours, or a champagne reception in St Petersburg's Catherine Palace. Options for small-group excursions and privately curated tours are increasing, as are tours that address niche interests such as fashion, wine or the arts.
SET SAIL Seabourn's "Aegean Jewels in Depth" itinerary in Greece and Turkey in June 2022 visits multiple World Heritage sites. See seabourn.com
CONFIDENT CRUISERS: WE WON'T ABANDON SHIPS
DIRK SELDERYK, 73, Cairns, QLD
Dirk is a regular with Aurora Expeditions and has booked on their Antarctica, Panama and Costa Rica, and Northwest Passage expeditions in 2022. "Despite the pandemic, it's important to think positive, and booking a year in advance gives me something exciting to look forward to. Beautiful places are still there just waiting to be explored. Sailing on a small but extremely comfortable and safe ship with like-minded people is absolutely fantastic."
GAIL DHIM, 68, Surry Hills, NSW
Gail is sailing on two Silversea expedition cruises in 2022, Cape Town to Zanzibar and Lisbon to Rio. She feels sanguine about the future. "There are still extraordinary places I want to visit and, at some point, this pandemic will be manageable. Silversea has kept me informed regarding on-board changes and the introduction of a more wide-ranging health approach, so I'm confident that both passengers and crew will be safe."
LYN WITHERS, 75, Kew, VIC
Lyn is booked on a transatlantic cruise from Lisbon in November 2021, and a Singapore-to-Mumbai cruise in February 2022, both with Silversea. "If there are any dangers I'm sure the cruise lines wouldn't proceed, and Silversea was so wonderful last year with cancellations and refunds," she says. As a solo traveller, she adds that she loves cruising because you get looked after and meet nice people, some of whom have become firm friends.
ROBERT GAREB, 65, Rose Bay, NSW
Robert is a self-confessed cruise fanatic booked on several Ecruising voyages with wife Evie, including New Zealand in December. "I believe the cruise industry has done everything in its power to retrofit filtration systems, clean ships and improve medical facilities on board, and I don't have a problem with daily temperature checking, even on the way into dining venues. We're desperate to get back on board cruises – they're the best value-for-money holiday."
TINA KAY, 63, Murrumbateman NSW
Tina is booked with husband Kevin on six back-to-back cruises with Scenic in the Mediterranean and Western European coast in 2022. She feels the company will have dotted its "i"s and crossed its "t"s when it comes to the health of passengers and crew. "We'd only go with a small ship, and we love Scenic. You go at your own pace, get off and discover new destinations, and feel really relaxed. It's a great way to travel."
DAVID MUTTON, 64, Redfern, NSW
David is booked with partner Roger Foenander on Viking's 136-day world cruise departing Fort Lauderdale in December. He expects the world will have settled down and vaccination will be widespread, and has confidence in the industry's health protocols. "Viking especially has taken a strong position on health and has a regular passenger testing regime, so we feel the chances of contracting COVID on the ship are close to zero."
FIVE CRUISES DEVOTEES CAN'T WAIT TO TAKE
Go up the Amazon with Silversea.
THE AMAZON WITH SILVERSEA
Twenty-one days on the elegant Silver Wind for luxe comfort in the wildest location – what's not to like? This "Fortaleza to Bridgetown" cruise in April 2022 explores South America's northeast corner and the Amazon River. See silversea.com
SOUTHERN AFRICA WITH REGENT
A 15-night cruise in December 2021 to stunningly beautiful South Africa plus Namibia and Mozambique, and the chance to go on safari. All aboard Seven Seas Voyager, one of the best mid-sized ships afloat. See rssc.com
ANTARCTICA WITH PONANT
Antarctica is any cruise-lover's ultimate destination. The suave new expedition ship Le Commandant-Charcot sails on a "Weddell Sea & Larsen Ice Shelf" cruise in March 2022 to view spectacular landscapes and icebergs. See au.ponant.com
NEW ZEALAND WITH OCEANIA
You haven't properly admired New Zealand until you've seen it from the sea. A 14-day Sydney-to-Auckland voyage in January 2022 showcases top scenery such as Milford Sound and Bay of Islands. See oceaniacruises.com
RUSSIA WITH SCENIC
A 13-day "Fire and Ocean" itinerary takes in the volcano- and wildlife-rich Kamchatka Peninsula and Kuril Islands in July 2023. This is super-remote cruising in spectacular style, since stylish Scenic Eclipse offers helicopter and submarine rides. See scenic.com.au