The luxury cruise industry is enjoying an unprecedented boom – just look at the number of new multimillion-dollar ships being built.
Regent Seven Seas' 750-passenger Seven Seas Splendor, a nearly identical sister to 2016's lavish Explorer, will arrive in February 2020, tagged as "luxury perfected". In August 2020, Silversea's 596-passenger Silver Moon, a sister to Silver Muse, will make its maiden voyage in the Mediterranean and a third ship in the Muse class, Silver Dawn, is scheduled to set sail in 2021. Seabourn's latest luxury ship, Seabourn Ovation, arrived in May this year and the line has two expedition-style ships on order for 2021 and 2022.
Upscale hotel company Ritz-Carlton is building a fleet of three 298-passenger yachts, with the first one setting sail in February 2020. The first of Crystal Cruises' two new 800-passenger Diamond-class ships is due at the end of 2022; its expedition yacht Crystal Endeavor will make its debut in August 2020 – next week we'll take a look at the equally flourishing luxury expedition sector.
According to Jason Montague, president and CEO of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, spending on luxury cruising expanded 14 per cent last year. This represented the highest increase among eight categories of luxury goods, including cars, fine wines and spirits, fine food, personal goods, hospitality, designer furniture and fine art, yet the total spending for luxury cruises is just one per cent of the luxury hospitality industry.
So, who are today's luxury cruisers? "The wealth is with the baby boomers, and they have the time to travel," said Montague. He said there is a societal shift from spending on possessions to placing a higher value on experiences and that the age 55-plus market currently has the highest consumer confidence in years, so "it's a fantastic time to be focusing on baby boomers".
Baby-boomer cruisers in the luxury market demand - and receive - the highest levels of service, fine wining and dining, stylish, spacious accommodation, suites with balconies and fares that include drinks, gratuities and, in the case of RSSC, shore excursions. The choice of destinations is another important factor – luxury ships are small enough to cruise where megaships can't go and these discerning travellers are looking for experiences that are far from the madding crowds.
Bookings for Silversea's 2020-21 itineraries opened this month, offering cruises to 572 destinations in 84 countries. Adam Armstrong, Silversea's managing director Australia and New Zealand, said: "We are offering guests more choice than ever before. This is an exciting time for Silversea as we continue to grow and unlock more destinations for our guests."
THE PORT Strasbourg, France
WHO GOES THERE APT, Avalon, Croisi-Europe, Evergreen/Emerald, Riviera, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld, Viking.
WHY WE LOVE IT The capital of Alsace, France's smallest region, Strasbourg sits on the border of France and Germany and has been claimed by both countries at various times throughout history. It is the official seat of the European Parliament and the beautiful old city centre, Grand Ile, was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Strasbourg's multi-lingual, multi-cultural population includes thousands of students; during November and December Christmas markets add to the city's lively atmosphere.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? River ships dock in Kehl, Germany, which is about 15 minutes by shuttle bus from Strasbourg. Boat-trip companies such as Batorama operate excellent narrated tours year-round on canals and the River Ill, which encircles the city, and take in all the must-see attractions. These include the modern European Union buildings, picturesque Petite France and the tanners' quarter, the Covered Bridges, Vauban dam and the Neustadt imperial area. The magnificent Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame dominates Grand Ile and its ornate spire is visible from just about everywhere. Walking and cycling tours are also available but exploring independently on foot is the way to go. Cobbled streets and squares are lined with grand medieval half-timbered houses, gorgeous shops, cafes and wine bars (winstubs).
MUST SEE Cathédrale Notre-Dame, built between the 12th and 15th centuries – one of the biggest attractions inside the cathedral is its famous astronomical clock; the 18th-centry Palais Rohan, which houses an archeological museum and several art galleries; the Musee Alsacien, for folk art.
MUST EAT Strasbourg is renowned for its gastronomy and reflects the influences of its position at the crossroads of France and Germany. Try local dishes such as choucroute garnie (cabbage pickled in wine, served with sausages and slow-cooked port), baeckeoff (casserole of lamb, beef and pork cooked in white wine), coq au reisling (like coq au vin but cooked in local white wine), onion tart, flammekueche, a thin flatbread topped with onion, smoky bacon and sour cream, and for a sweet treat kugelhopf, a light raisin and almond cake.
NEED TO KNOW Service is included in restaurant bills but a 10 per cent tip for good service is always appreciated.
There is 4000 kilometres of electric cabling in Majestic Princess – equivalent to the road distance between Perth and Sydney.
Cunard's newly-released March to December 2020 itineraries include 14 overnight stays and 19 late-evening departures on cruises that the three famous Queens will be making to 110 destinations in 34 different countries. Cunard continues to be the only cruise line offering regular trans-Atlantic crossings and in 2020 Queen Mary 2 will make another 19 of these classic voyages as well as six trans-Atlantic round-trip crossings from Southampton or New York. QM2's summer 2020 program also offers short breaks and cruises to Northern Europe from Southampton with overnight stays in some destinations. Queen Victoria's maiden calls include Bornholm (Denmark), Riga (Latvia), Ringaskiddy (Ireland) and four Norwegian ports, while Queen Elizabeth will visit Jakarta (Indonesia), Japan's Kushiro, Ishigaki and Tokyo and Seward (Alaska, USA) for the first time. See cunard.com
Azamara Down Under
Azamara Quest returns to local waters in December for the boutique line's fourth, and longest season so far. The ship leaves Fremantle on December 22 for a 15-night cruise that will be in Sydney for two nights over New Year's Eve and New Year's Day en route to Melbourne. Guests will have plenty of vantage points to see the fireworks from the White Bay cruise terminal and Azamara is hosting a poolside party for all the guests. It's not too late to book this cruise; fares start at $10,719. Other highlights of Azamara Quest's summer season include maiden calls to New Zealand's Gisborne, Nelson, Kaikoura and the stunning Stewart Island nature reserve, plus two "New Zealand Intensive" cruises from Perth and Melbourne. See azamaraclubcruises.com