Cruising through

Allow yourself to indulge.


WORDS  JUSTINE A. JAUCIAN

Not every trip has to be an amazingly aggravating race — why not just cruise? Hurry isn’t that far from harry, especially if you’re looking at plane transfers, hotel bookings, and car rentals, while relying on navigation apps to traverse unfamiliar, congested streets. The appeal of a cruise ship is that you’re able to take your sweet time on a floating hotel, getting from point A to Z, and all the stops in between. We’re talking a few days up to a month of travel time. Slow and steady, meaning less stress, means you don’t need an extension of your break just to decompress after your whirlwind vacay.

Taking the ocean route also means you leave all the navigating to the experts. You can turn off your mind, relax, and float… on the pool deck. Book one suite for the entire journey’s duration; then take periodic naps and wake up each time in a brand-new port city. You don’t have to worry about where your next meal will be; everything you can possibly need is a mere few paces — or a room service call — away. Shopping and entertainment can be had on-board and upon docking at your destination; it’s the best of both worlds.

For most cruisers, the journey itself is the destination, with cruise ships serving as mobile casinos, or Disney-themed resorts (go hangout with Iron Man, Thor, and the rest of the Marvel guys at a deck party if so inclined), or a rock music festival on water. There are cruises for solo travelers, for couples, for families. There seems to be a cruise designed for every personal inclination. NCLH’s Oceania Cruises is known for its bespoke culinary experiences, for example. Look around and you’ll find operators offering so-called “booze cruises,” cultural tours, karaoke-themed tours (we’re talking Princess cruise ships that offer The Voice singing contests for a coveted “Voice of the Ocean” trophy), even a recently introduced sex-themed cruise for “open-minded adults” traversing Italy (that would be Azamara Club Cruises’ Desire cruise, for the curious).

And if you’re the bucket list type, there’s actually a new world cruise spanning all seven continents, in 357 days, switching out rides seven times (including the Ponant’s Le Soleal yacht, Holland America Line’s Maasdam, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Seven Seas Mariner). Offered by luxury cruise specialist Mundy Cruising, “the world’s longest cruise” launches from Miami in January 2017; the entire trip costs £125,000 (around Php7.4 million) per person, including business class flights (and all overseas transfers). Don’t worry, you get periods of rest when you can go home, before joining the next leg of your odyssey.

“Cruising allows guests to discover new and amazing destinations while traveling in total luxury,” says Steve Odell, SVP & Managing Director for Asia-Pacific at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH). “It’s a different world on board a cruise ship — guests feel relaxed and have time to enjoy numerous activities, both on-board and on land. The cruising journey is indeed a destination.”

Crazy-rich Asians?

In recent years, cruising has gained in popularity in Asia, growing at double-digit rates according to the latest trend report by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the global industry organization whose members comprise, among others, 62 cruise lines accounting for 95% of global cruise capacity. Between 2013 and 2016, CLIA says the number of cruise ships deployed in Asia grew at a 12% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), with the number of cruises and voyages within and throughout Asia also increasing at a 22% CAGR. In fact, port calls this year nearly doubled that of 2013. Despite a rerouting of one cruise line from Palawan to China, the Philippines remains among the top 5 growth markets by CAGR in the region; following Hong Kong, Thailand, and mainland China, and a little ahead of Indonesia.

The Regent Suite, which measures 413 square meters, has a private spa.
The Regent Suite, which measures 413 square meters, has a private spa.

A lot more Asians, from children up to septuagenarians, are cruising. Based on CLIA figures, passenger volume grew at a compounded annual rate of 39% to nearly 2.1 million last year, from 775,000 in 2012. The growth is primarily driven by tourists from China, which accounted for 986,000 passengers. This year, regional passenger capacity is estimated to reach over 3.1 million within Asia alone, not including pass-through voyages that will likely bring in over 100,000 additional passengers at a conservative estimate.

“We are seeing strong demand for cruises to the Mediterranean, Europe, Hawaii, Alaska, and Asian destinations for its short-travel, multi-city appeal,” says Odell. This is consistent with the CLIA trend report, which also named the Baltic, UK, Ireland, and the Caribbean as popular destinations among seafaring visitors from Asia. The Philippines may not be among the top 10 destinations in Asia (at least not yet), but it enjoys a respectable amount of traffic with Manila, Boracay, and Palawan as ports of call.

Contrary to popular opinion that cruisers are typically seniors, the regional average is age 45; Filipino cruisers, specifically, average 44 years old. Nearly the same number of Pinoy passengers belong to the 50-59 (20%) compared to the 20-29 (20.8%) age range. Filipinos are moderate in their fondness for cruising, but nonetheless 32,608 took their sea legs for a spin in 2015 — spending an average of 8.2 nights traveling the big blue. Not surprisingly, Filipinos like going farther abroad compared to their Asian counterparts — more than half of Pinoy cruisers (68.4%) took a plane outside the region, with the rest electing to tour within Asia. 

“I believe travelers from Asia-Pacific have, for a long time, had a fascination with Europe and its beautiful old-age charm and deeply-rooted history… the Europeans mirror that fascination when thinking about Asia and all that it has to offer in terms of culture, landscapes, and rich heritage,” points out Odell. “With that being said, we’ve seen impressive growth in the Asia-Pacific market and demand is quickly ramping up as we see more travelers wanting to experience the Eastern hemisphere.”

No lack of luxe

Odell believes that cruising offers a one-two punch of excitement: (a) an amazing journey to (b) an unforgettable destination. NCLH, one of the largest cruise operations in the world, encompasses several market segments. Their most premium branded experience, the Regent Seven Seas Cruises, is especially equipped to cater to a market with the loftiest standards. All-inclusive amenities boast of all-suite accommodations (usually with a balcony view), free shore excursions, 24-hour room service (and even butler service), complimentary fine dining in specialty restaurants, unlimited beverages including fine wines and premium spirits, and other “curated experiences” (such as, for example, Gourmet Explorer Tours and Culinary Arts Kitchen cooking classes, or Smithsonian Journeys, a sort of intellectual salon led by art historians, leading authors and former diplomats, that guests may choose to join).

Culinary Arts Kitchen cooking classes are among the “curated experiences” offered on the ship.
Culinary Arts Kitchen cooking classes are among the “curated experiences” offered on the ship.

This July, NCLH launched the 750-passenger capacity Seven Seas Explorer, dubbed “the most luxurious ship ever built,” sporting 4,262 square meters of marble, illuminated by 158 crystal chandeliers, and serving—at least for its maiden voyage — 2,148 bottles of champagne and 907 kilograms of lobster served on 400 exclusively designed Versace place settings. “Designers were given free rein in designing a ship that was rich in culture and art, but exuded premium luxury,” says Odell, describing the new all-suite, all-balcony ship as “a trophy ship for wealthy and affluent travelers” where guests are “free to enjoy whatever they want, whenever they want.”

“The Regent Suite, the largest suite on the ship, is 413 square meters of pure opulence; the mattress alone retails for US$90,000,” he adds. Who wouldn’t be curious at the kind of sleep offered by a handcrafted horsehair Savoir bed? Or not be appreciative of complimentary in-room spa treatments, and a luxury car with driver at every port? Not to mention the paintings by Chagall and Picasso reportedly gracing the sides of the double-door entrance to the Regent Suite.

The majority of Filipino cruisers (97%) opt for premium/contemporary cruise lines, but a small sliver (3%) choose luxury, expedition, and upscale cruise lines. If you’re one of the few who would like to experience such well-earned hedonism — and are willing to risk the wrath of the Venetians, with their discouraging flares and dwindling patience for cruising tourists — you could try the popular 10-night Barcelona to Venice route departing in April 2017 (starts at US$9,999, but goes up to US$50,399 if you want the Regent Suite), with up to 57 free shore excursions. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid—well, the staff to guest ratio is 1:1.36 anyhow.

Filipinos who wish to be a little closer to home, could opt for Seven Seas Voyager cruises that stopover in Manila and anchor in Boracay, such as the 14-night Sydney to Auckland journey departing January 2017 (fares start at US$13,299), with up to 23 free shore excursions; the 15-night Singapore to Hong Kong route departing February 2017 (fares start at US$10,799), with up to 30 free shore excursions; and the 31-night voyage from Singapore to Beijing departing on February 2017 (starts at US$17,999), with up to 70 free shore excursions.

Launched this July, the 750-passenger capacity Seven Seas Explorer features 4,262 square meters of marble, and 158 crystal chandeliers. All images courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Launched this July, the 750-passenger capacity Seven Seas Explorer features 4,262 square meters of marble, and 158 crystal chandeliers. All images courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

The all-suite, all-balcony Seven Seas Voyager’s six-star amenities include 353 suites, a casino, a theater (where cabaret shows andCirque-style productions backed by a nine-piece orchestra are performed), and four main dining venues where guests may dine “whenever, and with whomever they please.” Activities on the 700-passenger ship include the Smithsonian Journeys, to facilitate “a certain connectivity with like-minded people on-board.” But if you’d rather be left to your own devices (there is a Smithsonian reading list), don’t hesitate to tell any of the 447 very attentive international crew members.

“Personal service is exceedingly indulgent throughout the ship,” says Odell. “Unlimited shore excursions is just the beginning on board this ultra-luxurious vessel; [it’s really] a sumptuous and very personal experience where your every wish, your every whim, and your every want are met with gratifying luxuries, satisfying comfort and complete fulfilment of your wanderlust.” In a word: bliss.