There’s no business like cruise business, or so it seems these days, following this week’s announcement of the annual figures and yearly review from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
We’ve known it for more than 20 years, but the latest statistics still make for eye-catching reading, as they hint at ever-greater growth – in just about every direction – of our favourite holiday activity.
It’s worth pausing, though, to measure the huge strides that cruising has made, in very real terms, in what we like to call the modern era, from 1995 onwards. That was the year when P&O introduced their first genuine contemporary mega-ship, the classic Oriana and Airtours entered the market with two older vessels, the first British tour operator to take to the high seas.
The combined effect was to kick-start a British cruise business that had been, if not moribund, then certainly somnolent in the face of a whole new wave of sea-going style coming from across the Atlantic from the likes of Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Carnival.
Back in 1994, the number of Brits taking a cruise was barely 280,000. But, by 1996 the figure had topped 400,000, and it has not taken even a peek in the rear-view mirror ever since.
This week’s proclamation from CLIA showed that another milestone had been achieved. Just nine years after reaching the one million mark, the figure for UK passengers on the oceans of the world has now passed two million, a modest two per cent rise on the numbers for 2017, but a massive three HUNDRED per cent increase in the past 20 years.
That’s big cookies by anyone’s reckoning, and no wonder CLIA’s UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer was in a celebratory mood in London, calling it a “significant milestone.” He insisted: “It illustrates how cruise has become a major player within the UK and Ireland travel sector. As only the second European market to reach more than two million cruises and the fourth globally, this figure demonstrates the continued strength of cruising as a mainstream holiday choice in the UK and Ireland and is a testament to the industry’s resilience to economic and political changes.”
Put in perspective worldwide, the global figures went up fully seven per cent to 28.5 million, and there simply seems no end in sight to this prodigious growth pattern. But is it any wonder?
With innovation at record levels – last year saw the first Liquid Natural Gas powered cruise ship while this year sees the introduction of the first true hybrid diesel-electric vessel – and the onboard style being improved at every level, whether it is the ‘fun-ship’ style of Carnival or the ultra-luxe quality of Regent Seven Seas, the message is now loud and clear: If you’re not cruising, you’re missing out on one of THE great holiday experiences of this era.
Sheer numbers alone don’t tell the complete story, though, and we thought it was worth highlighting a couple of other little tidbits that also help to make this picture so tantalising.
If you go back those 20 years to when British cruisers numbered only around 500,000, you would also have found that the options for where to go would not have stretched far beyond the typical regions of the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Caribbean, Alaska and Pacific. All very well for those looking for their second, third or fourth voyage, but not the kind of spell-binding choice we have on offer today, when the likes of the Galapagos, Antarctica, Patagonia, Greenland, the Russian Far East and even the fabled Northwest Passage are all practically mainstream possibilities.
In fact, it’s possible to say that true expedition-style cruising was still in its infancy in 1999, whereas in 2019 there are more than 20 lines that specialise in these more adventurous voyages, including some of the most quality-conscious names in the business, like Silversea, Crystal, Ponant and Hapag-Lloyd. Companies like UnCruise, National Geographic and Azamara Club Cruises didn’t even exist.
Also, while the geographic spread of ocean-going voyaging has expanded, so has the number of ports in each place. It wasn’t so long ago that the only real ports of call on the Alaskan route were Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Wrangell and Seward. Look at most itineraries today, and you’ll also discover the names of Petersburg, Haines, Icy Strait Point, Valdez, Whittier and the Kenai Peninsula. The range of voyages has never been greater.
And it’s not just the obvious areas that are expanding. Iceland and Ireland can now be found on many itineraries, along with Cuba and Costa Rica, Abu Dhabi and Maputo, South Africa and Madagascar. There’s hardly a cruise line that isn’t looking to expand its port choice, and that is great news for those who have a favourite line but still yearn for something new.
The growth continues in the increasingly complex collection of world voyages, offering ever greater lengths, regions and themes, and with more and more of them featuring experiences that have genuine cultural significance.
And so it goes on. Next year there will be new cruise lines, as Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection and Virgin Voyages both take to the sea. The steady advance of cruising and cruise choice is seemingly unstoppable. This year it’s two million UK cruisers; in another 10 years it could easily be four million, and even then there will still be new maritime frontiers to explore.
There’s simply no end to our appetite for the true bliss of an ocean voyage. We could even turn it into a familiar-sounding song (borrowing from the immortal Flanders and Swann ditty):
Cruise, Cruise, glorious cruise
Nothing quite like it for beating the blues
So follow me follow
Down to the fo’c’sle
And there let us sail-o in glorious cruise…
Are you planning your next cruise? What most appeals to you about the many possibilities out there? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.