By Simon & Susan Veness
Shuffleboard and deck quoits have largely been consigned to the dustbin of history in cruising terms – very sadly for those (like us!) who still remember keen ocean-going tournaments that enlivened long, languid sea days in the past.
True, a few lines do still maintain these venerable maritime traditions, providing shuffleboard courts and ping-pong tables, but they are few and far between. Long gone are the days when keen passengers hit golf balls off the side of the ship in mock competition!
Instead, the ships of today are more likely to have ziplines, mini-golf, rock-climbing walls, basketball courts and surf-style Flow-riders to ensure sporting interests are catered for in the 21st century.
In fact, it is hard to come across a vessel these days that doesn’t have the very latest activity or sporting pursuit. Bowling alleys, ice-skating rinks, self-stabilising pool tables and even go-kart tracks have all made an appearance on the latest mega-ships.
Even a ship as traditional as the Queen Mary 2 has the latest golf simulator aboard, in addition to their shuffleboard courts and proper promenade deck.
But, if there is one aspect of modern cruising that is likely to appeal to sports fans of every era, it is the increasing range of possibilities for combining a voyage with a major sporting event. This has become big business for many lines, and there are now some uber-enticing opportunities to mark your next cruise with golf, tennis, soccer and, especially, Formula One motor-racing.
Add in events that happen only once every two or four years like the Ryder Cup, Olympics, World Cup and America’s Cup, and you have a fabulous array of possibility.
Here are our Top Five options for adding a great sporting event to a cruise:
Tennis fans know the place to be in January every year is south-east Australia, where the first major event of the season is battled out over the hard courts of the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.
With the heat of the southern hemisphere summer, it’s a tough place for the players, but several cruise lines will ensure you enjoy a more comfortable experience for a slice of the action.
The tournament lasts a full two weeks, hence no cruise line can provide the full Open experience, but it can be enjoyed for a day or two either pre- or post-cruise with several companies, or as a port of call, with pre-arranged access to the event.
Monaco Grand Prix
One weekend every May, the Principality becomes the focus for the Formula One circuit, turning the already ultra-chic city of Monte Carlo into the epitome of motor-racing cool. There is simply no more iconic venue for these high-speed chariots than the street circuit that winds past the casinos and multi-million dollar marinas of Monaco.
And there are a good number of cruise lines – notably of the ultra-deluxe variety – who are ready to give you the five-star experience of watching Lewis Hamilton and Co whizz around the circuit, making sure you got the full flavour of the Monaco weekend, often with an exclusive vantage point or additional Grand Prix perk like a special cocktail reception ashore.
If Monaco isn’t your cup of tea, then there are also Grand Prix cruises in Singapore, Barcelona and Abu Dhabi where the ships also call to keep you on top of the high-speed action.
If it’s July, it must be time for The Open (or The British Open, as they call it in foreign places), and this year it is the turn of the fabled Carnoustie links in Angus, Scotland, to play host to golf’s oldest international tournament.
The 147th incarnation of the event will see a number of round-Britain voyages linked to it, with lines calling variously at Edinburgh and Dundee to get passengers close to the action. American star Jordan Spieth will be defending the Auld Claret Jug this year, and it is sure to be the highlight of the golf year, especially with Tiger Woods back on the scene.
With the event lasting four days, it is hard to fit it all into a typical cruise itinerary, but several lines will have an overnight in port, ensuring golf fans can enjoy two days at Carnoustie.
Who features it: Azamara, Crystal, Celebrity.
Australia’s answer to The Derby is the Melbourne Cup, the highlight of the horse-racing calendar Down Under and a huge social event in its own right. Otherwise known as “the race that stops a nation,” it is the richest two-mile handicap race in the world, and draws huge crowds – usually 120,000-plus – for its annual outing on the first Tuesday of each November.
It is no surprise, therefore, that both the main Australia-based cruise lines see this as a great opportunity to put in extra appearances in Melbourne for the week of the Cup, providing a number of different ways to enjoy the event – as well as the party atmosphere that goes with it!
Who features it: Carnival, P&O Australia.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics
This may still be more than two years away, but it is definitely a date for your diary, as the world’s greatest athletics event returns to Japan for the first time since 1998 (Nagano), and taking a cruise there may be the best way to ensure accommodation and a ticket.
While Tokyo is admirably set up to be a great host city, the relative shortage of hotels for an event that can draw more than a million visitors has already led to calls for cruise ships to provide full-time accommodation for the duration of the Games.
That means the deluxe lines, who all made special visits to Rio for the 2016 event, should be first on your list to consider once they announce their 2020 itineraries.
Who features it: Each of Azamara, Seabourn, Silversea and Norwegian all visited Rio in 2016, so it seems likely they will for Tokyo, too.