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First, apologies for the absence of posts in the last week. I have in fact been working! – sat at the computer all day – and I just couldn’t bring myself to go back to it in the evening. But I’ve finished now.

I’ve been intrigued by the rise in cruising in Germany, and the continuing success of both TUI cruises with their ever-increasing list of ships, and of AIDA which is also launching new builds as if the world depends on it. My understanding is that both of these lines are rather more casual, and certainly less formal, than most UK-based cruise lines. This may be more true of AIDA than TUI, to be fair, but there again AIDA currently has more ships so the AIDA experience is currently the typical German cruise experience. Here are some extracts from a Cruise Critic article about AIDA:

AIDA’s emphasis is on an active, ultra-casual cruise experience. The informal “club” ethos is reflected in every facet of the experience — for starters, unlike almost all other cruise ships, off-duty crew are allowed to mingle freely with passengers. By day there is a big emphasis on wellness and fitness activities in the large and popular AIDA Spa and Fit & Fun, and on the expansive open decks. At night there’s lively entertainment in the theatre, and the well-patronized bars and lounges create a festive, easygoing atmosphere.

Dining, as befits the unstructured “club ship” concept, is entirely open-seating and takes place in two (or, on the new AIDAdiva, three) large self-service restaurants. While there is no main dining room, buffets on AIDA are executed with unusual finesse for mass-market ships. For those who get tired of buffet meals, an a la carte restaurant (several on AIDAdiva) offers high-quality cuisine in a more elegant atmosphere.

Of course there have been two casual cruise lines aimed at the UK market – Island Cruises and Ocean Village. I didn’t cruise with either of them so I have no personal experience, but I get the feeling that while they may have been casual they didn’t meet the standards of quality that is suggested by the extract above. And the tonnage was not new, especially in the case of Island. Both lines were discontinued between 2008 and 2010. They were obviously popular with some people – I’ve read many articles on CruiseCritic mourning their passing, especially Ocean Village, and there have been frequent suggestions that one or more newer P&O ships (Ventura has been especially mentioned in this regard) would be out-shipped from P&O to start up a new casual cruise venture.

So what would a casual cruise line have to do to succeed in the UK? Here are my thoughts:-

  • Fly-cruises – a quick concentrated hit. Fly to the ship & the sun, cruise, fly home. Most cruises would be a week;
  • Obviously it would have to be casual; so out would go dress codes, apart from perhaps ‘no shorts at dinner’. But certainly no formal nights, ‘no jackets required’ evenings;
  • There would be no sittings for dinner, it would all be freedom dining style; that is, turn up at the restaurant when you want to eat;
  • Indeed, I wonder if the Main Dining Room as we know it would even exist? Perhaps it would be a high-quality self-service buffet;
  • Probably there would be a range of informal eateries offering different types of food, e.g. a steak bar, an Italian, perhaps a curry house. Some of these would be no-cost, others – e.g. the steak bar – would be extra cost. But they still wouldn’t do reservations! – it would still be ‘turn up when you want to eat’;
  • A drinks package, or all-inclusive. I’m not sure how I feel about those myself – I try to have the odd sober day on a cruise, which ruins the economies of buying a package – but they do seem to be popular. Especially if you add soft drinks and coffees in as well. Plus of course the opportunity to ‘trade-up’ from the package for individual drinks (e.g. premium spirits), or indeed (in the case of all-inclusive) from a basic all-inclusive deal (basic beers/wines & spirits) to a package giving the passenger premium drinks;
  • entertainment – a mixture of large venues and smaller. I think Britannia might be on the right track with the Limelight Club.I don’t think the typical Headliners Company show would be right for this type of line – instead, there should be a lot of audience interaction events, e.g. something like Blind Date, or talent shows;
  • lots of fitness facilities. A spa, yes, but also places for things such as yoga classes, exercise classes, and so on;
  • It should be family-friendly, with good facilities for children and for parents;
  • Big ports of call only – places like Barcelona, Palma, Malaga, Toulon, or Naples (in the western Mediterranean);
  • and based on purpose-built, big new ships. I think this is perhaps the most important single point – the experience has to ooze quality. If you put people into well-designed high-quality environments they’ll savour them and respond positively. I’m sure we’ve all been to sad holiday camps (or caravan parks), where the ‘social club’ was in a run-down shed with poor decorations and a carpet that your feet stuck to as you walked across it… It’s impossible to have a good time in a place like that; you need quality surroundings. I still remember the first time we went to Centre Parcs in Sherwood Forest with our children almost 30 years ago – we were stunned at the sheer quality of the place, and the contrast between that and the caravan parks we’d always gone to before. We loved it.

So those are my thoughts. I’m not saying that such a line would be for everyone, but it’s clear that there is a demographic (probably younger than most current cruise passengers) who want informality – they’re on holiday, after all – and quality. I think a cruise experience that offered both of those could be very successful. What do my readers think?

3 Responses to “A casual cruise line for the UK?”

  1. sid says:

    Your “thoughts” seem to be the model adopted by Thomson Cruises!

    • Tom Burke says:

      Thanks for the comment, Sid.

      Yes, I kept thinking about Thomson as I was writing it. The big difference lies in the ships, though. Thomson has been the epitome (to me) of using old tonnage with a lick of paint. Even when they get Mein Schiff 1 & 2 (and that won’t be for a few years), they’ll still be using ships more than 20 years old and not very big. What I’m thinking about is a much more modern and bigger ship – a Freedom of the Seas remade for high-quality casual.

      Maybe the Virgin cruise line will be it…..

  2. Mike says:

    How times change. My wife and I have spent the equivalent of four and a quarter years travelling with P&O. First cruise was back in 1982, we were booked to go for a fortnight on the Canberra, but 10 days before our cruise the Falkland War broke out and our much anticipated adventure to Senegal and West Africa was cancelled. In those days P&O only had two ships, the other being the old Oriana. After some uncertainty, we were offered a 22 night cruise to the Caribbean and back as a replacement and, at the same cost. Our ship was the Sea Princess which later became Victoria. Sea P as she was affectionately known had been operating out of Sydney for P&O Australia and was brought up to the UK at very short notice to fill the gap left by Canberra.
    Our cruise left Southampton in early June, we had some foreboding as we had never met anyone that had cruised and assumed that most of the passengers would be Film Star types and folk who were awfully rich, indeed I was embarrassed to tell anyone that we were going on a cruise for fear that they may think ‘whoever do they think they are’. This fear was soon allayed as we found not a Film Star on board and that the other passengers were much like us.
    Sea P had accommodation for 700 passengers but only 400 were undertaking the adventure with us. We had the most wonderful time and on the return standing at the rail at our last port of call Vigo, we talked about how we could ever afford to do this again and standing next to us was a couple talking to each other and saying, ‘well dear, only a couple of months and we will be back on board’ our breath was taken away.
    Well, on Monday we will be joining Ventura, our 113th with P&O … we love it.
    You might like to know that the cost of our first cruise was £1600 each .. 33 years on it is still possible to get a cruise for this sum .. so today’s cruising price has not moved on that much, backwards really, and represents tremendous value, goodness knows what inflation would have done to our ticket price .. £5000 each!! Oh! we didn’t have a suite, just a porthole cabin. No balconies then.
    So to answer the question about casual only cruising, to us no way. We started when a day at sea was only Formal rig and ‘all’ adhered to it, Now a mixture of Formal and Smart Jacket and Casual, depending on the ship, sadly it is slipping away. Hopefully while we are still around P&O will maintain the tradition of elegant attire in the evening for many years to come. Those folk who like the Butlin style cruise will hopefully find it elsewhere and to go to the ‘new liners’. Unfortunitly the low prices say, ” can’t afford going to Benidorm but can go on a cruise”.

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