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?