As economy grows and boomers age, the world cruise makes a comeback

The Crystal Symphony (pictured) and the Crystal Serenity will sail world cruises in 2018.
The Crystal Symphony (pictured) and the Crystal Serenity will sail world cruises in 2018.

Crystal Cruises’ plan to deploy both of its ships on world cruise itineraries in 2018 is drawing attention to the growing number of cruise lines now offering two world cruises each year.

The world cruise was once the pinnacle of a line’s portfolio, but few had fleets large enough to devote more than one ship to an itinerary that lasted from 90 to 120 days, nor could they find enough passengers to fill multiple world cruises.

Today, beyond Crystal, there are at least four other lines offering a choice of two world cruises, including Costa, Cunard Line, P&O and Princess. Oceania has scheduled back-to-back, 180-day world cruises.

Travel agents with experience selling luxury cruises said there are several factors behind the rise in dual world cruises. One is that American consumers are doing well as a result of a healthier economy and have more money to spend. Also, cruise fleets have been growing, enabling lines to spare ships for longer itineraries.

Moreover, baby boomers are moving into the years when they can afford more than the 10 days or two weeks they have previously allotted for a cruise, and many want to experience a longer voyage.

Finally, cruise lines are increasingly developing source markets overseas that want to leave on a world cruise from a convenient port.

That said, the Crystal pairing of its only two ships is a unique leap of faith into the world cruise waters.

“It’s never been done before. It’s novel,” said Paul Largay, owner of Largay Travel in Waterbury, Conn. “I like it because it’s out-of-the-box thinking.”

The plan calls for the Crystal Symphony to embark on its world cruise from Cape Town, South Africa, and for the Crystal Serenity to depart Los Angeles two weeks later. The two ships will meet up in Sydney on Feb. 17.

There, passengers on one ship will have the chance to transfer to the other, creating the possibility of four separate itineraries from which passengers can choose. Crystal said it gave past passengers a different option than they could get on other lines.

“The 2018 World Cruise voyages are a true testament to Crystal’s continued innovation and creativity and to our commitment to guests in broadening their luxury travel experiences,” said Crystal President Edie Rodriguez.

Annie Scrivanich, senior vice president at Cruise Specialists in Seattle, which has a heavy emphasis on world cruise sales, said she has already sold several 2018 cabins.

“We’re very excited about it,” Scrivanich said. One reason she cited for the excitement is that the dual itineraries will make it easier for guests to depart and return from a U.S. port without a long international flight.

So guests can depart on the Crystal Serenity from Los Angeles and instead of continuing on to Rome, board the Crystal Symphony in Sydney and finish their cruise in Miami on April 30.

Other cruise lines offer roundtrip cruises leaving from U.S. ports. For example, Princess Cruises’ 111-day world cruise on the Pacific Princess this year will go roundtrip from Los Angeles.

But Princess is also offering a second world cruise departing May 15 on the Sea Princess from Sydney.  The 104-night cruise takes advantage of the slower winter season in the Southern Hemisphere and enables cruisers from the rapidly growing Australian market to skip the flight to Los Angeles.

Likewise, Costa Cruises’ Costa Atlantica has just departed on the first world cruise aimed primarily at Chinese passengers. It left March 1 on an 86-day roundtrip itinerary from Shanghai.

Meanwhile, the Costa Deliziosa is progressing on a 115-day world cruise that departed Savona, Italy on Jan. 6.

Oceania Cruises scheduled three world cruises operating back to back on the Insignia, although the first, originally slated to depart in January, was delayed by repairs after a fire that broke out on the ship last December.

The second 180-day voyage kicks off July 8 from Miami and takes an northeasterly route via Canada and the Baltic region. The ship immediately departs on another 180-day voyage on its return to Miami Jan. 4, this time sailing south through the Caribbean before heading to Africa.

When it scheduled the July cruise, in late 2013, Oceania said the first 180-day trip had sold out in eight hours.

Two lines have more than one world cruise leaving from Southampton, England. P&O Cruises’ Aurora and Arcadia left two days apart from each other in early January, and Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth both left Jan. 10 for 112-day roundtrips.

Silversea, meanwhile, is operating its Silver Whisper from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale.

Other lines offer shorter voyages.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Grand Voyage from Tokyo to London on the Seven Seas Voyager is 87 days.

A 97-day New World Exploration cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey in December takes in South America, the South Pacific and Hawaii.

More free time

Ian Biddlecomb, president of Travel TST, near Vancouver, said the baby boom generation is finally starting to have enough free time for longer cruises, world cruises in particular.

“What we’re starting to see is that the long-awaited boomer market, which we were told five or seven years ago would be the end-all, is finally coming into fruition,” Biddlecomb said. “And we’re seeing a lot of people in that age bracket with a lot of larger inheritances … coming their way, and they’re wanting to take these unusual, longer-extension trips.”

Biddlecomb said the Crystal hop-on, hop-off world cruise has tickled the fancy of his customers.

“I’ve got quite a few world clients who are looking at that right now and trying to make decisions,” he said. “They’re thrilled with that. Crystal has been reaching out of the box and doing some different things lately.”

Largay said that one thing his clients are sorting through with the Crystal dual cruises is whether they want to leave their friends halfway through a trip.

“We find that with a full world cruise, they sort of start to become part of a community on a particular ship,” he said. “They become creatures of habit.”

Even so, Largay said, the possibility of switching ships mid-itinerary will be a “conversation starter.”

“It’s about time Crystal did something to put themselves back in the public view, in the conversation,” Largay said. “And this, if nothing else, will do just that. It can’t do anything but help the marketing and sales of Crystal.”

He added that the recent announcement that Crystal will have a newbuild by 2018 makes the dual-cruise strategy more viable.

“What strikes me the most is the percentage of actual ships dedicated,” Largay said. “When you’re talking about some of the lines, percentage-wise, having two ships dedicated to it doesn’t make a significant difference in terms of additional options available to people who might not want to be on a world cruise.

“What happens [to Crystal] over the next 18 months, and the number of ships in its fleet, will determine what the impact will be on non-world cruisers.”


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