Why We're Ready to Get Back on Board with Cruising

Oct 14, 2021

Very rarely does an entire industry come to a full stop for 15 months. But that’s precisely what’s just happened to cruising, with hundreds of ships parked in port around the world as their owners brainstormed a big comeback for the right moment and anxious travelers lay in wait. Now, with the relaunch finally upon us—complete with new safety protocols, new onboard experiences and new itineraries—we’re excited about it, and clearly, we’re not alone.

When Oceania Cruises’ 2023 world cruise sold out within 24 hours of going live in January, that was the first in a series of record-breaking booking days for the line—and a harbinger of an industry-wide trend. In fact, our collective desire for the great restart runs so deep that the first CDC-cleared U.S. departure of the pandemic—Celebrity Edge’s June 26th sailing to Mexico and the Bahamas—garnered the sort of fanfare typically reserved for high-profile rocket launches, with innumerable news crews at the port, embedded reporters onboard and a hero’s welcome for guests. The gangway’s cheer squad even included the captain herself: Kate McCue, famously the first and only American woman to command a megaship (and amass nearly three million TikTok followers in the process.)

What everyone—not least, the passengers—wanted to know: What would this new world of cruising look like? How much had changed since the Before Times? How safe—and let’s be honest, fun—was this all going to be now? 

We’ve got all kinds of answers, from all kinds of cruise lines, below. But the response that arguably says it best comes from a passenger on that first Celebrity Edge cruise—Tina Carter of Washington, DC—who noted to reporters that the occasion left her so overjoyed, “I did cartwheels.”

A global reset

Neither that excitement—nor the industry’s relaunch—is limited to the U.S., of course. And our colleagues across the globe are reporting similar findings, occasionally, firsthand: Travelzoo’s London-based Communications Director Cat Jordan, for example, cruised the British Isles with her family aboard the brand new MSC Virtuosa this summer. “The fact that we had to take a test, prove vaccination and wear masks on the ship left me feeling pretty confident,” she says. In fact, “we all felt relaxed and it was a really, really great trip.” The onboard offerings were a hit with the whole family, from the high ropes to the theater productions and even (though the kids would say especially) the Teppanyaki experience. But there was also something special about gaining new perspective on familiar places: “Seeing the coastlines of Wales, Liverpool and Ireland, among others, was really cool from the sea,” Jordan says.

On the other hand, plenty of cruise passengers are looking to explore the unfamiliar, and the cruise industry is responding with ever more specialized and far-reaching itineraries. At the beginning of this month, for example, reservations opened for Celebrated Cultures & Treasured Temples, a 2024 world cruise aboard Crystal Serenity that includes 49 ports of call and 45 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, from the Buddhas of Mumbai’s Elephanta Caves to the Land of Frankincense in Oman.

Silversea, is responding to similarly “strong demand for extended voyages to far-flung destinations” with recently debuted 2023 and 2024 itineraries that include the company’s first-ever expedition voyages in the Baltic Sea and two new grand voyages to Africa & the Arabian Peninsula and the Eastern Mediterranean.

For its part, Hurtigruten will become the only expedition cruise line to explore the coast of West Africa next year, with the introduction of four countries—Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal—to MS Spitsbergen’s itineraries: a blend of wide-ranging UNESCO biosphere landscapes, world-renowned musical traditions and rare and abundant wildlife, for starters.

Cape Verde, photo courtesy of Hurtigruten

Onboard evolution

As important as the itinerary itself, of course, is the kind of experience you're having along the way. And there, too, a lot is new and noteworthy.

The health and safety protocols will be the most immediate difference you’ll notice, and while they continue to evolve—and vary from ship to ship—there are some basics you can reasonably expect for the foreseeable future: vaccination and testing requirements (or strong guidelines, at the very least); timed embarkation; temperature checks, abundant hand sanitizing stations; virtual safety musters; increased cleaning; reduced occupancy; additional medical care—and to some degree or other, masking requirements (this last one is among the most variable measures, and can even change from port to port).

Rooftop Garden on Celebrity Edge

In the interest of keeping themselves and others safe, passengers tend to find these measures far more reassuring than intrusive—as well as a central consideration in the travel decision-making process. In fact, the top question fielded by Jordan Taylor and Jared Dailey, the vlogging, cruise-obsessed couple behind the popular JJ Cruise—is whether cruising feels safe right now. As veterans of two of the year’s earliest sailings out of North America—the aforementioned Celebrity Edge departure and Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas first Nassau departure—both men repeatedly cite the role that well-enforced protocols can play in the overall enjoyment of a cruise. And Travelzoo’s Jordan agrees: “When the messaging is bold and up-front—i.e., ‘this is how we protect you’— it makes it easy to say yes.”

Next-level experiences

Beyond wanting to create a sense of safety, cruise lines clearly want to create exceptional new travel experiences, too—as you’ll find in everything from onboard dining to on-shore excursions, and sometimes a combination of the two. Aboard the new Silver Moon, for example, Silversea’s most immersive culinary concept to date is set to launch soon. Entitled the Sea And Land Taste program (aka S.A.L.T.) and directed by the award-winning food journalist Adam Sachs, the program aims to help you experience destinations as fully as possible through their distinct culinary traditions, with a mix of expert-guided market trips, local guest-chef demos and meals that spotlight endemic ingredients and traditional preparation methods. There’s even an accompanying podcast: S.A.L.T. Lab Radio.

S.A.L.T. Kitchen on Silversea Silver Moon

Other news sure to lure foodies ranges from Daniel Boulud’s first signature restaurant at sea aboard the new Celebrity Beyond to Windstar Cruises’ themed culinary cruises in partnership with the James Beard Foundation. Even the junior foodies have a lot to get excited about: Aboard the new Disney Wish, they’ll be able to have—among other over-the-top meals—a Frozen Dining Adventure (complete with Aurora Borealis display in the windows) and themed, interactive dinners at the Worlds of Marvel’s Avengers: Quantum Encounter.  

The Disney Wish is also making headlines for the fleet’s first outdoor wellness space. The Senses Spa—part alfresco yoga studio; part thermal therapies zone—is one of a number of reasons that wellness seekers are eyeing cruise ships, too. Other lures range from Goop-branded holistic programming aboard Celebrity to Viking’s forthcoming (in time for the 2023-2024 World Cruise lineup) glass-backed infinity pool—where you’ll be cantilevered off the stern and surrounded by whatever breathtaking destination you happen to be visiting.

Or maybe—after the last couple of years—you’re looking not looking for zen so much as the Roaring '20s revival that never quite materialized as promised. In which case, consider a party on the water: perhaps a European holiday market sailing timed to a New Year’s Eve celebration in, say, the streets of Vienna or beneath an illuminated village castle, as some of AmaWaterways’ cruises are (and yes, there's still some availability for this year). Or, for another variation on the party-at-sea theme, consider the inaugural sailing of The Broadway Cruise to Bermuda from, naturally, NYC (so all the best talent can board without missing a beat) April 9-14, 2022 on Norwegian Gem.

But arguably the best way to channel a bit of that Roaring '20s abandon? After a night of festival-like entertainment aboard Virgin Voyages’ just-launched Scarlet Lady, head to the cruising world’s only known tattoo parlor: Squid Ink on Deck 6. Because according to Sir Richard’s folk, there’s “really no better way to immortalize your trip at sea than with a tat. Skull and bones or a very cut English bulldog cuddling a tiny cat.”

It's a whole new world at sea, indeed.

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