I’m always fascinated by the factors that motivate people to take to the high seas.
With cruise holidays gaining in popularity, what are the key factors that make people opt to get on board rather than take a traditional land-based holiday?
It won’t come as an earth-shattering surprise to discover that the choice of destinations offering by cruise ships is the number one attraction.
The findings of research released at the UK Cruise Convention a couple of weeks ago show that destination is the main factor we consider when deciding on taking a cruise.
The study conducted by the Mail group of newspapers among more than 2,000 people in March found that destination, company or brand and the cost of the cruise were the three most important factors.
But those who have never cruised before – and that’s the vast majority of holidaymakers – still consider cruising to be expensive.
More than a third of potential cruise passengers polled believe cruises are too costly, the study found.
The message this sends to cruise lines and agents is that the value proposition offered by holidays at sea is still not resonating effectively with the travelling public.
Which means that the industry still has a task on its hands to communicate the value proposition of cruise and the array of facilities available once people step on board.
The research was backed up by a price comparison which found an 11-night Canary Islands cruise from Southampton to undercut the cost of an equivalent holiday ashore once all the extras were added up.
There was a saving of almost £200 to be had by taking a cruise where all entertainment, childcare and meals were included. Of course, this doesn’t include the bar bill.
However, what came out loud and clear from the convention attended by almost 300 travel agents in Southampton was the cruise sector’s need to counter public perception that prices are high.
I reacted with a degree of incredulity to this given the range of offers currently being made available through agents such as www.virginholidayscruises.co.uk and the cruise lines themselves.
For example, I see seven-night fly/cruises in Mediterranean available from £399 per person with MSC Cruises in December.
For just £100 more you can sail on Norwegian Cruise Line’s biggest, action-packed ship Norwegian Epic from Barcelona this coming weekend.
While this and many others may be late deals, those who are flexible enough to pack and go at the last minute have probably never had it so good in terms of pricing.
And the promotions appear to be working. The sister brands of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises reported on Friday that bookings in the first week of May jumped by 25 per cent over the same period last year, spurred on by a range of special offers.
By keeping an eye on rapidly changing prices, I can guarantee there are bargains galore out there across a variety of companies.
Ports of call
And with destinations at the forefront of the holiday decision-making process, you can’t go wrong with a cruise.
An average seven-night sailing in the Med, for example, is likely to include five or more ports of call probably across two or three different countries.
There may be one or two days at sea as an absolute maximum and these are perfect for enjoying the abundance of on board facilities, checking out the spa, taking a massage or just relaxing in the sun on deck while enjoying the drinks service.
Shore excursions do come at an additional cost, but in my experience there are many ports where it is possible to do your own thing and walk or take a free shuttle bus into town for sightseeing, shopping and trying out the local food and drink.
Many ports of call are close to beaches, making it easy to jump off ship and spend a day on the sands.
A particular favourite of mine is Santa Margherita, a short hop from stunningly beautiful but often over-crowded Portofino. Ships are not able to dock at the resort, so there’s the added thrill of getting ashore by tender boat. Once on land, Santa Margherita’s beaches are stunning and there’s plenty of seafront cafes, restaurants and bars to relax in and soak up the atmosphere.
Admittedly, Santa Margherita isn’t one of the most popular cruise stopping points, but it is just one example of the kind of smaller destination which can easily be reached on a cruise.
Time to get the atlas out and map out your summer itinerary.