What’s your favourite ship and why? It’s a question I’m often asked and, as a journalist specialising in the cruise sector, I always have to remain circumspect in my answers.
I don’t want to be seen as biased either in favour or against any company but will seek to give the most objective opinion based on personal experience.
I must keep my personal views to myself while giving a professional view on key elements such as accommodation, food, service, entertainment, itinerary, on board amenities and so on.
It’s also important to reflect the kind of passenger who each cruise ship would suit the most – probably one of the biggest challenges for travel agents when asked to recommend a certain company or ship.
For example, some ships are geared entirely towards family fun, while others are much smaller and are better suited to couples or single travellers. A massive resort-style ship with a limited itinerary is unlikely to appeal to more adventurous older couples looking for history and culture as part of their shore excursions.
That’s why I’m always fascinated to hear the opinions of other cruise passengers about their likes and dislikes.
So I was amazed to discover that the top suites on Celebrity Cruises’ new ship Celebrity Reflection have sold out for its first four departures – and the vessel doesn’t actually enter service until October.
The new suites cost almost £13,000 per person for a two week cruise, going to prove that people are more than prepared to splash out to ensure they get the most exclusive accommodation at sea.
There are a range of new suites on Celebrity Reflection, including the 1,636 square foot ‘Reflection Suite’ (see artist’s impression) sleeping up to six, complete with a sea-view bathroom, hot tub on a private balcony, 24-hour butler service, and use of a dedicated iPad.
Further newly designed suites on Celebrity Reflection include five ‘Signature Suites’ with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors for panoramic views, with prices starting at £5,300 per person based on a 14-night cruise; and 34 new AquaClass Suites with a spa and wellbeing theme. The AquaClass Suites are priced from £3,700 per person for a two week cruise and include extras such as access to a dedicated healthy-eating restaurant, Blu, and a spa concierge.
A special deck area – which can also be privately hired – is only accessible by those staying in the Reflection and Signature Suites.
Celebrity tells me that the Reflection Suite is already booked up for the ship’s inaugural sailing from Amsterdam to Barcelona on October 12 and the next three consecutive cruises – 14-nights from Barcelona to Venice on October 21, the return trip to Barcelona on November 4 and a 13-night transatlantic crossing to Miami.
“Holidaying in style is definitely not out of fashion – big spenders are booking early to secure the most exclusive accommodation available,” says Celebrity Cruises’ associate vice-president and general manager Jo Rzymowska.
I’m a Celebrity
Given this revelation, it should have come as little surprise to discover that Celebrity has been ranked as Britain’s favourite cruise line in a new poll based on feedback from more than 32,000 travellers. Its ship Celebrity Eclipse, which operates from the UK in summer, was also rated as having the best accommodation for the second year in succession.
The chic US sister line to Royal Caribbean International pushed previous joint winners Cunard and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines off the top slot and into second and fourth place respectively as the best cruise line of 2011.
Thomson Cruises maintained its impressive performance by rising one place into third position while Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises maintained their positions in fifth and sixth place.
P&O Cruises dropped from third to seventh place followed by Norwegian Cruise Line, Cruise & Maritime Voyages and MSC Cruises.
I suspect that Celebrity could further enhance its reputation this year by having a second ship running cruises from Southampton for the first time with Celebrity Constellation running a series of wine themed sailings from September to November in addition to regular Celebrity Eclipse departures.
Cunard should not be too downhearted by the poll results though as Queen Victoria was ranked as best ship and as offering the best food for the second year running.
Thomson Dream leapt from no-where to become the second best cruise ship, knocking Queen Mary 2 down into fourth position behind Celebrity Eclipse in third place.
Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas dropped off the top slot down to fifth, followed by new entrants, Fred Olsen’s Balmoral and Cunard’s newest ship Queen Elizabeth. P&O Cruises’ Ventura, Oceana and Azura took the final three places in the top ten.
Thomson Dream is seen as offering the best entertainment over the previous year’s winner Independence of the Seas. The Thomson Cruises ship was also ranked as providing the best service against previous winner, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas, and also rated highly for excursions, children and cabins.
P&O Cruises’ family-friendly Ventura regained the top position as being best for children after previously winning the category in 2010. The UK company’s Oceana was rated as offering the best shore excursions while Azura features in the top ten of all seven individual categories.
Four Royal Caribbean Ships are in the top 10 for families, while Norwegian Cruise Line’s mega ship Norwegian Epic is a new entrant in fourth position.
While it’s difficult to extrapolate too much from these findings, they do give a snapshot of the kind of cruise experience that most appeals to British holidaymakers and also suggest that having the biggest ships doesn’t necessarily make them the best.
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