Azamara Quest // © 2017 Azamara Club Cruises
Feature image (above): These days, world cruisers are motivated more by destination choice than by ship type. // © 2017 iStock
A world cruise is not just an ultimate travel experience for the consumer; it’s an agent’s golden ring. And it goes beyond a single sales coup, opening up a chain reaction of bookings. Edie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Crystal, calls it an annuity gift for agents.
“The majority of world cruise travelers book onboard,” she said. “They book both for the next world cruise and for Crystal’s other products, and all the commission is protected.”
Traditionally considered a winter ritual for the affluent traveler (with prices ranging as much as $60,000), world cruising is developing in many different ways. In fact, a whole new breed of traveler has emerged, impacting both the agent’s role and a cruise line’s offerings. This new type of consumer is destination-driven and is proactive about planning long-term cruises. They play mix-and-match across luxury, premium, contemporary and river cruise lines and concentrate on their bucket lists rather than on over-the-top amenities. Agents say this clientele is made up of new and experienced world travelers who want to focus on in-depth experiences in places they haven’t been, rather than returning to destinations they have already visited.
Tom Baker, president of CruiseCenter in Houston, has about a dozen clients sailing on full world cruises this winter, or on long segment voyages.
He sees a definite shift occurring. Former devotees of world cruises, who usually took annual trips, have begun to feel that they are not healthy enough for such long journeys. Baker thinks there’s a lot of choice in the world cruise marketplace, and now, younger, affluent cruisers prefer to custom craft a series of back-to-back sailings that are less formal, have fewer days at sea and emphasize destination experiences.
Baker says the value offered by back-to-back cruises is playing a role in the change, particularly in the case of Seabourn Cruise Line, with “unbelievably good prices and bookings of 40, 50 or 60 days.”
He also sees customers willing to sail on ships outside the traditional luxury sector to reach their destination goals.
“People are doing long back-to-backs with lines such as Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International,” he said. “I had a group sailing from Galveston, Texas, to Singapore on Royal Caribbean, for instance.”
Daniela Harrison, a travel consultant for Avenues of the World Travel in Flagstaff, Ariz., also notes the trend of back-to-back cruises. This includes combinations that involve multiple cruise lines and land stays in order to create itineraries that hit the destinations travelers really want. She says her clients may go from luxury to premium and back again, with river cruise lines sandwiched in.
“While you still see the traditional world cruiser, most clients are more comfortable to have us do our magic and focus on their bucket lists,” she said.
Harrison books cruises ranging from 16 days to three months. They are sometimes quite complex, as in the case of clients who booked a Western Mediterranean cruise followed by a visit to Iceland, a river cruise in France, two nights on land and then two ocean cruises. They had different family members with them onboard each time and took one cruise alone, so Harrison had to manage varying group sizes, different cruise lines and a jigsaw puzzle of land, sea, river and air arrangements.
Harrison says the 30-day cruise is especially popular. Advantages of this relatively shorter length include the ability to be home for special occasions and that it keeps passengers from getting too comfortable on a ship. For instance, Harrison says one of her clients complained that another passenger told him the chair he was sitting in was “her chair.”
While some travelers are exploring a wider range of itinerary options, the full world cruise is still alive and more creative than ever. CruiseCenter’s Baker says that Viking Ocean Cruises’ first world cruise more or less sold out on the first day, so by the time travelers got the brochure, the space was gone. He also points to Oceania Cruises’ six-month-long Around the World in 180 Days sailing, which continues to be successful. Nikki Upshaw, senior vice president of sales for Oceania, says the company made a leap of faith with the long itinerary. Oceania decided that if it was going to do a world cruise, the offering would exemplify the line’s focus on destinations, and the number of overnights would ensure that veteran world travelers still have fresh opportunities in port.
“Who wouldn’t take that cruise?” Baker asked. “The pricing is great, and the destinations are incredible. I’d take it myself if I had time.”
According to agents, other current favorites with consumers include Holland America Line’s 113-day roundtrip cruise, 2018 Fort Lauderdale Grand World Voyage, and Regent Seven Seas’ roundtrip Los Angeles 2018 cruise. The Regent itinerary is designed to satisfy travelers looking for new experiences with seven ports in New Zealand; eight ports in Australia; four islands in Hawaii; four ports in South Africa, with overnights in Cape Town; two ports in Namibia, with an overnight in Walvis Bay; and three ports in Brazil, with an overnight in Rio de Janeiro.
Cunard Line — which has been sailing world cruises for more than 90 years — is now sending its Queen Victoria ship up the Amazon River. It will be the largest vessel to sail there, and in 2018, passengers will be able to spend 75 nights exploring South America, along with the Caribbean, Central America and the Panama Canal.
Flexibility in access is important, too. Oceania’s 2019 cruise (bookings open in March) will allow passengers to get the full world-cruise perks — which are impressive — whether they embark in New York, Miami or Los Angeles. Likewise, Princess Cruises’ 2018 world cruise will sail roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 5, and roundtrip from Los Angeles on Jan. 22; both sailings are 111 days. Silversea Cruises’ Silver Whisper sailed this year on its 116-day world cruise from San Francisco, the first time the company has departed from the city; next year, it will sail from Los Angeles.
In 2018, Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Quest will sail a unique 102-night cruise departing from Sydney on March 3 and ending in London on June 17. Along the way, passengers will have the opportunity to attend the British Open, Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix.
Crystal has created an unusual set of choices for 2018: four world cruise configurations. These include a full world cruise each on Crystal Symphony and on Crystal Serenity; a world cruise with guests moving from Symphony to Serenity in Sydney midway; and one with guests switching from Serenity to Symphony midway. Crystal’s Rodriguez says it allows guests to make choices driven by their personal bucket lists.
Technology is changing the customer base that is interested in a world cruise. Leslie Fambrini, owner of Personalized Travel Consultants in Los Altos, Calif., sees superior internet connection broadening cruise demographics, allowing people in their 40s and 50s to take time for a world cruise. She has seen creative solutions for younger families, too, including a couple in their early 40s whose three sons kept up with their schoolwork while onboard (ship staff helped them with their music lessons).
In addition, Fambrini points out that lines are working to remove barriers that might turn away world cruise rookies.
“Crystal is trying to make segments more attractive, working to change the practice of not assigning accommodations to segment guests when they book,” she said. “And Regent’s 2019 cruise includes medical services onboard, which is a great psychological factor for the older cruiser.”
Likewise, Upshaw says Oceania’s core guest is in his or her late 50s or 60s, but the company is seeing some passengers in their 40s.
Rodriguez says Crystal has welcomed seeing even younger world cruisers.
“Last year, we had a honeymoon couple in their 20s and 30s on a full world cruise,” she said.
According to Rodriguez, Crystal guests are also combining the company’s seagoing ships, river cruises and the line’s Esprit yacht.
Harrison suggests that agents can cultivate their world cruise clients. She has clients whom she is nurturing to take the step up to world cruising through more pre- and post-cruise extensions and longer sailings. She also has some who want to take a world cruise but are discouraged by the current geopolitical environment.
“I really want them to go when they are young enough to take full advantage, but of course I don’t want them looking over their shoulders all the time,” she said.
Upshaw advises agents to pitch as soon as world cruises are announced.
“These travelers typically book at least a year out, often 18 months,” she said. “I tell agents to get five or 10 brochures and give them to clients who have wanderlust. They may not respond the first year, but keep working with them.”
Upshaw tells agents not to limit themselves in looking for prospects. She advises agents to look for prospective world cruisers not only among travelers who have taken longer sailings, but also among those who have never cruised at all.
“Agents say, ‘I wish I had a world cruise client,’ but the truth is that most agents have segment potential and many do have a world cruise client,” she said. “We’re getting people who are new to cruising, attracted by being able to experience their bucket list on a world cruise.”