Oceania's Insignia in Australia: The ship will sail a unique world cruise in 2015. // © 2014 Oceania Cruises
Even as the conventional world cruise — 90 to 110 nights, departing in January — continues to flourish, some luxury cruise lines are taking a new look at the basics of the long sea itinerary.
Traditional world cruising is stronger than ever. For instance, with its 2015 world cruise sold out, Crystal Cruises already has opened the books on 2016, and the line is seeing a much higher percentage of guests booking the entire sailing, not just segments.
At the same time, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which share a parent company, have broken with tradition — although in different ways. Next year, Regent will offer Grand Voyages topping off at only 62, 71 and 86 nights, while Oceania enters the world cruise market with two unusually long six-month cruises in 2015.
“If you take out a ship for a third of a year from a three-ship fleet such as Regent’s, it’s difficult to meet the demands of the vast majority of your guests in terms of itinerary,” said Kunal Kamlani, president of both Regent and Oceania. “The Grand Voyages still give travelers a chance to have a deep destination experience, and they are scheduled among the three Regent ships."
On the other hand, Oceania has a five-ship fleet, and the line — which has never operated conventional world cruises — is placing one of its vessels in the world cruise market all of next year.
“We broke a couple of molds,” Kamlani said. “If you take off the 90- to 110-day shackles, you avoid speeding around the world and you have a unique product for true exploration. But we didn’t know whether there would be demand for it. We took a risk.”
The risk is paying off, and Oceania is committing the 684-passenger Insignia to the two Around the World in 180 Days cruises, one departing Jan. 10, priced from $39,999, and one departing July 8, priced from $44,999.
“We are pleased so far with this experiment,” Kamlani said. “We could have come out with a 110-day low-risk itinerary, but we think this is unusual enough to resonate well with consumers and give agents something special to sell.”
Both cruises are roundtrip out of Miami, but they follow different routes. The January cruise sails the Caribbean and South America before a transatlantic crossing and exploration of five continents with overnight stays in 15 destinations, including Cape Town, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Cairns, Australia. Crossing from Australia and New Zealand to French Polynesia and Hawaii, the route continues to San Diego through the Panama Canal and back to Miami.
The summer departure is different, however.
“When you depart in the warm-weather months it frees up an entirely new set of variables,” Kamlani said.
Leaving in July, Insignia goes north into Canada to Greenland and Iceland, through Scandinavia and Northern Europe into the Mediterranean, the Middle East, India and then on to Myanmar, Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Africa. The ship then spends the holidays in the Caribbean before heading back to Miami.
Kamlani thinks the amenity package that goes with each 180-day cruise is a real selling point for a clientele that stresses value. Among the benefits are complimentary medical care, laundry, phone service and Wi-Fi access, along with free business-class air and luggage delivery.
Oceania’s guest demographics for the 180-day sailings are similar to those of passengers who bought Regent’s world cruises in the past — very seasoned travelers with the discretionary wealth and time to sail for six months.
Kamlani noted that a cruise of this length requires trust on the part of agents and their clients.
“A hundred and eighty days is not for everyone,” he said. “They have to know that the guest, who is spending six months with the ship, will have a wonderful experience throughout, and Oceania has built a reputation to support that.”