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The world cruise, once a three-month, traditional voyage to escape cold weather, is now being stretched as long as eight months — and it’s clients who are behind the change.
Viking’s recent announcement of a 245-day, 113-port world cruise in 2019 is just one of several contemporary decisions to create world cruises that end up as second homes for guests.The new Viking Ultimate World Cruise is currently the longest continuous cruise itinerary on the market, although passengers and travel agents have been creating long back-to-back and extended cruises for years.Viking’s eight-month cruise onboard the 930-passenger Viking Sun will sail to every continent except Antarctica, visiting 59 countries and offering overnights in 23 destinations on its circumnavigation of the globe. Sun will depart London on Aug. 31, 2019, and will nearly double the length of the company's previous world cruise itinerary. “We received resounding feedback from guests on our first sold-out Viking World Cruise that they were interested in spending more time with us,” said Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking. “In fact, a good number of our first World Cruise guests are also booked on our 2019 World Cruise sailing. The Ultimate World Cruise itinerary was developed with feedback from our guests who want to experience the cultures of the world in-depth, over an extended period of time, while sailing onboard a ship that was designed for discovery, with all the comforts of home.” Viking is selling two shorter segments, as well, both longer than three months: Viking World Treasures, a 127-day sailing from London to Los Angeles that visits 33 countries and 61 ports; and Viking World Wonders, a 119-day cruise from Los Angeles to London that visits 29 countries and 55 ports.
Both segments carry the perks of the full world cruise, including roundtrip business air, transfers and gratuities, three visas and more.The concept of a cruise that lasts half a year or more has caught on in several forms since Oceania Cruises announced in 2013 that it would offer Around the World in 180 Days itineraries. Oceania ended up offering two six-month sailings in 2015, committing the 684-passenger Insignia to sail only world cruises, with one sailing departing on a traditional January date, and the second sailing departing in July and following a different itinerary because of weather patterns.Oceania hasn’t repeated the second cruise, but its Around the World in 180 Days sailing has become the company’s staple and has been extremely successful. The 2019 itinerary will break new ground, with flexible embarkation and debarkation requested by past guests. Passengers can choose roundtrip New York or Miami, or sail from Los Angeles to Miami or New York to London as full world cruise passengers, an option that has been well-received.
“We are surprised to find that many people new to Oceania — and even to long cruises in general — are booking the 180-day sailings,” said Nikki Upshaw, senior vice president of sales for Oceania. “The interesting itineraries with many bucket list ports and a generous number of overnights make it clear that passengers will be able to have a local experience and really explore the world, and that’s very appealing, even to people who normally don’t cruise.
“Our travel partners should know that most people don’t share that they are intrigued by an around-the-world cruise,” she added. “Agents need to be proactive and build a campaign; suggest that the clients might visit a number of bucket list destinations this way; and follow it up with information for two or three years. Often, they will eventually book.”
Upshaw says 60 to 70 percent of Oceania guests book an entire world cruise — and the percentages are rising, even among those who have never taken such a cruise before and are new to the line. Most full world cruise passengers book 18 to 20 months out; by the time they are within a year of the cruise, it’s mostly segments that are selling.
A lot of norms and rules I assumed were fixed have changed; people are demonstrating that you can sell a longer cruise.
Silversea Cruises is another line scheduling longer world cruises, with a 2020 itinerary out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., onboard the 382-passenger Silver Whisper. Legends of Cruising-World Cruise 2020 spans 140 days and visits 32 countries and 62 ports; it’s guest input on ports that prompted Silversea to extend the itinerary. “The longer cruise is itinerary-driven,” said Mark Conroy, managing director of the Americas for Silversea. “Repeat full cruise passengers ask for places they haven’t been, and the people who book segments want a heavy number of port calls. We start with plans for a full cruise, then add more for overnights. In iconic ports such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, you need to give passengers enough time to really explore.”There is also, paradoxically, a demand for days at sea. “Our guests often demand more ports, and then when they evaluate us at the end, they want more days at sea to enjoy the ship,” Conroy said. “There’s a change between purchase and evaluation.”For agents with a world cruise customer, be sure to ask about their friends, he advises. “Guests brag about their agents, and friends often will try a segment, then opt for a full cruise,” Conroy said. “A lot of norms and rules I assumed were fixed have changed; people are demonstrating that you can sell a longer cruise.”Silversea’s 2020 world cruise will visit all seven continents, a first for the line.“We’re trying to get closer to filling the ship 90 percent with full world cruisers,” Conroy said. “From an operational perspective, it’s crucial to encourage the segment and full cruise groups to mingle, which has its challenges. We now include onboard medical treatment in the cruise fare, and that has been a big selling point, and cruisers are much more likely to get a cold or cough taken care of promptly.” The line’s robust expedition cruise business is also enriching the softer adventure experiences on other itineraries. “We’re also getting business from new travel sellers — expedition specialists who now look at our other cruises because they don’t want to lose the business when their clients choose a world cruise or regular itinerary,” Conroy said.Agents and cruise lines have noticed a very profitable phenomenon: World cruises were once considered once-in-a lifetime experiences, but the truth is, once travelers have taken a world cruise, they are apt to do it again, or to take an extended cruise. The reason? Effortless exploration of many bucket list destinations and a sense of a central home while they do it. The work of enticing an explorer to try a world cruise or a segment can pay enormous dividends in time — and a client’s family will often follow.The Details Oceania Cruises www.oceaniacruises.comSilversea Cruises www.silversea.comViking www.vikingcruises.com