From exotic cruises around Cuba and South Korea to river adventures in India and the US, Nick Dalton reveals what’s hot for the year ahead
Royal Caribbean’s newest, most exciting ship, Quantum of the Seas, starting service this autumn, will call Baoshan (Shanghai) its home port from May. It will sail regular itineraries around China, Japan and South Korea. There’s a call at Incheon, a short distance from South Korea’s capital, Seoul, with its skyscrapers and monumental temples; Fukuoka, one of Japan’s largest cities but with beaches and green space; and Sakaiminato, on Japan’s sweeping Miho Bay. Quantum of the Seas is a lavish mix of luxury and technology, with Xbox Live gaming contests, a skydiving simulator and SeaPlex, the largest sports and entertainment complex at sea, featuring bumper cars and a full-size basketball court.
The seven-day Japan and Incheon cruise with Royal Caribbean departs Baoshan 4 July and is from £1,775pp including flights and one night pre-cruise hotel stay (royalcaribbean.co.uk/0844 493 4005).
Quantum’s sister ship, Anthem of the Seas, will be based in Southampton for summer and there are great opportunities to sample the sophisticated vessel on a short break before the Med cruises start. This simple itinerary takes in Zeebrugge, a pretty coastal town itself but only a few minutes from medieval Bruges, and Le Havre, from where you can get a day trip to Paris or, better by far, explore the fishing port and then make the most of the ship. On Anthem of the Seas music really matters, and the ship features a panoramic bar and lounge at the stern that by night is transformed by huge projections, turning it into a concert and show venue.
The three-night Royal Experience, Paris & Bruges cruise with Royal Caribbean departs Southampton 30 April, 3 May and 29 August, from £529pp (royalcaribbean.co.uk/0844 493 4005).
P&O’s new flagship Britannia, a high-tech masterpiece in red, white and blue livery, sets sail in the spring and it’s not long out of harbour before it sets off on a cruise around the British Isles. The British Isles cruise has calls at Edinburgh, Dublin and St Peter Port on Guernsey, with a particular highlight being sailing up the Mersey into Liverpool. Another treat is that British chef James Martin will be on board for demonstrations and talks. Britannia is the biggest ship built for the British market and is glamorous, too, like a floating five-star hotel.
The 12-night British Isles cruise with P&O Cruises departs Southampton 6 July, from £1,149pp (pocruises.com/0843 374 0111).
A Star is born
Viking, the river cruise expert, heads out to sea with its first ocean ship, Viking Star. It’s a luxury offering with free speciality restaurant dining, free guided tours and drinks with meals. This cruise is unusual in that there’s not a sea day in two weeks, with classic stops (Civitavecchia for Rome, Naples), while Viking Star’s small size means it can visit a wealth of less obvious places such as Sicily, Tunis and Sardinia.
The 15-day Mediterranean Explorer cruise with Viking Cruises departs Barcelona 8 December, from £3,599pp including flights, excursions and wine with dinner. But the ship has been so popular that almost everything’s sold out for 2015 – maybe plan ahead to May 2016 when itineraries include the Viking Homelands cruise to all the Scandinavian countries plus St Petersburg, from £4,499pp (vikingcruises.co.uk/0800 298 9700).
A better world
Oceania Cruises’ Around The World In 180 Days adventure does just what it says on the tin. The company that boasts a discreet, East Coast US ambience launches two mega adventures in 2015. The round-trip from Miami heads across the Caribbean (with nine stops), hops down the coast of Brazil, rounds Africa (with calls in Namibia and South Africa), before taking on India, Myanmar, China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia and more. The ship has had a multimillion-pound revamp and is a testimony to style, with subtle Italian-influenced décor, a museum-quality art collection and free dining in speciality restaurants, including the Polo Grill steakhouse.
The Around The World In 180 Days cruise with Oceania Cruises departs 10 January and 8 July, from £23,819pp including flights (oceaniacruises.com/0845 505 1920).
Thomson Cruises’ Thomson Dream uses Montego Bay as a home port this winter and is the only Jamaica-based UK cruise ship. It offers five new Caribbean itineraries, the highpoint of which is Cuba, preserved in time since the 1950s. Go now before things change and the island loses its colourful, quirky glamour. The Cuban Fusion cruise has an overnight stay in Havana, a visit to Mexico’s wonderful Playa del Carmen, and Georgetown in the Cayman Islands. Thomson Dream has six-course meals in the Orion restaurant, including a gala dinner, The Grill surf ’n’ turf restaurant (extra charge) and two buffet restaurants.
A seven-night Cuban Fusion fly/cruise with Thomson Cruises departs on 30 December 2014 and five other dates until April, from £1,214pp, including flights (thomson.co.uk/0871 230 2800).
From ship to ship
This cruise honours one of early cruising’s great names, Lusitania, a ‘floating palace’, which sailed the Atlantic more than a century ago. On 7 May 1915, having sailed from New York, it was hit by a German U-boat torpedo off the coast of Ireland and sunk within half an hour; 761 passengers were saved, most were not. There will be ceremonies on board and a commemorative event at Cobh, near where it still lies. The cruise also has calls at St Peter Port on Guernsey, Le Havre and Dublin. Queen Victoria is one of Cunard’s trio of classically inspired ocean liners with an array ofdining options, a spa and a wood-panelled library, plus many daytime activities.
The seven-day Lusitania Remembered cruise on Queen Victoria with Cunard departs Southampton on 3 May, from £999pp (cunard.co.uk/0843 374 2224).
Princess of the Baltic
Regal Princess, the newest Princess ship, comes into service this winter and makes its debut in the Baltic this spring. This comprehensive royal tour from Copenhagen takes in Oslo, Berlin (from Warnemünde), Tallinn, Helsinki, Stockholm (from the spa town of Nynäshamn) and two days in St Petersburg. Regal Princess, sister to Royal Princess, launched by the Duchess of Cambridge), features a wealth of dining options and a great night-time experience with the WaterColour Fantasy (on-deck swimming pools turned into illuminated fountains leaping 33ft) and the SeaWalk, a subtly-lit glass walkway 28ft over the side of the ship.
The 11-night Scandinavia & Russia cruise on Regal Princess with Princess Cruises departs Copenhagen on 2 May, from £1,299pp, including flights (princess.com/0843 374 2401).
Best of the islands
MSC Cruises is offering a fortnight in the Caribbean, and is launching cruises from Barbados for winter 2015/16 on board MSC Orchestra, paired with British Airways flights. Most cruises from here last a week but the longer itinerary allows visits to unusual destinations alongside classic ones, with an impressive 11 stops. Alongside St Lucia, Martinique and Antigua, while you’ll also get to see Dominica and Venezuela’s picturesque Margarita Island. MSC Orchestra is a ship with Italian elegance and style, fabulous food (right down to the pizzas) and extravagant shows in the Covent Garden Theatre.
The 14-night Eastern Caribbean cruise with MSC Cruises departs Barbados regularly from 15 December 2015, from £1,669pp, including flights (msccruises.co.uk/020 3426 3010).
Norwegian’s newest, largest ship, 4,200-passenger Norwegian Escape, will be based in Miami for simple but idyllic seven-night Eastern Caribbean sailings from November 2015. Each cruise will have the same itinerary, visiting Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, and Nassau in the Bahamas, along with three days at sea under the Caribbean sun. The ship is a destination in itself, with 678 Ocean Place, a three-deck atrium of restaurants and entertainment, The Waterfront, an open-air promenade of bars and dining spots, a water park and lavish entertainment.
The seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line departs Miami weekly from 14 November 2015, from £1,430pp including flights (ncl.co.uk/0845 201 8900).
Time in the sun
Caribbean sailings from US ports are often several-day affairs, unsuitable for UK travellers, but Carnival is introducing full-length itineraries from the lovely island setting of Galveston in Texas to San Juan, Puerto Rico from next October. The regular cruise calls at Grand Cayman, Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Martinique and St Maarten. Carnival Triumph is a lively American-inspired family environment where inclusive dining options include the gourmet Guy’s Burgers, Blue Iguana Mexican cantina and Pizza Pirate, and there’s good music in the New Orleans-style Big Easy bar.
The 11-day Southern Caribbean cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines (carnival.co.uk/0845 351 0556) departs regularly from Galveston or St Juan, Puerto Rico, from 24 October 2015, from £589pp, excluding flights.