Passengers to the Caribbean are looking for more activities, longer in port and evening excursions – and cruise lines are responding by Sara MaCefield
Not content with its crown as the world’s biggest cruising destination, the Caribbean continues to make waves with new ships and fresh concepts.
In autumn 2015, the region becomes the launch pad for Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest and largest ship, Norwegian Escape, while last spring sees the unveiling of Carnival Corporation’s unprecedented fathom brand of ‘social impact’ cruises to the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
But the Caribbean is also enjoying rising cruise numbers from the UK with a 12% jump to 205,000 in 2014. This made it the only area to notch up an increase during a year when the total British cruise market fell by five per cent to 1.64 million, and with a reduction in the controversial Air Passenger Duty, the omens are good.
“The Caribbean market is once again on the rise and has become increasingly popular for customers doing Florida stay-and-cruise itineraries,” says Christian Boell, Europe managing director for Norwegian Cruise Line. Princess Cruises reports a similar trend, with UK and Europe vice-president Tony Roberts claiming the line has seen “significant growth” on bookings over this time last year. “We have found that our 10-night Caribbean cruises are particularly popular with consumers due to the flexibility of having a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay,” he adds.
Imagine Cruising development director Peter Shanks recommends Disney cruise-and-stays which combine the Orlando theme parks with a cruise as offering some of the best options, or Carnival Cruise Line for fun, value-for-money experiences, especially for multi-generational groups. He also predicts: “A two-week cruise with P&O Cruises’ new ship Britannia from Barbados is the best value this coming winter.”
MSC Cruises claims its decision to homeport MSC Opera in Havana this winter is paying off with huge demand from UK customers. “The introduction of Cuba cruises has been an incredible success story for us in the UK as we are selling more Cuba product than any of the other MSC overseas offices,” says head of sales Janet Parton. “This demonstrates the incredible appetite that UK guests have for new and innovative itineraries, while our agent partners have embraced this exciting destination and are driving great business.”
Cruise lines are increasingly incorporating more port time into Caribbean itineraries. Thomson Cruises is building on the popularity of its Cuba sailings with an itinerary that includes two days in Havana and a range of evening excursions in the historic capital, not least a visit to the spectacular Club Tropicana, a former haunt of Ernest Hemingway.
Celebrity Cruises is introducing additional overnight stays on more than 40 sailings from January 2016, with new evening excursions ranging from horse-drawn carriage tours and wine tastings to sunset cruises and beach parties.
Some cruisers have voiced safety concerns on message boards about going ashore during the evening, but Celebrity Cruises’ head of business development Michael English says the late stays have been driven by customer demand as passengers were increasingly keen to explore destinations in more depth.
This is a trend noted by online specialist agency Cruise1st.co.uk with chief executive Dan Townsley adding: “We are seeing more Britons who have previously cruised to the Caribbean becoming more adventurous with their choices and looking for new destinations to explore.”
Paul Gauguin Cruises hopes to satisfy this with a new 2016 itinerary on Tere Moana with overnight stays in every port, including three stops in the British Virgin Islands, plus Anguilla and St Barths. Cruise & Maritime Voyages is upping its Caribbean coverage following the addition of new flagship Magellan, by offering round-trip West Indies sailings from the UK. The line is also one of the few to visit more off-the-beaten-track spots such as Iles du Salut in French Guyana, Kingstown in St Vincent and the Grenadine isles of Bequia and Mayreau.
Fred. Olsen, which sailed its first Scottish-Caribbean voyage from Greenock on November 2015, also reports strong demand for Caribbean fly-cruises in winter 2015. Meanwhile, Carnival has expanded its shore excursions with family-friendly options and others featuring exclusive ‘enrichment’ activities including reggae dance lessons in Jamaica and rum tasting in St Thomas.
- Check whether clients want to start their cruise in the Caribbean or sail from the UsA or UK.
- Choose the right style of ship – with so many lines sailing to the Caribbean there is plenty of choice, so match your customer to the correct vessel.
- examine itineraries: eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean or southern Caribbean. If customers have cruised the Caribbean before, ask if they want to try different islands.
- big ship experience v small ship experience. Larger vessels stop at main hub islands, notably st Thomas, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Jamaica; whereas smaller craft call at lesser-known spots, such as the Grenadines, British Virgin Islands, and Nevis.
- Add an hotel to make a cruise-and-stay. Combine sailings with an island stay from where the ship homeports, such as Barbados, Jamaica or Cuba. Alternatively, do this with Us departing cruises. popular combinations include a week in Orlando for Florida’s theme parks before cruising from port Canaveral.
- remember the peak Caribbean season is winter, when most sailings operate. there are still several departures during summer months, but June to November is hurricane season when tropical storms may force ships to divert, affecting itineraries. prices are more competitive at this time, so look out for bargains.