The joy of ex-UK

The joy of ex-UK

A no-fly cruise from the UK is one of the most relaxing ways to travel – it also makes perfect sense in a world of travel bubbles, writes Anthony Pearce

I often reminisce about my first experiences on a cruise ship: sat on top deck with a book and beer, basking in the July sunshine as we sailed out of the Thames Estuary on the way to Norway. With Tilbury just 40 minutes from London and, having embarked almost seamlessly – bags dropped, passports checked – within 15 minutes or so, it was one of the most relaxing beginnings to a holiday I’d ever experienced. Not only did this immediately begin my love of cruise, but my love of sea days, too: being in the middle of the ocean, miles from away from anywhere, completely cut off from the world – it felt totally different to any trip I’d been on before. A true seafarer’s adventure, only with added baked Alaska and bingo.

Much has changed since that trip in 2014, not least that the line I sailed on; Cruise & Maritime Voyages, no longer exists and its iconic vessel, Marco Polo, is no longer in service. But there have been great strides forward, too. Since then, P&O Cruises has launched Britannia, with Iona having joined its fleet in October. The largest cruise ship ever built for the UK market at 185,000 tonnes, 345m in length with 17 guest decks and capable of holding 5,200 guests and 1,800 crew, Iona is also the first British cruise ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG).  The vessel will feature a number of firsts for P&O Cruises, including the SkyDome, a new venue on board that will be used both day and night and will have eight speciality restaurants, 13 entertainment venues and four swimming pools including an infinity pool at the aft of the ship, plus 16 whirlpools. As P&O Cruises president, Paul Ludlow, put it: “Iona’s delivery is a very positive signal for the future of cruising.” Beginning in April, the ship starts by sailing seven-night Norwegian fjords sailings before heading to the Canaries.

As ever, Southampton remains the undisputed home of no-fly cruise – even more so next year, with MSC Cruises partnering with ABP Southampton on a new fifth cruise terminal at the port. The new terminal will be ready for the 2021 cruise season and will be home to MSC Magnifica for her second ex-UK season. MSC has also confirmed that it will continue to homeport at least one ship throughout the partnership with Southampton, while it also expects other ships within it 17-vessel strong fleet to make calls at the new terminal. Of the 21 available sailings the cruise line has further enhanced the itineraries available from Southampton with two 14-night sailings to the Mediterranean departing in July and August calling at ports including Malaga, Lisbon and Monte Carlo, weekend mini-sailings to Northern Europe and seven-night cruises to the Norwegian Fjords.

Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Odyssey of the Seas is also set to run a mini-season from Europe, including two sailings out of Southampton. The company is currently on track to receive the first Quantum Ultra-class ship from the shipyard in March 2021. It will then sail out of Barcelona and Southampton before beginning its summer season in Rome, then sail to the US in November.

Saga has its first purpose-built ships Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure, which arrived in the UK in October, operating out of Dover and Southampton. The ships have transformed the sector’s offering; these boutique vessels allow the line to pair its famously smooth on board (and pick-up) service with luxurious hardware. Meanwhile, Fred Olsen, one of the sector’s major players, has two new ships on the way: Bolette and Borealis, which previously sailed for Holland America Line. The former has 34 cruises scheduled next year, the first from Southampton, taking in Scotland, on March 5, while the latter has 37, beginning April 23 from Liverpool, also heading to Scotland. The line has sailings from Dover, Southampton, Portsmouth, Liverpool, Newcastle in England and Rosyth (Edinburgh) in Scotland, making it now one of the only lines to utilise ‘regional’ departure ports. It’s a gap left behind by CMV’s demise – with the line having sailed out of the likes of Hull, Belfast and Bristol, among others. However, where there are fewer choices from regional ports, cruise lines are increasingly sailing from the UK. Next year, Hurtigruten has no-fly cruises offering guests the choice of five expedition itineraries with numerous departures from Dover exploring locations around the British Isles, Norway and, for the first time, Southern Scandinavia.

As Jane Archer notes in this month’s How to Sell, experts are predicting that, as the world gets back to normal post-Covid, more people will be looking to set sail from the UK than ever before. It’s easy to see why.