Pól Ó Conghaile: We have more cruises to choose from than ever before
Cruising has come of age in the Irish market, says our Travel Journalist of the Year.
I used to think I knew about cruising. Then I tried a cruise.
Of course, my inaugural effort (on Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas) had its buffets and blue rinse brigades. But I also got to scale a rock-climbing wall with Palma de Mallorca as a backdrop. I supped coffee in Corsica.
Several myths were debunked.
I'm not alone. Cruise holidays have changed, as has our perception of them.
We see the value in all-inclusive pricing, the convenience of not having to pack and unpack every morning, and the variety in itineraries ranging from the Caribbean to the Arctic Circle, and from river cruises to rock concerts at sea. A survey by cruise specialist e-travel this year showed 42pc of Irish cruisers were under 50.
It's full steam ahead for next year, too.
Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas will launch as the world's largest passenger ship, while Seabourn's new Encore will carry just 604 passengers. MSC will home-port two ships in Havana, and Abu Dhabi plans a new cruise terminal.
Tips & Tricks
My advice? Book an ocean view, know what's included (excursions, drinks and Wi-Fi are typically extra) and talk to a travel agent. People like John Galligan, Sandra Mooney at Cassidy Travel or Nikki and Will at ClickandGo.com know the difference between cheap and value for money. This is one holiday worth picking up the phone for.
All aboard: A reader's cruise tips
We asked our Facebook followers (facebook.com/IndoTravel.ie) for cruise tips, and one Dún Laoghaire reader blew us away with her response.
"On a cruise, you travel alone but with the safety net of a whole ship behind you," says Líosa McNamara, who runs Anchorbird Photography (that's her photo, above).
Here are her top tips:
Tip 1: "Don't be in a huge rush to get off at port," Líosa says. "Having the ship to yourself can be a really relaxing time; it's an opportunity to try activities without the pressure of a queue, plus you get to watch the crew drills... which is great fun!"
Tip 2: "Use the buffet to make sandwiches to take off the ship for your beach day lunches!" Líosa also recommends bringing walkie-talkies to keep in touch with each other. "Your phones won't work at sea! This is great for families with teens."
Tip 3: "Lastly, there are phones all over the ship - if you have kids in the kids' club you can use them to call the room to find out how they are instead of having to go up there every time."
Deals of the week...
USA & Caribbean
The newly rebranded American Holidays (americanholidays.com) has some nifty cruise and city break combos for 2016, including two nights in Orlando and seven nights on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas from €1,199pp next September.
Looking for an affordable cruise holiday? Try the Med in winter. Independent Travel (independent.ie/traveldeals) has seven nights on MSC Preziosa, including flights and full-board accommodation (inside cabin), departing February 19 from just €529pp. Ports of call include Barcelona, Marseille and Palermo.
Greece & Italy
Cork's J Barter Travel Group (travelnet.ie), celebrating 150 years in 2015, was declared ITTN Travel Agency of the Year at the Irish Travel Trade Awards last month. It has a seven-night cruise taking in several stops around Greece and Italy departing Istanbul next July 16. The cruise costs €1,137pp and must be booked before December 14.
NB: All prices subject to availability.