This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver focuses on the variety of cruising options available to our friends in the United Kingdom
Variety in the UK
Only five years ago I was complaining that the big new ships, that were so commonplace in American waters, never visited our shores. We Brits only had a choice of a number of smaller/older vessels. I must admit that this situation made me a little jealous.
Oh how times have changed. The major cruise lines are all experiencing unprecedented growth, with the big two (Carnival and Royal Caribbean) locked in a race to build the biggest ship. I'm sure that one day, historians will consider our current era to be the ‘Golden age of ship building' which is almost shocking given the state of the industry just 25 years ago.
The UK is now the worlds second biggest cruise market behind North America. That's quite impressive for such a little country. Southampton UK now is the homeport to the ‘Queen Mary 2', currently the world's biggest passenger ship. Southampton is also home to P&O's ‘Arcadia', the biggest ship ever built exclusively for the UK market. Then we have Princess's ‘Golden Princess' and Celebrities ‘Infinity' visiting Dover each summer.
More big tonnage is destined to visit Europe within the next few years. I feel that The Mediterranean has the potential to be the new ‘Caribbean' in the most positive sense. The Med offers a host of beautiful and exciting cities and guaranteed sunshine, without a hurricane season. Every year more and more cruise lines seem to be recognizing this.
The Mediterranean will be treated to RCI's amazing floating resort ‘Voyager of the Seas' later this year. The Italian line, Costa is rapidly expanding under Carnival's wing, with the newbuild ‘Costa Concordia' due later this year. Disney's will be offering Med cruises in summer 2007 and MSC are stepping up to the big league with two giant newbuilds in 2008/9.
However, it has become clear from our CruiseTalk forum, that our North American friends are getting a little jealous about the UK's wealth of intimate cruise ships. I'm pleased to say that many still operate from our shores. In the opinion of many CruiseTalkers and other North American passengers, big is certainly not always best.
Currently we have a comparative wealth of choices if you are looking for a sub 30,000 gt cruise ship. There is ‘Saga Rose' and ‘Saga Pearl', two classic vessels. We have Fred Olsen's charming fleet of ‘Black Prince', ‘Black Watch', ‘Braemar' and new addition ‘Boudicca'. Then there are a number of vessels on charter to UK Travel Agencies, such as Van Gogh, Arion and Ocean Majesty, all operating from regional UK ports.
So it looks as if the UK has the best of both cruising worlds at present. Therefore I urge fellow Brits to enjoy our classic vessels while we still can, as well as the new ones too.