Jane Archer sets sail for Asian waters as an increasing number of cruise lines head to the region
Once a region that cruise passengers dipped in and out of on a world voyage, Asia is firmly on the cruising map as a destination in its own right and gearing up for a boom as more cruise lines venture east.
Many are offering Asia seasons, sailing point-to-point cruises or voyages between two key ports that allow passengers to tick off a multitude of countries on one holiday. Others are home-porting ships in the region to try to grow the local market.
Costa Cruises will have two ships, Victoria and Atlantica, based in Singapore in 2013, offering mini cruises for the Asian market and longer voyages for European passengers, while Princess Cruises is launching cruises from Japan for the Japanese next spring.
Royal Caribbean International is targeting the Chinese with Voyager of the Seas, which started sailing from Shanghai in June, and Mariner of the Seas, which moves there in June 2013.
Royal Caribbean Cruises president and chief executive Richard Fain says: “We see Asia in general, and China in particular, as a strategic objective. We have been so pleased by the response to Voyager of the Seas that it made strategic sense to send a second ship of equal size.”
The number of UK cruise passengers visiting Asia is still too small to register in the Passenger Shipping Association’s figures, but a glance at the number of cruise lines sailing there is proof of its growing popularity.
Silversea Cruises has a ship in Asia this winter, as do Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Royal Caribbean, which has short cruises from Singapore to Malaysia and Thailand that can be bolted on to land stays in the region. Princess has a big cruise programme sailing between Bangkok and Tianjin, the port for China.
Voyages to Antiquity and Celebrity Cruises are both making their Asia debut this winter, the former hopping from India to Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Bali, and back to the Mediterranean.
Celebrity Cruises is offering voyages between Singapore and Hong Kong that explore the Vietnamese coast, and a round-trip cruise from Singapore to Malaysia and Thailand, and repeating the cruises in winter 2013-14.
Voyages to Antiquity managing director David Yellow said he was pleased with sales for the first Asia season, which combines cruises with time on land to give a more ‘rounded experience’, and confirmed the line’s one ship, Aegean Odyssey, will return to the region in 2013-14.
He says: “A cruise is the best way to see Asia as the ship can cruise long distances overnight, allowing passengers to see a lot in a short time. They can do Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong in just two weeks, and with our size of ship they also get into the heart of cities such as Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon [Burma].”
For 2013-14, the cruise line is tweaking land elements of the Asia programme to give passengers more time in India, Angkor Wat and Bali.
Geoff Lawrence, sales and marketing director for Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery, said Asia offers passengers a range of different cultures, sights and sounds that can be ticked off easily on a cruise. “You would have to do a lot of road mileage to do our cruise itineraries on land.”
Swan Hellenic is about to start a winter season in Asia – at the time of writing there was some availability left but it was selling fast. Voyages of Discovery is on sale with a debut season in the region in 2013-14 for Voyager, the ship that joins the line in December. Voyager will be cruising from India to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand.
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