Asia is making waves as a cruise destination. Jane Archer reports
The Asian tiger is on the move and cruise lines are racing to catch up by basing more ships in the region.
OK, so Asia is not even close to challenging the Mediterranean in terms of cruise numbers (the region doesn’t even merit its own entry in cruise trade body Clia UK & Ireland’s cruise report), but while Med bookings are falling, demand for the east shows great promise.
TO THE RIVER
Growth isn’t just among the ocean going cruise lines; river cruise companies are reporting a booking bonanza as well.
Cruises on the Mekong River, sailing between Siem Reap in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, are hugely popular, and companies are rushing to get tonnage on the Ayeyarwady River in Burma now that country has opened up to tourists. Orient-
Express’s Orcaella, the 25-cabin sister ship to The Road to Mandalay, launches on July 22, sailing seven and 11-night cruises on the Ayeyarwady and the lesser-known Chindwin River, and Sanctuary Retreats will bring a river cruiser to Burma in 2014.
The Yangtze remains a perennial favourite, especially as all river operators combine a river cruise with time in Beijing and Shanghai, and often Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors.
APT sales director Angela Waite said UK demand for the company’s four-star Travelmarvel-branded Mekong cruises this year has soared to about 30% of the total passenger count from 10% last year. Where the line has 21 whole charters on the 92-passenger La Marguerite (pictured below) for 2013-14, it has 39 for 2014-15.
Waite said: “About 75% of clients have never cruised but are looking for an authentic Vietnam or Cambodia experience, visiting places it would be hard to reach alone and with all the touring taken care of. Travelmarvel works really well as it’s a great four-star product with plenty of inclusions. People are prepared to pay more because so much is included.”
APT offers two Mekong itineraries under its four-star Travelmarvel brand: a 14-night Essential Vietnam and Cambodia tour that has time in Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City at either end of the cruise, and an 18-day tour that adds two nights in Hanoi and two nights’ cruising in Ha Long Bay. Prices start from £2,695 in June next year. A companion-flies-free offer for 2014 bookings runs until the end of September.
In China, a 13-day holiday with Shearings, combining a four-night cruise on the Yangtze with Shanghai and Beijing costs from £2,339 in September and October including flights, most meals and 14 excursions.
VIETNAM AND BURMA
Cruises between Singapore and Hong Kong that take in multiple ports in Vietnam – for example, Seabourn’s 14-day Vietnam and Thailand itinerary on Seabourn Legend – are among the most popular ocean-going cruises in Asia as well, loved by passengers for the places they visit (Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Long Bay, excursions to Hanoi) and cruise lines because there is plenty of airlift into both hubs. For the same reason, Bangkok, Beijing and Shanghai are also popular embarkation or disembarkation ports.
And again, like the river companies, ocean-going cruise lines have raced to include Yangon in their Asian itineraries to cash in on nascent demand for Burma, and the dire shortage of accommodation in the country.
SeaDream Yacht Club, sailing its first Asia season this winter, P&O Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Swan Hellenic, Voyages of Discovery and Fred Olsen are all visiting Yangon, and staying at least two days so passengers have time to see the city and take excursions to Mandalay, Bagan or Bago.
VALUE FOR MONEY
One of the reasons cruising in Asia is gaining in popularity is because it’s an easy way to visit several countries on one holiday – in 14 nights passengers can tick off Sri Lanka, Burma, Malaysia and Thailand; in three weeks, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan.
It’s also a reassuring form of travel for people who are nervous about visiting exotic destinations on their own, and also a great way to get to more remote places such as the Indonesia’s Komodo Island, the Andamans and Borneo.
These cruises can also be great value. Voyages of Discovery has a 16-day cruise from Manila to Bangkok on February 17, 2014, from £1,999 including flights, transfers and gratuities. Celebrity Cruises has a 13-night voyage from Hong Kong to Baoshan (Shanghai), visiting Taipei, Japan, South Korea and Beijing, from £1,032 cruise-only, departing on April 13, 2014.
Increasingly, cruise lines are basing ships in Asia. Costa’s Costa Atlantica is homeporting in Singapore this year, while Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas are sailing from Singapore, Tianjin (Beijing), and Baoshan (Shanghai), offering mini-cruises and longer sailings.
In addition to this winter’s itineraries on Diamond Princess, sailing between Tianjin and Singapore and round-trip from Singapore, Princess Cruises is basing 2,670-berth Sapphire Princess in Singapore for four months from November 2014 to February 2015.
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