Wave Season 2018 – the best cruise deals

Crystal Serenity at Geiranger Fjord
Crystal Serenity at Geiranger Fjord

Wave Season – the time of year when most cruises are booked and cruise lines offer tempting incentives, runs traditionally from January to March. Although not necessarily the cheapest time to buy a cruise, the combination of enticing perks and plenty of choice appeals to many people dreaming of their next holiday.

Silversea
Silversea 

The key to a good deal is …. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Research air fares, weigh-up the real benefit of onboard credit and drinks packages, compare like-with-like and run your ideas past a travel agent as they can sometimes source better discounts and benefits.

Rib Safari
Hurtigruten’s RIB safari at Wilhelmina Bay

Most cruise lines highlight offers on their websites with digital brochures available for download.

Here are our favourites:

Holland America – early booking offers, signature cruises and package deals

Windstar – 7 for 7 deals and Tahiti packages

Silversea – some flights included, early booking offers and Antarctica all-inclusive

Seabourn – Signature Savings Event including Air Credit, Shipboard Credit and upgrades

Crystal – Clear Choices offers including Air Credit, Shipboard Credit and fare reductions

Azamara – 50% off second guest fare, free wi-fi and featured Book, Pay & Save voyages

Regent Seven Seas – up to 50% off fares and reduced deposit

Lindblad – offers on air fares, crew tips and bar tabs

Scenic Ocean – Early Bird fares and free city stays

Hurtigruten – air fare offers, cruise fare reductions and single supplements waived

Galapagos Sea Lion
Galapagos Sea Lion with Lindblad

Images courtesy of Hurtigruten, Silversea, Crystal and Lindblad

 

Best Cruises: Autumn Mediterranean

Escape the crowds with a late-season cruise.

Crystal Serenity Sorrento Mediterranean Cruise
Crystal Serenity

The Mediterranean is one of the most established and enduringly popular cruise destinations in the world. This beautiful and diverse region stretches along the shorelines of Europe, Africa and Asia – bringing together many cultures and stunning scenery.

Mediterranean Cruise Florence
Florence

Cerulean sky, turquoise sea, superb beaches, Unesco World Heritage Sites, glittering casinos, lavender scented hillsides, pristine forests and of course … the food … enticed 220 million tourists here last year

Mediterranean Cruise Petra
Petra

But such ambrosia comes at a cost – the peak summer months draw huge crowds with most Europeans vacationing during July/August and families on school holidays travelling at that time too. Ports are congested and attractions swamped. Add stifling temperatures to the most expensive rates of the year and a summer Mediterranean cruise can start to lose its appeal. Instead, consider taking an autumn sailing. It’s a great alternative for those seeking a calmer experience, more comfortable weather and cheaper prices.

Viking Sky Cruise
Viking Ocean’s Cities of Antiquity & the Holy Land

Viking Ocean’s Cities of Antiquity & the Holy Land voyage sets sail in October 2017 on the brand new Viking Sky. This ‘grown-up’ cruise takes passengers on a 15-day journey from Athens to Rome, visiting many ancient and intriguing sites, especially in the culturally rich Eastern Mediterranean. Naples, gateway to Pompeii, and Crete, home of the legendary Minotaur are particular highlights, as well as stops in Israel and an overnight in Haifa which puts the holiest sites within reach: Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.

Silver Wind Mediterranean Cruise
Silver Wind

Also this Autumn, Silversea sends the intimate and yacht-like Silver Wind on a 10-day voyage from Monte Carlo to Venice. This gold-standard Mediterranean cruise visits key sites with plenty of glamour, cultural gems and European romance. Helicopter tours from Monaco swoop over the dazzling Cote d’Azure, Livorno offers truffle hunting in the Tuscan countryside, private tours of The Vatican City can be booked in Rome, the ancient city of Pompeii is easily reached from Sorrento, Mount Etna beckons when stopping over in Sicily, Dubrovnik opens up the beautiful Elaphite Archipelago for exploration and a gondola serenade in Venice is the perfect ending to a wonderful Mediterranean experience.

Seven Seas Explorer Mediterranean Cruise
Seven Seas Explorer

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer raised the bar for new cruise ships when it launched in 2016. Offering ultimate luxury, impeccable service, ultra-modern technology and superb cuisine it’s a shame sea days are so few and far between when cruising the Mediterranean on this vessel. This year it travels on a Western Mediterranean odyssey from Rome to Barcelona later in the season. The 14-day trip calls at the classic cruise ports of Rome, Pisa, Monte Carlo, Sorrento and Palermo as well as visiting the gorgeous Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Corsica and the fabulous Spanish cities of Valencia and Barcelona.

Seabourn Encore Mediterranean Cruise
Seabourn Encore leaves Venice on Mediterranean Cruise

Seabourn’s Autumn Isles is perhaps the ultimate late season Mediterranean cruise. 20-days of blissful travel on the brand new and totally stunning, Seabourn Encore. Leaving from Barcelona, the trip journeys at a gentle pace to the idyllic Balearics, Corsica and Sardinia taking in ultra-glamorous stopovers in legendary St.Tropez and Monaco. Cultural visits to Rome, Florence and Amalfi add interest and the chance to tick off those ‘bucket-list’ destinations. There’s even a whole day of scenic cruising – an unexpected and rare treat on a Mediterranean cruise.

Azamara Journey Mediterranean Cruise
Azamara Journey

For a taste of the exotic, Azamara’s 17-night Route of the Frankincense follows the ancient spice traders from Europe’s oldest city, Piraeus in Greece, all the way to the futuristic Dubai. The archaeological wonders of Athens including the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Temple of Olympian Zeus are early stops before traversing the Suez Canal for an overnight in Luxor. Sailing the legendary Red Sea leads to Jordan and the chance to visit Petra, an ancient city carved into the side of the Nabateans mountain. Oman and Dubai bring the trip up to the modern day.

Crystal Serenity Venice Mediterranean Cruise
Crystal Serenity in Venice

If the Dalmatian Coast is on your ‘must-see’ list then Crystal’s Adriatic Adventure this September may prove irresistible. The 7-day round-trip on Crystal Serenity from Venice takes in Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia and Corfu for one dazzlingly beautiful day after another. Medieval towns, serene beaches, ancient ruins and, of course, the romance of grand Italian canals offer a truly unforgettable Autumnal cruise.

Spice routes Eastern Mediterranean Cruise
Spice routes of the Eastern Mediterranean

 

Photos courtesy of  Viking CruisesSilverseaRegent Seven SeasSeabournCrystal Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises

 

 

 

Best Cruises: Alaska

 

Cruise Kayaking Alaska Tongass

The 49th state is the largest in the U.S. and one of the world’s most popular cruise destinations.

Alaska Cruise Brown Bears fishing

Alaska is a true wilderness; vast, isolated, rugged and ‘it will change your life forever’ beautiful. The scale is beyond epic with towering mountains, expansive glaciers, wide flowing rivers, abundant wildlife, lush rainforest and active volcanos. For such a frontier region, where people can seem rarer than wolves and bears, it is uniquely and wonderfully accessible by cruise ship.

Cruise Alaska Map Vancouver Seward

Most cruises follow the Inside Passage – generally setting off from San Fransisco, Seattle or Vancouver to traverse this famous waterway of deep fjords lined with forest. Some venture further to the Gulf of Alaska and expedition lines access even more remote areas in smaller ships. Anchorage, Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau are common port stops and excellent gateway towns for exploring the Alaskan landscape. Helicopter tours, dog-sledding, salmon fishing, hiking glaciers, kayaking, scenic rail trips and zip-line rides are exciting add-ons to any cruise.

Siversea Silver Shadow in Alaska

Silversea sets sail from Vancouver in 2017 on the small but perfectly formed and ultra-luxurious Silver Shadow. Bound for Seward, the quaint Anchorage rail-road town, this all-suite ship is ideal for viewing the scenery and wildlife as well as engaging in a diverse and well-curated enrichment programme. The seven-day trip offers a range of interesting and exciting shore excursions.

Crystal Symphony Cruise

Crystal’s Northern Wonders trip, on the world-leading Crystal Serenity, reaches Anchorage from Vancouver in seven days including scenic cruising of Glacier Bay and the Hubbard Glacier. Passengers can opt for sea-plane tours of Tongass National Forest, expert-led halibut fishing and a visit to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary.

Alaska Cruise Denali National Park

Seabourn offer extended cruises to Alaska, in particular the twenty five-day Exploration of the Last Frontier on the lovely Seabourn Sojourn which comprehensively visits all the ‘bucket-list’ Alaska sights as well as more secluded, quieter places. The Denali Experience is a four-day fully escorted trip of this majestic national park offered as an extension to any Alaska cruise.

Alaska Cruise Zodiac Glacier

Alaska is a ‘ready-made’ expedition cruise destination and Lindblad, which leaves from Seattle, has a wealth of experience in this field. Voyages tend to be on the active side, reaching further into the surrounding areas of British Columbia and magical Haida Gwaii. Three ships tour Alaska; the brand new National Geographic Quest and the sister ships National Geographic Sea Lion or Sea Bird. A a six-person team accompanies each voyage including a highly qualified expedition leader, expert naturalists, an undersea specialist, certified photo instructor and wellness specialist.

Crystal Symphony Cruise

The Alaska cruise season is short, with sailings running from May to September, and the weather is sometimes unreliable, even in summer. Passengers should prepare for rain and occasional choppy seas – excursions are sometimes a casualty of inclement conditions and can be cancelled – and take plenty of layers to keep out the glacial cold. Alaska also has thirty five species of mosquito! But don’t be put off by rough seas and bugs, a cruise of Alaska will change your life – for the better. It is an enriching and expansive experience and millions of people who describe it as ‘the best cruise of their life’ can’t be wrong.

Photos courtesy of Silversea, Crystal, Seabourn and Lindblad

Cool Places: Kirkwall – Gateway to the Orkney Islands

 

Orkney Cruise Sea Cliffs

The Orkney archipelago is a place of magic and mystery; a stunning coastal landscape steeped in ancient history.

Orkney Cruise Brough of Birsay

The chain of 70 islands, separated from Scotland’s rugged north coast by the formidable Pentland Firth, are grassy-green and flat-topped. Rich in marine life and seabird colonies, the islands are also home to a wealth of prehistoric sites, standing stones, Viking relics and sunken warships.

Orkney Cruise Ships Kirkwall

The majority of Orcadians live on the ‘Mainland’ which is the largest island, centred around the bustling town of Kirkwall where most cruise ships arrive. Others have homes on a few outlying islands, with enchanting names like Sanday and Papa Westray, accessible by ferry or small plane, although most islands are uninhabited.

Orkney Hurtigruten Cruise ship

Cruise ships generally drop anchor in Kirkwall harbour, bringing guests ashore by tender, or berth at nearby Hatston Pier, a short 2.5 miles from town, accessible by complimentary shuttle bus.

Orkney Cruise St Magnus Cathedral

The St. Magnus Cathedral is Kirkwall’s most significant landmark. Built in 1137 and dedicated to the martyred Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney, this is the most northerly cathedral in the UK and owned by the people of Orkney themselves. The Highland Park Distillery is located on the outskirts of Kirkwall. The superb visitor centre has fascinating and fun tours showing how this famous Orcadian whisky is made – and offers a welcome nip of the amber nectar too.

Orkney Cruise Skara Brae

Orkney is world-renowned for the number and quality of ancient sites it hosts and cruise ship passengers can easily see several of them in one day. Local guides offer comprehensive tours and car rental is readily available for visitors who prefer the independence of self-discovery. The most prominent site, and an absolute must-see, is Skara Brae on the western side of the main island. This Neolithic site, uncovered by a fierce storm in 1850, is one of the best-preserved in Western Europe and transports visitors back 5000 years.

Orkney Cruise Churchill Barriers

The Ring of Brodgar, The Standing Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe are a trio of established historical sites clustered near to Kirkwall and easily enjoyed on a return journey from Skara Brae. Ness of Brodgar, a current archaeological dig, is ongoing beside these sites and visitors are welcome to view the excavations from a platform overlooking the site.

Orkney Cruise Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar stone circle, with 36 megaliths and over a dozen burial mounds, is older than Stonehenge and dates back to the 3rd Millennium BC.

Orkney Cruise Maeshowe Orkney

The chambered tomb of Maeshowe, dating back around 5000 years, is one of the finest examples in Europe. A narrow passageway, lined with huge slabs of Orcadian stone, leads to a large chamber perfectly aligned with the winter solstice which illuminates the tomb at the setting sun. In the 12th century, Viking raiders broke into Maeshowe and their runic graffiti is easily seen on the walls.

Orkney Cruise Stones of Stenness

Nearby, the Standing Stones of Stenness, again dating back 5000 years, encircle a large hearth and are mystically beautiful.

Orkney Cruise Tomb of the Eagles

Another Neolithic chambered tomb, The Tomb of the Eagles, was discovered on South Ronaldsay by a local farmer in the 1950s. Thousands of human bones were found inside, along with the remains of white-tailed sea eagles and artefacts of the time. Walking tours describe this interesting story in depth, taking visitors along the cliff path to the tomb and then showing some of the items recovered in the visitor centre.

Orkney Cruise Churchill Barriers

Orkney played an important strategic role in WWII and visitors to the islands can see the impressive Churchill Barriers, built to protect the British fleet while anchored in Scapa Flow.

Orkney Cruise Italian Chapel

The causeways link several small islands and lead to the intricate and beautiful Italian Chapel. Italian POWs, who were in Orkney constructing the Churchill Barriers, adapted a plain prion hut into an intimate chapel complete with stunning Italian artwork.

Orkney Cruise Stromness

Stromness,on the West Mainland, is Orkney’s second largest town and a popular port for smaller vessels. The quaint cobbled streets lead visitors to the excellent Pier Arts Centre, famous writer George Mackay Brown’s Memorial Garden and another poignant memorial, this time in honour of Orcadian explorer John Rae who is credited with finding the final portion of the North West Passage.

Orkney Cruise Tall Ship

Viking, Silversea, Crystal, Seabourn and Hebridean Island Cruises are due to visit Orkney in 2017.

Photos courtesy of Cruise Orkney

 

Crystal – The Facts

Crystal Cruises

Consistently voted ‘Best Cruise Line in the World’ the Crystal ocean fleet includes two luxury larger scale ships and an elegant yacht focused on soft adventure activities. These vessels go side-by-side with recently launched river cruising and air cruising on the company owned aircraft. An aggressive plan for future developments include new executive class cruise ships with top deck residences for exclusive ownership and the first polar-class mega yacht. Crystal offers one of the highest passenger-to-staff, passenger-to-space ratios in the industry along with impeccable service, cuisine and activities; all offered on a fairly inclusive basis. Genting Hong King Limited, a global leisure and hospitality company who also operate Star Cruises in Asia and have an equity stake in Norwegian Cruise Line, acquired Crystal in 2015.

Fleet: 

There are currently three vessels in the ocean fleet: two cruise ships Symphony and Serenity and passenger yacht Esprit. The Endeavour, an expedition-focused megayacht, is due to launch in 2018.

Symphony (1995)

51,044 tonnes, 922 guests, 545 crew

Refurbished 2012

Serenity (2003)

68,000 tonnes, 1070 guests, 655 crew

Refurbished 2013

 

Esprit (2015)

3,341 tonnes, 62 guests, 91 crew

 

Destinations

Popular cruise destinations include Southeast Asia, the Baltic Sea, the Panama Canal, New England, Canada, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and South America. Voyages can last anywhere from six days to over 100 day world cruises. In September 2016 Crystal Serenity became the largest passenger vessel to sail the historic Northwest Passage highlighting Crystal’s dedication to explore interesting and largely inaccessible destinations. Esprit, the 62-guest luxury yacht, is particularly able to visit secluded ports and coastal areas.

Staterooms

The elegant staterooms of Symphony and Serenity come as either deluxe (with or without verandas), Penthouse Suites or hypoallergenic ‘Pure’ rooms. Frette linen, Aveda toiletries, WiFi and soft drinks are standard in all rooms with suites enjoying butler service and other perks. Esprit offers Yacht Suites with luxurious bathrooms complete with rain-showers and ETRO amenities.

Food and Drink

The Crystal Dining Room forms the backbone of dining options on Symphony and Serenity, supported by a diverse range of excellent eateries from casual café options to the renowned Silk Road of Nobu fame. For a hefty price tag, guests can also book the Vintage Room for private dining where fine wines are paired with a custom-designed menu. 24-hour room service is also available and included in the cruise fare. On Esprit, dining takes place in the nautically designed Yacht Club, as well as the Patio Café and Terrace.

Facilities

The Feng Shui inspired Spa, on both Symphony and Serenity, is serene and well-appointed complemented by an excellent gym, range of fitness classes and lovely swimming pools.

cc_lifestyle_golflesson

Language classes, comprehensive enrichment lectures, bridge, a library, live music and a tasteful casino ensure there is plenty to do aboard, although many guests are content to simply enjoy the view. Gentlemen hosts travel on every trip to provide dancing, companionship and conversation to single guests.

esprit_marina

Esprit excels in the range of watersports offered from the ship, not to mention the fabulous submersible which takes guests below the water line to discover coral reefs and marine life.

Perks

Crystal Family is the brand’s reward programme, starting on completion of the first full fare voyage and offering discounts and a range of benefits.

Photos courtesy of Crystal Cruises

www.crystalcruises.com