CRUISE WEEK: What’s Your Cruise Style?
Cruising can be bewildering. The cruise lines bandy around terms such as `classic cruising’ and `contemporary cruising’ as if it were crystal clear. Instead, there’s an ocean of difference between the divergent cruising styles.
Begin with some home truths. Are you happier dressing up or down? Do you like wallowing in retro glamour? Does American glitz rock your boat? Are you ultra-British or a fan of laidback, European-style cruising? Just how contemporary do you want the cruise to be?
You also need to consider the mood of the cruise. Is this a once-in-a-lifetime affair to see the Northern Lights or a cosy summer meander through the Med? Are you after soft adventure or a snooze on the sundecks? Consider the climate, too. If it’s more about spotting Polar bears than pretty scenery, consider expedition cruising and leave the snoozing for another time.
Tell me more about cruise styles
Cruise styles are inextricably linked to size, price and mood so you need to unpack the different elements. Many small ships are ultra-luxurious, with a yachtlike feel. The big ships tend to be cheaper but not necessarily so. Some big cruise lines have different tiers of luxury built into the brand, including clubby sections of the ship restricted to just one tier of guests. And within most ships there are big price differentials depending on the size and location of your cabin, and whether it has a sea view, a balcony or no view (known as an inside cabin).
What about the entertainment on board?
On ocean cruises, it varies from blast-from-the-past pop stars to slick shows that wouldn’t look out of place in London’s West End. If you’re lucky, there’ll be talented speakers from the world of film or politics, and informed port talks. Don’t expect much evening entertainment on smaller ships: this can be a blessing in disguise. A well-stocked library, films, live music and convivial chats over drinks often beats the official entertainment. Either way, you won’t regret missing the third-rate comedians and tacky shows common on some cruise ships.
What about a once-in-a-lifetime voyage?
The world is your ocean. It might be the Northern Lights in Norway or a glass-bottomed boat on the Barrier Reef. For seasoned cruisers, the Panama Canal remains a voyage to savour. From cruise ships to container ships, more than a million vessels have passed through the Panama Canal, one of the engineering wonders of the world. Today, this crocodile-coloured canal is a transitional world that links not just two oceans, but several civilisations and a jungle of creatures conveniently close to the shore.
The fix: Panama Canal on Crystal Cruises
The hulking oil tankers and container ships give way to jungle canopy, scarlet macaws and encounters with the tattoed Embera tribe. See Lake Gatun and virgin rainforest, the chattering home of punkish parakeets, jaunty rainbow toucans and smiling three-toed sloths. Just along the River Chagres are indigenous Amerindian communities still plying their dugout canoes much as they did in Christopher Columbus’ day (www.crystalcruises.com)
Will I feel at home on a nostalgic cruise?
Retro cruising is still in vogue. Long before there were jets, there was a jet set, cruises on which high society from both sides of the Atlantic met and mingled. The great ocean liners provided a stage set on which the Windsors and the Churchills, the Roosevelts and the Rothschilds mixed with movie stars and millionaires. These were sumptuous floating palaces hung with great works of art. The ships themselves were icons of beauty, setting sail for exotic places with their razor-shaped bows, rounded sterns and raked smokestacks.
The fix: Transatlantic Crossing on the Queen Mary 2
The QM2 ship is at its most self-assured when crossing the Atlantic. The sonorous blasts of the ship’s horn as it passes New York’s Statue of Liberty have been Cunard’s trademark for as long as cruise veterans can remember. Cunard’s fleet has been revamped but these elderly queens are still a trifle Old World in attitude, though far less snobbish than they used to be. The Queen’s subjects will remain devoted until the end of their days (www.cunard.co.uk)
What about a traditional British mood?
British cruise veterans are often known for their devotion to the ship’s traditions, from ballroom dancing to crustless cucumber sandwiches. Not that it needs to be that way. While there is no standing on ceremony, there is a frisson of excitement on `formal nights’ that even the most laidback lap up: it’s dressing up for the fun of it, a gentle nod to a more elegant era.
The fix: Fred Olsen cruise on Braemar
Timeless rather than time-warp, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offer great voyages with the charm and intimacy of a traditional house party. Fred Olsen’s forte is friendliness, intimacy and an unpretentious charm infused with a traditional British ethos. But the cruise line has moved on and claims to deliver the widest range of itineraries of any cruise line, and the broadest range of British departure ports of any cruise line. Braemar, in particular, is shallow-drafted so can cruise along the Seine, glide along German canals, sneak through narrow sea passages and slip into smaller ports. It sails into the hearts of Seville and Rouen and meanders along the windiest Norwegian fjords (www.fredolsencruises.com).
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is your first port of call: www.cruisexperts.org
Crystal for luxury, once-in-a-lifetime cruises: www.crystalcruises.com
Cunard for nostalgic, Transatlantic cruising: www.cunard.co.uk
Fred Olsen for a traditional British experience: www.fredolsencruises.com
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Lisa Gerard-Sharp is an award-winning travel writer whose work, including blogs, can be found on www.lisagerardsharp.com