With demand for time on shore increasing, cruise lines are diving deeper into destinations, says Jane Archer
How times have changed. Instead of wanting everyone on board at 5pm so they could race to the next port, cruise lines are increasingly embracing the destinations they stop at – giving passengers more time and more options ashore.
The phrase ‘destination immersion’ was coined by cruise veteran Larry Pimentel, who famously “slowed down” Azamara’s itineraries. When he took the helm there in 2009 he factored in lots of late stays and overnights. “You’ve not seen St Tropez if you’ve not been there overnight,” he explained.
The Azamara Way
While cruise lines visiting the Russian city of St Petersburg always stayed at least two days, because there is so much to see, Azamara was the first to linger longer in several ports on one cruise. Still today, destination remains Azamara’s primary focus, with the line offering ‘country-intensive voyages’ focusing on one destination, to offer more genuine, in-depth experiences where guests see a more authentic side of places as diverse as Japan, Greece and Norway.
“The destination is the driving force for Azamara,” says president Carol Cabezas. “Most of our guests stay five nights before or after their cruise so we are simply tapping into what they are already doing.”
More Destination-focused Cruise Lines
Azamara isn’t the only line focusing on destinations. Regent Seven Seas Cruises' new 2024-25 Voyage Collection features 130 overnight stays. And Celebrity Infinity’s European itineraries for 2023-24 will include new overnights in Porto, Jerusalem, Malaga and Alexandria.
Not only are lines staying in port longer, but they’re also embracing the cruise-and-stay model. Most AmaWaterways river cruises come with optional pre- or post-cruise land stays, while Riviera Travel pairs river cruises with escorted tours. Riviera has added 10 city-break extension options to its 2023 European river cruise programme – including Munich, Marseille and Vienna – after an increasing number of guests requested to stay on after their sailings and spend more time in destinations.
Riviera Travel says its Porto and Paris extensions are proving the most popular
The line’s chief operating officer Robin Shaw said: “Our city break extensions are selling extremely well, with all cruises above our initial projections, and we’d like to thank the trade for their fantastic support. Most of our passengers are retired so longer trips appeal and there are no time constraints.”
Azamara offers plenty of cruise and-stay options, too. In the Mediterranean alone, the line has 18 possible land programmes for clients to bolt onto the start or end of their cruise. In Northern Europe and Asia there are 47 and 19 respectively. Options include adding a five-night tour of the Peloponnese with excursions to Ancient Olympia; adding Delphi to an island-hopping cruise in Greece; or tacking four nights in Tokyo and Hakone on to a voyage from Japan.
The Benefits of Cruise-and-stay
Cruise-and-stay packages are perfect for first-timers who are tempted by a holiday on the river, or at sea, but are nervous about taking the plunge. By splitting their trips between land and sea, they can try something new without missing out on their traditional holiday.
If one of a couple wants a cruise and the other prefers a beach resort – cruise-and-stay offers both options in one holiday
Cruise-and-stay is also a great way to make the most of the cost of the flights to and from the cruise, especially if travelling long haul. Cruise.co.uk deputy managing director Tony Andrews says demand has been increasing over the past five years and now accounts for up to 40% of bookings.
He said: “Consumers are realising they can have the best of both. They can have an active holiday, buzzing around a city or touring, and then relax on a cruise.”
While first-timers like to combine the two in case cruise isn’t for them, he says, cruise-and-stay also appeals to regular cruisers – although their preference has changed from a one-week beach stay to three to five nights.
Best of Both Worlds
The options for agents to tailor-make cruise-and-stay holidays for clients are limitless – a few nights in Seattle at the start or end of a cruise to Alaska maybe, or in Singapore ahead of a voyage to Thailand and Vietnam. However, there are also plenty of off-the-shelf packages from lines including Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Disney Cruise Line, which pairs a week at sea with Walt Disney World.
Marella Cruises has a huge advantage when it comes to cruise-and-stay – namely its access to parent company Tui’s vast flight and hotel network. The line has an enormous choice of resorts and city properties near departure ports in Europe, the US and Caribbean, including 22 hotels in Barbados, 23 in Jamaica, 32 in Tenerife and 25 hotels In Palma de Mallorca.
These are packaged with the cruise, flights and all transfers, making everything super easy and the flexibility allows guests to enjoy the best of both worlds.