Smooth sailing for luxury cruises in S'pore

Indulgence is the selling point on ships like the Seven Seas Voyager (above) with its pool deck (top, right) and penthouse suite (bottom, right).
Indulgence is the selling point on ships like the Seven Seas Voyager (above) with its pool deck and penthouse suite.PHOTOS: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE HOLDINGS
Indulgence is the selling point on ships like the Seven Seas Voyager (above) with its pool deck (top, right) and penthouse suite (bottom, right).
Indulgence is the selling point on ships like the Seven Seas Voyager with its pool deck (above) and penthouse suite.PHOTOS: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE HOLDINGS
Indulgence is the selling point on ships like the Seven Seas Voyager (above) with its pool deck (top, right) and penthouse suite (bottom, right).
Indulgence is the selling point on ships like the Seven Seas Voyager with its pool deck and penthouse suite (above).PHOTOS: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE HOLDINGS

More companies dropping anchor here to tap rich Asian middle class, rising demand

Personal butlers who serve meals in your room, a "free flow" of alcohol and a must-have for tech-savvy Singaporeans - free Wi-Fi - all while out at sea. Luxury cruise holidays are catching on among Singaporeans, as more of these floating hotels make their way here.

Earlier this month, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) announced the opening of its first sales office in Singapore.

Its Seven Seas Voyager, a cruise ship under its luxury brand, the Regent Seven Seas Cruises, will operate six sailings that will begin or end in Singapore between November next year and April 2018.

This will be the ship's first winter season in the region.

Prices start from about $750 per person, per night.

Singaporeans who go on luxury cruises tend to be baby boomers who are either working professionals or semi-retired, as such itineraries tend to be at least seven nights, and can stretch to 14 nights or more. Many opt for fly cruises, where they fly to another country and board the boat there.

"There's a concentration of wealth in South-east Asia that we think is untapped," said Mr Steve Odell, NCLH's senior vice-president and managing director for the Asia-Pacific. "There's also a big demand for cruising in Asia in the winter from North America and Europe."

At travel agency Citystate Travel, bookings on luxury cruises so far this year have already exceeded the number for the whole of last year.

Honeyworld Holidays and Misa Travel both reported an increase in interest in such cruises, with brands such as Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal and Ponant.

Their selling point, according to the chief executive of the Singapore Cruise Centre, Ms Christina Siaw, is first-class, personalised service.

Think gourmet dining, fine wine, private verandas, jacuzzi tubs, private butler service and a high crew-to-guest ratio. While packages can be steep - a seven-day voyage in the Mediterranean on Silversea starts from US$3,550 (S$4,800) per person - they often include amenities, a variety of alcohol, and even shore excursions that cost extra on non-luxury lines.

Singaporeans who go on luxury cruises tend to be baby boomers who are either working professionals or semi-retired, as such itineraries tend to be at least seven nights, and can stretch to 14 nights or more. Many opt for fly cruises, where they fly to another country and board the boat there.

Singapore itself is growing as a cruise hub and attracting passengers from around the world who fly here to board cruises.

Travel agencies and cruise lines say Singapore benefits from flight connections to major cities, its year-round warm climate, and reputation as a safe and politically stable port.

Last year, passenger throughput rose by 14 per cent year-on-year to 1 million, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.

There were also nine maiden calls from cruise ships that had never previously visited Singapore and South-east Asia.

As affluence in the region grows, both Marina Bay Cruise Centre and Singapore Cruise Centre are expecting a bigger wave of luxury cruises.

Crystal Cruises has announced itineraries up until early 2019 that include calls in Singapore, with some overnight stays.

"With healthy and vibrant economies, an expanding affluent middle class and a strong increase in intra-Asian travel, Asia offers tremendous opportunity," said Mr Lionel Wong, chief executive of Sats-Creuers Cruise Services which operates the Marina Bay Cruise Centre.

Mrs Elizabeth Soh, 62, who went on an Oceania Cruise to South America last year and a Crystal Cruise to the Mediterranean in 2013, said it is the small touches on luxury cruises that appeal to her.

Mrs Soh, a retired executive assistant, recalled how, after she unpacked her belongings on the Oceania cruise, a butler came to store her empty luggage elsewhere on the ship, so it would not clutter up her room.

When she ordered food from the speciality restaurant, a butler served it to her in her cabin, course by course.

She said that she is looking forward to having more luxury ships dock at Singapore.

"Boarding from Singapore would be great. It would save me the trouble of having to fly overseas."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Smooth sailing for luxury cruises in S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe