More travellers, including millennials, are opting for holidays on the high seas

Cruise lines are offering increasingly attractive itineraries to exotic locations as well as better and more exciting facilities on board, to draw families and young professionals

It has been five years since the opening of the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore and Singaporeans are cruising like never before.

More ships are plying Asian waters, offering a range of enticing itineraries around Asia. The ships are bigger too, which means more attractive amenities on board, from whisky rooms to karaoke lounges, nightclubs to water parks and high-flying rope courses to bumper cars.

The larger ships are also more fuel-efficient than they were a decade ago. Coupled with lower oil prices, more competitors and greater economies of scale, cruises are now 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than they were 10 years ago, according to Ms Christina Siaw, chief executive of Singapore Cruise Centre, which opened in 1991. It has terminals at Harbourfront and Tanah Merah.

Travellers can pay less than $400 a person for a three-day, two-night cruise from Singapore to Port Klang or Penang and back. It includes accommodation, food and entertainment.

"Compared with a staycation in Orchard Road, it's surprisingly inexpensive," says Ms Siaw.

Asia is the largest growth market for the cruise industry, with a 30 per cent annual increase in passenger capacity between 2013 and last year.

According to the 2017-2018 Cruise Industry News Annual Report, Asia is set to overtake the Mediterranean as the world's second largest cruise market by capacity this year. The Caribbean is the biggest.

Food and the sights are taken care of, and when you're not sightseeing, you're relaxing on the deck, around the pool or in the room. It's a singular experience.

MR RITESH TIWARI, who goes on cruises regularly Travel Travel

Demand is largely driven by the Chinese, who account for just under half of the two million Asian travellers who embarked on cruises last year.

But Singapore is punching well above its weight and was the third largest market source of Asian cruisers, providing 8.8 per cent of the passengers, behind 11 per cent from Taiwan.

And they are not all retirees either.

Though passengers in their 50s account for 25.7 per cent of Singapore cruisers and form the largest demographic, the average age of the Singapore cruiser is 46 years old.

Industry experts say this will likely shift as ships are increasingly designed to attract younger clientele, with amenities such as nightclubs and water parks, and themed itineraries such as It's The Ship, a multi-day electronic music festival at sea which is geared toward millennials.

Dynasty, Chan Brothers and CTC travel agencies say multi-generational families, young couples and corporate bonding groups make up the bulk of their cruise bookings, which have increased 25 to 50 per cent annually for at least the past two years.

Since launching its dedicated Worldwide Cruise Centre department in 2012, Chan Brothers Travel has seen a 30 per cent year-on-year increase in cruise bookings, which now account for 15 per cent of the agency's business, up from 5 per cent before.

Ms Jane Chang, head of marketing and communications for Chan Brothers, says holiday-makers, both young and old, have started to appreciate relaxing vacations, prioritising rest over endless activities and sightseeing.

Last year, there were 31 cruise line brands with 60 ships active in Asian waters, up from 43 ships in 2013. They increased the number of cruises in the region by 22 per cent to 1,560 and increased passenger capacity by almost 30 per cent, compared with 2013.

For years, cruise itineraries out of Singapore have mainly travelled up the Strait of Malacca to Port Klang, Penang or Phuket and back, and these short two- to four-night regional cruises are still the most popular itineraries for Singapore travellers.

Themed cruises - such as Father's Day cruises, Getai cruises and Star Cruises' Sanrio Hello Kitty at Sea cruise - are also favoured.

As local cruisers become more confident in the product and more ships enter the market, cruise lines and travel agents are working hard to keep up with travellers' demands for alternatives.

Cruise lines are now offering itineraries to Vietnam, South Korea and Japan, and developing voyages to newer mass-market cruise destinations such as north Bali, Dubai and Boracay.

Most Singaporeans who fly overseas to join a cruise head to Europe, predominantly for cruises around Scandinavia or to the Baltic.

River cruises, which account for 25 per cent of Chan Brothers' cruise bookings, are growing in popularity too, as travellers delight in the opportunity to ply the Danube or the Rhine, hopping off to explore cities such as Budapest or Cologne, while admiring the European countryside.

To make it easier for travellers to embark on cruises outside Singapore, travel agents here are organising escorted-cruise and fly-cruise packages, which include flights, transportation, accommodation and sometimes guides on the ground for worry-free travel.

Inbound, Singapore's cruise industry shows no signs of slowing down either.

Before the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore opened in 2012, large international cruise ships coming into Singapore could dock only at Singapore Cruise Centre's HarbourFront Terminal, where the cable car lines mean incoming ships can be no taller than 52m high. This typically limits the ship's capacity to no more than 2,000 passengers.

With the ability to dock two ships of up to 360m in length at a time, and no height restriction, Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore has more than doubled Singapore's berth capacity. Now mega-ships such as the Royal Caribbean's 348m-long Ovation of the Seas can dock with close to 5,000 guests on board.

In March, Royal Caribbean International, Changi Airport Group and Singapore Tourism Board announced a multi-million-dollar tripartite marketing agreement to grow the fly-cruise market in Singapore.

Ms Annie Chang, director of cruises at the Singapore Tourism Board, says the nation is uniquely suited to the cruise market.

Changi Airport's connection to more than 300 cities worldwide and Singapore's geographic location as the gateway to destinations around South-east Asia, make it an ideal home port for travellers to embark and disembark from cruises.

At least nine ships will make their home ports in Singapore this year, including the Ovation of the Seas and two other Royal Caribbean ships, two Celebrity Cruises ships and Genting Dream, the premier ship of Genting Hong Kong's Dream Cruises line, which has been designed specially for the Asian market.

Cruise lines are incorporating more Asian restaurants as well as amenities such as mahjong and karaoke rooms to appeal to Asian passengers.

Mr Ritesh Tiwari, 41, vice-president of finance for a multinational company here, has taken numerous cruises, including a river cruise down the Nile and a cruise with colleagues from Mumbai to Goa.

For next month, he has booked his mother and family of four on a Royal Caribbean cruise to Port Klang.

The on-board activities and the variety of food and tours are what he is looking forward to.

The comparatively lower cost is also attractive. "If you include the cost of airfare, accommodation, meals and sightseeing, a four-day stay in Phuket would be much more expensive than our four-day cruise staying in a family suite," he says.

"Food and the sights are taken care of, and when you're not sightseeing, you're relaxing on the deck, around the pool or in the room. It's a singular experience," he says.

He has recommended regional cruises to his friends and extended family too.

He is already looking forward to his family's vacation next year, which will include a land and cruise component.

Though he has not yet decided on a destination, cruise itineraries to Greece and Turkey, the Norwegian fjords and to Canada and Alaska are on the cards.

"I didn't realise it before, but there are some fantastic itineraries to lovely places around the world," he says.


Galapagos


Celebrity Cruises’ itineraries offer excursions around the Galapagos Islands. PHOTO: CELEBRITY CRUISES

Embark on the journey of a lifetime and follow Darwin's footsteps to the Galapagos Islands.

The Miami-based premium cruise line Celebrity Cruises operates three expedition class ships and a variety of itineraries in the volcanic archipelago and wildlife paradise.

First, travellers choose their preferred ship.

The Celebrity Xpedition is a luxe 100-passenger vessel with gourmet meals, in-suite massage services, complimentary bathrobes, a fitness room and nightly lectures by certified naturalists.

The Celebrity Xperience is a mid-size ship with a 48-passenger capacity, indoor and alfresco dining areas, a lounge, bar, library and sundeck. Passengers will retire to 24 stylish staterooms, each with ocean-facing views.

The Celebrity Xploration is an intimate, more casual catamaran with eight cosy staterooms, a lounge, alfresco dining area and a sundeck.

Celebrity's Galapagos packages typically start in Quito, Peru, from where travellers fly to the home port in the Galapagos' Baltra Island to board their ship.

The cruises are usually seven nights long and travellers can choose between a northern and southern loop of the islands, each with its own out-of-this-world landscapes, flora and fauna.

Ground tours are led by naturalists, who share their specialised knowledge of the islands and keep an eye out for the extraordinary wildlife, including the blue-footed booby, Galapagos penguins and marine iguanas, as passengers explore the islands.

They can snorkel, kayak and enjoy coastal walks.

Passengers can add a post-cruise experience, such as fishing with the local community, or flying back to Peru for a tour of Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

Prices will vary by ship and length of itinerary, but a standard seven-night northern loop cruise aboard the Celebrity Xploration starts at $7,779. For more information, go to www.celebritycruises.com/galapagos



See the Canadian Rockies’ Sulphur Mountain from a scenic cable car ride on Chan Brothers’ Alaska, Canadian Rockies and Whistler cruise tour. PHOTO: CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL

Alaska, Canadian Rockies and Whistler

Explore the North American wilderness on Chan Brothers' 18-day Alaska, Canadian Rockies and Whistler cruise tour.

The trip starts in Seattle, where passengers visit city highlights such as the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, before boarding the Ruby Princess for a six-day cruise to Alaska, with stops in Juneau, Skagway and the Glacier Bay National Park, a vast area of Alaska's coast where towering mountain peaks are interlaced with glaciers.

Passengers may spot native wildlife, such as humpback whales, orcas and puffins, before cruising back to Seattle for a land transfer to Vancouver.

In Canada, the tour heads to Jasper and Banff national parks and stops at bucket list-worthy sites such as the turquoise glacier-fed Lake Louise.

There is also a ride in a bus across the snow and a walk on the Athabasca Glacier.

Spend some time wandering around Whistler village and a day exploring Vancouver before boarding a return flight to Singapore.

The tour, which starts at$5,388 a person, includes return economy airfare by EVA Airways, two nights accommodation in Seattle, seven nights on board the Ruby Princess, a six-night Canadian Rockies tour, all tips and port tax.


See the Canadian Rockies’ Sulphur Mountain from a scenic cable car ride on Chan Brothers’ Alaska, Canadian Rockies and Whistler cruise tour. PHOTO: CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL

The cruise tour is on sale now until Aug 31 for travel between May and September this year.

For more information, go to www.chanbrothers.com


Provence River Cruise

Fans of the river cruise will have new vistas to discover in Burgundy and Provence when they sail on the Rhone. Specially chartered by Dynasty Travel, the seven-night cruise on a Panorama Suite ship starts in Arles, a city in southern France which inspired the paintings of Vincent van Gogh.

The ship sails upriver, stopping in towns such as Avignon, where passengers can tour the historic Palais des Papes (Pope's Palace), a 14th-century fortress and former papal residence which is one of the most important Gothic buildings in Europe. They will join an excursion to Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman three-tiered aqueduct.

Each cabin boasts floor-to- ceiling windows and an open-air balcony where guests can sip chilled Burgundy and take in the French countryside as the ship continues past Lyon to its final stop in Saint-Jean-de-Losne.

Travellers can add four, six or seven days to the itinerary before or after the cruise and enjoy excursions to attractions in France such as the Loire Valley castles, Normandy coast and the Louvre in Paris, which will also be organised by Dynasty.

A 14-day tour, inclusive of the seven-night cruise, accommodation, ground transfers and Singapore Airlines tickets, starts at $7,088 a person. Departures start in April next year.

For more information, call 6338-4455 or e-mail enquiries@dynastytravel.com.sg


North Sea Cruise


Norwegian Cruise Line’s 14-Day Norway, Iceland & UK cruise takes passengers to places such as Bergen in Norway. PHOTO: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Tour the fjords, emerald isles and volcanic shores of the North Sea with Norwegian Cruise Line's 14-Day Norway, Iceland & UK cruise.

Passengers board the newly refurbished 294m-long Norwegian Jade in Southampton, a port city about an hour's drive from Heathrow Airport.

The ship sails to Bergen, Norway, and on to Alesund, one of Norway's most picturesque towns, before crossing to the Shetland Islands for a day.

The ship then berths for two days in Reykjavik, the world's most northerly capital, which gives passengers time to explore Iceland's magnificent scenery, museums and villages.

Crossing to the other side of the country, the ship docks in Akureyri, a centre of Icelandic culture that is tucked away in a beautiful fjord, before continuing on to the Scottish Highlands.

Passengers can acquaint themselves with bagpipes and the native Gaelic in Inverness and also the Georgian and Victorian architecture in Edinburgh before returning to Southampton.

The cruise, which sails in May and September next year, starts at US$1,889 (S$2,650) a person for an inside room.

The itinerary includes four days at sea, when passengers can enjoy the ship's game rooms, pools and casino; treat themselves to a massage at the spa; or lounge in the library before heading to one of the 16 dining options for a bite.

For more information, go to www.ncl.com


Islands of Japan


An excursion to the Shurijo Castle in Naha, Okinawa, is one of the highlights of the five-night Island Gems of Japan cruise aboard the Genting Dream. PHOTO: JNTO

The Genting Dream, the premier ship of the luxury Dream Cruises line, is designed for the Asian luxury traveller.

A veritable floating integrated resort, the 150,000-ton German-built vessel can carry 3,400 passengers and still has room for a spa, duty- free boutiques, karaoke rooms, a Penfolds wine cellar, multiple swimming pools, a rock-climbing wall, ropes course, six water slides, a cinema, a Zouk night club and more than 35 restaurants and bars.

The ship is a destination in its own right and travellers can experience it while on the five-night Island Gems of Japan cruise, in operation now until Oct 13.

The cruise starts and ends in Hong Kong, with a stop in Naha, Okinawa island, where passengers can wander the city's ancient streets and tour Shurijo Castle.

The cruise makes another stop in Miyako-jima island, known for its coastal walks and white-sand beaches. The cruise includes two days at sea so passengers have time to indulge on board.

Price upon request. For more information, go to www.chanbrothersflexi.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 07, 2017, with the headline 'Cruise control'. Print Edition | Subscribe