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Cruising on the crest of a wave

Demand for cruising has soared more than 60 percent in a decade. Norman Wright selects some of the highlights of what's on odder on the high seas in 2018/19

With more than 460 ships sailing the world's oceans and 200 plying navigable rivers around the globe, cruise holidays are ever more popular.

So popular that those ships took an estimated 25.8 million people afloat in 2017- 1.89 million of them from the UK. Thirteen new ocean liners have 13 river ships were due to have come into service last year and 15 ocean ships and two river vessels are on the order books for 2018

Little wonder, then that the demand for cruising increased by 62 percent in the ten years to 2015 and continues to grow.

The good news for is is all that competition means the cruise companies need to provide a better and better offering to attract new cruisers and keep the old hands coming back for more.

They are innovating to find new destinations and new itineraries as well as new packages aboard that compete with the top land resorts.

It all means higher quality and better value for guests on the high seas or the world's picturesque and fascinating rivers. It isn't just new ships that raise the standards. Old favourites are also being updated and refitted.

For instance, three of Fred Olsen Cruise Liners' ships are undergoing multi-million pound refits this winter- in preparation for the 2018/19 cruise season. 

Braemar and Balmoral were refurbished before Christmas, with the third, Boudicca, due for upgrade in March. Black Watch benefited from extensive improvement work at the end of last year.

Mike Rodwell, managing director of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, said: 'We are very proud of our smaller, classic cruise ships and we recognise the importance of investing in ongoing upgrades to ensure that our guests can continue to enjoy them at their best.

"The refreshed Black Watch has been very well received by both new and existing guests so we are delighted that the rest of the fleet will also benefit."

The schedule for the Fred Olsen ships includes upgrading the existing public areas, creating new facilities- such as new restaurants and a gelato bar on Balmoral, a new dining room on Boudicca, and a new buffet restaurant on Braemar- and cabin enhancements across the fleet.

In 2018/19 Fred Olsen's fleet of four smaller, more intimate cruise ships will be visiting no fewer than 228 destinations in 73 countries around the globe, covering 91 areas of scenic cruising from the UK departure ports of Southampton, Dover, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh (Rosyth). The company's new venture into river cruising with the 110-metre-long Brabant will be offering cruises on the Rhine, Main and Moselle rivers this spring and summer. Brabant is a stylish and comfortable river cruise ship with bright and spacious public areas, well-equipped bedrooms and ample deck space, from which to enjoy the superb views. With just four decks and fewer than 80 rooms and suites, staffed by 40 crew members, Brabant had the intimate and friendly feel that Fred Olsen is known for. 

Private Islands

Cruises from home ports are popular with UK cruise fans and there are plenty of options available. If you don't enjoy modern air travel, you can access many of the departure points for European river cruises by rail or ferry. I took a Rhone cruise last summer via Eurostar and TGV to Avignon and back from Lyon- very smooth (choice, October).

Having said that, some of the new exotic destinations available are fly-cruises.

The Caribbean remains popular, and last year's unprecedented hurricanes have not disrupted the programmes of the cruise lines- good news for the islands which need them even more not to help fund the recovery. Visits to private islands and beaches are now a feature of many Caribbean cruises and most of the cruise lines have their own:

Costa Cruises voyages stop at Catalina Island, located just 1.5 miles from he south-east corner of the mainland of the Dominican Republic. the line has a private beach on this island. Day tours that explore the island are popular. It's a treasure trove of culture and relaxation, with local musicians and exclusive shopping.

Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Cay provides plenty of fun for people of all ages, and caters for guests in true Disney style, with all the conveniences. A major bonus of Castaway Cay is that the island features cruise chip-docking capabilities (as opposed to shuttle boats between the shit and island), which allows guests to easily travel back and forth to their ship. Attractions include the castaway Family Beach, Serenity Bay for adults, a teens only activity area called The Hide Out and supervised programmes for children at Scuttle's Cove.

Holland America's Half Moon Cay has been highly rated for many years and is located on Little San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. (The island must remain 98 percent underdeveloped as an international bird sanctuary.) The Cay's 700 acre lagoon allows guests to feed stingrays and enjoy various water sports and eco-tours by glass-bottom boat.

Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line's private island is located about 120 nautical miles feast of Fort Lauderdale in the Berry Island chain of the Bahamas. It features snorkelling, paddle boats, sail boast, kayaks and parasailing. Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania and MSC Cruises will also sail to Great Stirrup Cay in 2018. Norwegian also offers a private island experience at Harvest Caye in Belize, which features an exclusive beach, pool and water-sports lagoon. 

Paul Ganguin Cruises visits Motu Mahana, part of the Society Islands. this lovely island offers a world of culture, with local crafts and cuisine.

Princess Cruises visits Princess Cays, located on the southern portion of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, around 80 miles from Nassau. This island boasts white-sand  beaches and turquoise waters.

Coco Cay, which features the 20,000 square-foot aqua playground Caylana's castle Cove is an island designed exclusively for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity passengers.

It has a white-sand beach, wave runners and snorkelling among coral reefs with vibrant tropical fish and sunken wrecks.

The line's second island getaway, Labadee, has seen recent enhancements, and now features seven different 'neighbourhoods'- Buccaneer's Bay, Dragon's Plaza, Babadee Town Square, Adrenaline Beach, Columbus Cove, Nellie's beach and the Barefoot Beach Club that have individualised offerings. 

MSC Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line  are investing in private beach destinations as well. MSC;s will be in the Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, near Bimini in the Bahamas. Carnival is working on a private beach on the eastern part of Grand Bahama Island.

Cruising in colder climates

In colder climes, the Baltic area is very popular. Fresh from celebrations of its tenth anniversary, the family owned and operated Volga Dream had announced details of an exclusive river cruise for 2018, featuring distinguished British diplomat Sir Tony Brenton.

Having served as British ambassador to the Russia Federation from 2004-8- the mos difficult period- Sir tony was awarded he Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (KCMG), a British order of chivalry, by the Queen in 2007. his 30 years in the Foreign and commonwealth Office have seem him deal with a variety of important matters, from the economic reform to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, providing him with unparalleled insights that will make for interesting on-board talks.

The special 12 night St Petersburg to Moscow itinerary, departing June 12, 2018, is designed to introduce discerning travellers to the many faces of Russia and will visit St Petersburg, Svirstroy, Kizhi, Goritsky, Yaroslavl, Uglich and Moscow.

Guests can also look forward to a tour of the Faberge Museum, a day at the famous Tretyakow Gallery and a private piano concert. Prices start at £29995 per person and the cruise can be booked via Fred Olsen rover Cruises, tel: 0808 250 7252

The summer cruise season in Helsinki, too, was extremely busy, as international ships brought a total of 478,000 cruise visitors to the Finnish capital. This represents growth of almost 17 percent on last year when Helsinki attracted 409,000 cruise visitors. This year's figure also beats the previous record of 436,500 cruise visitors, set in 2015.

A total of 266 cruise ships visited Helsinki in 2017. Although this is fewer than the record set in 2013, the record number of cruise visitors in 2017 reflects the growing capacity of international cruise ships. Helsinki also anticipates a busy cruise season in 2018.

Have you been on a cruise recently? Got any suggestions for someone planning to book a cruise?

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