When the Covid-19 pandemic started, it caused panic buying of household staples like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Now, the panic buying has moved on to world cruises where extended voyages to multiple continents are selling out years in advance for huge sums of money.
World cruises, those ultra-expensive voyages that take passengers around the globe in luxury style for 100 days or more, are now the hottest ticket in the travel market. In fact, many world cruises are selling out a year or more in advance, and the same is happening with grand voyages that last several weeks or more.
For example, when Oceania Cruises put its 2023 ‘Around the World’ voyage on the Insignia up for sale on January 27 of this year, the 180-day cruise sold out in less than one day. The voyage, which departs San Francisco in January of 2023, is scheduled to visit 96 destinations across 33 countries, with cruise fares staring at US$41,599 per person. But apparently that isn’t long enough for some folks – according to Oceania, 20% of world cruise guests opted to extend their voyage up to a total of 218 days!
And on March 3 when Oceania released its collection of exotic itineraries for the winter of 2022-2023, the company smashed an all-time sales record for the most bookings taken in a single day. This collection includes 127 itineraries of up to 77 days across Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, the Caribbean, South America, and the South Pacific. The single bestselling voyage of all was a 35-day circumnavigation of Australia over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
“The tremendous wave of bookings we saw on the day we opened our new 2022 and 2023 itineraries for sale underscores the extraordinary demand for long and exotic cruise vacations. Upscale travelers are eager to explore the world once more and are booking farther in advance to ensure their travel dreams are fulfilled,” Oceania’s CEO Bob Binder explained in a statement.
And Oceania Cruises is not alone in experiencing record demand for longer cruises that span multiple weeks and months.
When Viking Ocean Cruises released tickets last July for a 136-day world cruise aboard the Viking Star in late 2021, they sold out in weeks according to reports from Bloomberg. The same happened when they added a second world cruise for early 2022 on another ship – the Neptune. Demand was so strong that Viking is now planning another world-cruise itinerary for 2023.
The same thing has been happening at Seabourn Cruise Line. Bloomberg reports that the luxury line has sold all the top-level suites on its 450-passenger Sojourn for world cruises in 2022 and 2023. And some couples are paying up to a half-million dollars for the privilege of spending five-months at sea. There’s so much demand that Seabourn has opened waitlists for its world cruises.
Not to be outdone, Silversea Cruises has two world cruises on offer, including its first-ever “expedition world cruise” aboard the Silver Cloud departing in January of 2022. The sold-out 167-day voyage will sail from Ushuaia, Argentina to Tromso, Norway—nearly pole to pole. The other world cruise on the Silver Whisper will set sail in January of 2022 from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for a 138-day voyage to Copenhagen, Denmark. There’s still room on this one, but fares start at CA$111,100 per person!
A number of factors are driving the stampede to longer cruises, including the availability of Covid-19 vaccinations, cabin fever, and a plethora of unused future cruise credits that consumers received for cancelled cruises in 2020 and 2021 (some valued as high as 125% of the original cruise fare). There’s also the fear of missing out on getting to exotic places like Easter Island, the Seychelle Islands, and Tromso during their lifetime for many seniors who have just seen two years of their travel plans get torpedoed because of the pandemic.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Virtuoso travel’s CEO Matthew Upchurch suggested that pent-up demand and reprioritization of life goals were at play in the current booking trend. He told the news service that in addition to world cruises, longer sailings are also attracting more interest than before the pandemic.
“There’s a longing for the missed opportunities over the past year, and a strong desire to take advantage of seeing the world while they can,” Upchurch said. “By taking something away, you highlight the true value of it.”
Many lines have also offered incentives to lure travelers back to cruising, particularly for world and grand voyages. These incentives include onboard credits, free pre- and post-cruise land packages, and free or heavily discounted internet service.
But while people are rushing over the gunwales to get on ships departing on multi-month cruises that visit multiple continents, there may be still be some rough seas ahead.
The world is not being vaccinated at the same pace, new variants could delay herd immunity, and entry requirements and quarantine rules in some countries could be more restrictive than in others, if they allow cruise ships to dock at all. Then there’s the question of shore excursions – can they be made safe enough to protect people on shore and on the ship? In response, some cruise lines have already announced that they will be requiring all passengers and crew to be vaccinated before they can board a ship.
People booking for world cruises so far in advance are likely willing to gamble that everything will work out nicely in the end. And maybe that’s the kind of optimistic attitude we need.
As Oceania’s Bob Binder said, “Despite the challenges the world faces today, travelers are clearly bullish on the future and are embracing these new opportunities to travel the world and create lifelong memories.”
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