By Mike Spry
I love boats; I love water; I love the ocean; I never get seasick; and I dream of the tropics endlessly during Ontario’s hardscrabble winters. But I’ve never been on a cruise. I’m not sure what has held me back: some sort of outdated stigmatization of the indulgence, or visions of “The Love Boat” on my nana’s TV.
I’ve been thinking about an all-inclusive, multi-port adventure aboard a state-of-the-art cruise, but I had no idea where to begin. Luckily, Owen Hargreaves lives and breathes cruises. He owns the Expedia Cruises franchise in Oakville, and has either been on or facilitated more cruises than you can shake an anchor at. And Owen admits that he comes across skeptics like me often, though they rarely stay that way.
Most of the fears he hears from would-be cruisers go something like this, says Owen. “‘I feel like I’m going to have motion sickness. I’m going to feel like I’m on a schedule. I’m in the Caribbean; I don’t want to have to go back to the ship. I just want to stay on the beach.’“
But there are simple answers to all these concerns. “In February, it gets dark really early in the Caribbean; you’re not going to be on the beach past five or six,” he points out. “Even then, when you go to a resort, you’re still on the schedule because of the lunches, dinners at a certain time, and the shows at a certain time. And if you want to leave the resort, and you want to go horseback riding or to a ruin or snorkelling, you still have to pay and you still have to schedule.
“I always say that with the number of ships that are out there, the industry would not be as big and growing as it is and have the highest repeat factor of any industry, if motion sickness were an issue. No industry has as high a repeat factor – whether it’s hotels, even Disney!”
Hargreaves then proceeded to help me find the perfect cruise.
Known for its hip decor and amenities, Celebrity Cruises is the boutique hotel chain of cruise lines. Well-travelled Millennials, Boomers, and seniors with a passion for adventure and indulgence populate the ships, where art collections, spas, and the best in progressive cuisine are among the seemingly endless array of activities and amenities.
Sails to: Caribbean, Panama Canal, Alaska, Mexico, the Galapagos, Hawaii, Canada/New England (plus Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Europe, South America, and Africa).
Owen says: “Celebrity Cruises has really come out of the box in the last few years as a modern luxury opportunity. Passengers include mostly college-educated people or business owners, who are not always into the bells and whistles.
Celebrity provides the most beautiful style, a little bit more elevated – some very well-known designers have designed the new ship. It’s very different; it doesn’t feel like a ship at times. It feels like you’re sitting in the Four Seasons in Vancouver, or a Rosewood Hotel, or shopping at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, or Banana Republic. It’s not a suburb: it’s Miami, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, L.A., Chicago. And that’s their market.
“And they’re very, very LGBTQ-friendly. They’re the leaders in equality for the workplace. They’re trying to get more than half of all the officer positions on the ship by a certain date to be held by women.”
Holland America Line
Holland America has been offering cruises for over a century and a half, so they know exactly what they’re doing. A more traditional cruise line, favoured by veteran cruisers with more conservative tastes; this is not a floating Mardi Gras or Six Flags. Families and multigenerational groups populate their journeys. Known for shore excursions, celebrity chefs, the Culinary Arts Centre (presented by Food & Wine magazine), and for experienced dependable vacations. They offer a semi-formal setting with a reputation for innovation, and a collection of unique ships, which accordingly offer staterooms that are 25% larger than competitors’. Holland America’s exclusive relationship with Alaskan hotels, and their own Half Moon Cay, a private Caribbean island, set them apart in Alaska and the Caribbean.
Sails to: Africa, Alaska, Asia, Hawaii, Caribbean, Europe, South Pacific, Mediterranean, and more.
Owen says: “Traditional cruisers. Aimed at an experienced, older clientele, well-travelled and seasoned. A lot of repeat business. Dark dining rooms, like a Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Dillard’s. They have good family programs. They’re really big about destinations, along with the experience.”
Norwegian Cruise Line
For a younger, more engaged, and excitable crowd, less interested in cuisine than in good times. NCL is known for giving its clientele more freedom and autonomy on their trips – known as “Freestyle Cruising” – so those who fear the dreaded “schedule” will be happy aboard their ships. Known for luxury rooms, late nights, waterparks, nightclubs, spas, and casual dress. The renowned Second City sketch comedy group and Broadway shows are featured as well.
Sails to: Africa, Alaska, Asia, Hawaii, Caribbean, Europe, US Pacific Coast, Mediterranean, and more.
Owen says: “Norwegian is pretty much for everyone. They have no dress code; shorts and a T-shirt at dinner! Great for families, people looking for a really good, fun ship experience, from all walks of life; people who love casinos and Vegas. City people, suburban families; it’s for everybody! Multi-generational, where the whole family goes out and does different excursions during the day – then the gym, the coffee shop, or a drink at the martini bar. But at dinner, they all come together at their table.”
The granddaddy of them all became a cruise line icon when featured on “The Love Boat.” Its longevity in the industry speaks for itself – you can’t possibly take people to sea for 50-plus years without being among the best. Princess Cruises are a traditional experience with a laid-back, California vibe (born of its L.A. roots); Princess offers cruises and ships for everyone and leads by example. Princess has clients who swear by them, many of whom are veterans of multiple tours. Casinos, nightclubs, spas, fitness centres, and shore excursions are the marquee offerings of their trips, plus longer voyages and exotic locales. Princess hits up over 300 ports and offers over 100 itineraries!
Sails to: Alaska, Asia, Hawaii, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe, and more.
Owen says: “The classic cruise line known for ‘The Love Boat.’ They love romantic honeymoon couples and older people rekindling their relationships. Multi-generational – a lot of people take their families on Princess. Not too expensive. It’s just very hospitable, warm, traditional. Similar to a nice stay at a Hilton or Sheraton resort and hotel.”
Royal Caribbean International
The second-most popular cruise line on the seven seas, but with the largest fleet, RCI is a terrific cruise line for all ages and tends to attract more traditional clients and families than sister cruise line Princess. A favourite of middle-class families, RCI favours exciting ports and onboard entertainment for every age group (even toddlers!). Theirs is a casual and family-friendly offering, with 20 ships to choose from visiting over 200 destinations.
Sails to: Seventy-two countries on six continents, including but not limited to: Alaska, Australia, Canada/New England, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Panama Canal, and South America.
Owen says: “Royal Caribbean has the best hardware at sea: the ship design, how they build their ships, how they invest in their ships. They’re great for families, first-time cruisers, people that want an amazing weekend away. Any age group can go on RCI to have a great time. It’s like you’ve gone to Europe for the weekend, or to Vegas. You have all these different restaurants, or you can go to the buffet. They have full Broadway productions like “Hairspray.” If you want to go to the Hard Rock Resort, this is that experience at sea.”
Silversea is a step up into the luxury cruise space. Guests experience five-star cuisine, renowned chefs, deluxe staterooms, butler service, casinos and nightclubs, spas and state-of-the-art fitness facilities. Its smaller ships allow visits to exclusive locales that the larger boats can’t visit, making Silversea the Four Seasons of cruising. The line has a European feel and prides itself on a refined, premium experience.
Sails to: Alaska, Australia, Bermuda, Beijing, the Galapagos, Northern Europe, Antarctica, Caribbean, South America, the Middle East, and round-the-world.
Owen says: “Silversea is a luxury cruise line. Their market is classic cruising people that love great itineraries, fine dining, and formal nights. Very traditional. They also have expedition ships, with smaller but diverse groups of guests – people in their 30s and 40s in Greenland, or getting out in a Zodiac and doing landings in the Galapagos. When I took my group in 2019, it was a beautiful fine dining and luxury experience, with butlers onboard! They have a very traditional ocean luxury market that is all-inclusive, ‘your wish is our command’ level of service; they also have the same type of experience on the expedition ships, on a smaller scale.”
Not to be confused with its sister line Viking River, Viking Ocean is a premium cruise option for the most discerning of travellers. The luxury liner offers an immersive experience in the cultures of its port stops, a unique indulgence for guests who want to enjoy exotic locales without feeling like a tourist; all the while with luxurious amenities and a modern, elite feel. Their 930-passenger ships tend to cater to adults 55 and older, though they control one of the youngest fleets in the industry. Viking offers a cultural experience that is unrivalled by other luxury cruise lines. They will literally take you almost anywhere on earth.
Sails to: Alaska, Arctic, Antarctica, Africa, Amazon, Asia, the Galapagos, Hawaii, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mediterranean, India, Mexican Riviera, Northern Europe, Panama Canal, Vietnam & Cambodia, South America, and round-the-world.
Owen says: “Viking Ocean, most known for being a river cruise company, is a step up as a full premium experience on the oceans. Passengers are pretty much always people who are really all about the destination, including excursions. Destination-driven adults only; really cool itinerary. Great for people who want a refined experience, but not a company experience.”