“Taking a world cruise means ticking off your whole bucket list in one trip,” says Nancy Zimmerman — and she should know. She’s about to set sail, for the second time, on what many would call the best gig in the world: Hosting a group onboard a Silversea world cruise.
In 2017, Signature Travel Network asked Zimmerman to provide an extra level of support to their customers by going along on a 106-day cruise. An independent agent and luxury specialist who books through Preferred Travel in Naples, Florida, Zimmerman arranged to have her own clients supported by another agent — and set sail for almost four months on the high seas.
“I have hosted long cruises before, but this was an opportunity very few travel agents get, and it was a real honor to do it,” Zimmerman said. “Once you are into it, you truly pick up the momentum. The ship becomes like a floating home; you get to know everybody, it becomes a Peyton Place on the ocean.”
The crowd tends to be older, largely female and more international than one might expect, Zimmerman said. There were doctors, titled royalty, a romance novel writer, a young couple who rented out their house on the beach in Santa Barbara and used the money to pay their fare. A pair of friends share a suite onboard every other year. An internet mogul used his suite as their personal Uber, getting on and off for a few days as the ship sailed around the globe, and he rented another next door so his friends and family could drop in for a few days each to visit.
“This is definitely a growing market; people see real value in world cruises,” Zimmerman said, and each cruise line has its own niche. Oceania specializes in overnights, she said, giving you time to immerse yourself a little into the culture. Silversea is known more for the variety of its destinations, which include all seven continents; and its male hosts, who act as dance partners for the ladies. Holland America is the most affordable, as it offers inside cabins.
More than half of the 380 passengers on Zimmerman’s Silversea cruise were on the world cruise — and unlike the short-termers who came and went, they had a camaraderie all their own. “When you come on for a segment, everyone is happy to see a new face — but you are not part of the same rhythm,” she said.
They take bridge classes together, and attend the “great entertainment and great lectures.” For Passover, Zimmerman worked with the chef for a month to kosher a kitchen and upgrade the traditional dishes to world-class cuisine; then she brought a rabbi onboard to host a seder for 40.
“I don’t know if it’s for everybody,” she acknowledges. “It’s hard to keep in touch; the WiFi is good but the time difference is a big problem. But the hardest thing, because I’m very busy with clients and with charity work, is that when you are away for that long, you miss things. You miss a wedding; you miss a baby being born.”
Still, it’s worth it, she says. “You will see more in that one cruise than you’d see in 10 or 20 years of traveling. You don’t have to get the most luxurious suite on the most luxurious ship. You don’t have to be a gazillionaire.”
How to find the right customer
Many travel advisors report that world cruise clients find them rather than the other way around. But for those looking to get into this lucrative niche, Holland America’s Eva Jenner suggests scouring your customer database for clients who already are taking longer vacations or who are newly retired, “clients who have the time, the money and the interest in taking a longer cruise.” Then start off by introducing a shorter ‘Grand Voyage’ or a segment or two of the ‘World Cruise.’
“Once your clients have a taste of what it’s like, once they see how many places they can see, it really piques their interest. And they move onto doing a longer trip — and come back year after year,” she said.
Meanwhile, travel advisor Toni Day is taking a sabbatical from her agency to sail an Oceania world cruise. About half of the 300 guests are onboard for the entire trips, she said, and it’s “like settling into a new neighborhood. I love feeling like a local in this special community, and the crew and onboard entertainers have become my adopted family.”
So sure, the WiFi is a little iffy. The streaming package is pricey, so she’s not watching much TV, and she’s wishing there was a pop music band. But she’s happily learning to cook and play bridge — and seeing the world.
Route: Italy, France, Spain, Canary Islands, Barbados, Aruba, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Pitcairn Island, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Oman, Jordan, Greece.
Comments from Scott Knutson, vice president of sales and marketing for Costa Cruises North America:
“Our ‘Around the World’ voyages are extremely popular, selling out shortly after they go on sale each year. This type of extended voyage attracts travelers who are explorers who want to see all corners of the globe, learn about new cultures, meet new people and have experiences that leave lasting impressions. Guests on a world cruise skew to more seasoned guests who have the time and the means to take a long voyage. However, in recent years we’re seeing all ages onboard as people seek a break to travel the world. Technical advances in WiFi connectivity also make it more feasible for working cruisers to get away, but still stay in touch. In 2020, we’re excited to return Costa Deliziosa to world cruising after a five-year absence.
Dates: Jan. 6 to Apr. 21, 2020.
Route: Miami, Columbia, Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, Los Angeles, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Oman, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Italy.
Comments: “This 105-day voyage, Crystal Cruises‘ 25th ‘World Cruise,’ will visit 47 cities in 23 countries. The world cruise has consistently been among our most popular itineraries. We’ve always seen tremendous interest in the full voyages, which sail up to 139 days, and continue to see this trend growing as the luxury customer evolves. Crystal’s full ‘World Cruise’ guests are an increasingly diverse group, just like the luxury travel audience overall. As technology makes it easier than ever to stay connected anywhere in the world, more luxury travelers are increasingly indulging their dreams to embark on truly remarkable experiences. World cruises are the ultimate ‘life list’ experience.
“There’s a romance to sailing the world, and Crystal has always done a wonderful job of maximizing this mystique, with exclusive private events in exotic places like Wadi Rum and Ephesus. It’s ultimately one of the most extraordinary vacation experiences one can have. Our 2019 full ‘World Cruise’ is sold out, with the individual segments almost sold out, as well. Every world cruise itinerary is unique, which serves to entice many guests to sail year after year, as well as attract new travelers. The 2019 voyage is fantastic for travelers who want adventure, exploring South Africa, Madagascar, the Australian Outback, Fiji and Hawaii, as well as cultural epicenters like Barcelona.”
Dates: Jan. 4 to May 12, 2020 (129 days roundtrip Fort Lauderdale).
Route: Fort Lauderdale, Dominica, Saint Lucia, French Guiana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Islas Malvinas, Antartica, Argentina, Chile, Pitcairn, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, Kenya, Tanzania, Mayotte, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Saint Helena, Ascension Island, Barbados, Guadaloupe, Puerto Rico, Fort Lauderdale.
Comments from Eva Jenner, VP sales: “Our 2020 ‘World Cruise’ has been sold out for a while now, and so have a lot of the segments. It’s such a lovely way to see the world, with the safety of a ship, so if there is an issue anywhere, we can just avoid it. We review our itineraries every year, take into account what our guests say, and consider places we haven’t gone to in a few years, because many of our guests sail with us every year. We were the first to include Antarctica several years ago. We’ve definitely seen a rise in popularity, and many guests book a future cruise while onboard (and of course travel advisors get the commission). We will be announcing 2021 shortly, and again, expect it to sell out.”
Route: Miami, Cuba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Los Angeles, Hawaii, French Polynesia, American Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, UAE, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy, France, Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal, England, Ireland, Shetland Islands, Denmark, Greenland, Canada, Bar Harbor, Boston, New York.
Comments from EVP James Rodriguez: “World cruise business continues to diversify – don’t put world cruise clients into a bucket or stereotype. Thanks to technology, a lot of c-suite executives, entrepreneurs and professionals are traveling. Our average age is 67, but we’ve had travelers as young as 39 and we’ve had families with children. It’s a unique experience that is appealing to a wider swath of consumers, and agents should change their thinking and approach. They will be surprised at how many potential world cruise clients there are.”
Ship: Seabourn Sojourn.
Route: In 2020, Seabourn will return to world cruising for the first time in five years, with the longest cruise in its history. The route is: Miami, Colombia, Aruba, Bonaire, Mayreau, Barbados, Cape Verde, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Seychelles, Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Pulau Weh, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Philippines, Bali, Komodo, Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, Tutuila, Hawaii, San Francisco.
Comment from Chris Austin, VP of global marketing sales: “Our 2020 ‘World Cruise’ is really going to be a hit with our loyal Seabourn guests, and also those who may not have traveled with us in the past but have heard about the unparalleled onboard experience from family and friends. This upcoming voyage of 146 days is a combination of marquee cities of the world with some really engaging port calls in less-traveled places like Africa, where we will make a number of stops on the east and west coasts. A world cruise is ideal for anyone who wants to have an immersive varied experience; is retired; who usually rents a winter home for a number of months; or wants to return to their favorite resort at sea. Guests will circumnavigate the globe with an intimate group of curious, like-minded travelers to 62 unique ports on five continents. This trip is sure to create some lasting memories and friendships.”
Ship: Silver Cloud.
Route: The line will launch the first expedition world cruise in 2021, with details to come.
Comments: “This itinerary is crafted to connect the most rewarding travel experiences around the planet. This experience-focused expedition will appeal to those with a passion for discovery, who like to stay active on their travels, and continue to challenge their own sense of adventure. From Ushuaia to Tromsø, the voyage will call at 107 of the planet’s most amazing destinations, in 30 must-visit countries—including six new ports of call for Silversea (Naxos, Folegandros, Nafpaktos, Ksamil, Bejaïa, and Fort William). The 2-bedroom Owner’s Suite on Silver Cloud is offered at a price just short of US $1 million for the entire ‘World Cruise.’”
Route: In 2019, Viking Ocean Cruises will debut a whopping 245-day “World Cruise.” Visits: Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Norway, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Boston, New York, Bermuda, Antigua, Dominica, St. Kitts, Saint Martin, Tortola, Puerto Rico, Barbados, French Guiana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Falkland Islands, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, California, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Malta, Italy, Algeria, Spain, Portugal, England.
Comments from Chairman Torstein Hagen: “For two decades, we have continued to expand our destination-focused itineraries to new regions of the world, so as our fleet grows, it is a natural progression for us to offer grand voyages of this scope for our guests. Our guests are experienced travelers who want to explore the world in comfort; our offerings allow them to be immersed in the cultures of the world when they are onshore and when they are onboard our award-winning fleet of sister ships. Our ‘World Cruises’ offer guests the rare opportunity to unpack once and explore dozens of the best destinations on earth – at a value that is unprecedented in the travel industry.