Sail Away: 10 Cool Cruises for 2014…

31st January 2014
Pól Ó Conghaile

1) The Weezer Cruise: Bahamas

Cruises have come a long way from floating bingo palaces.

The Weezer Cruise sees the legendary US indie band take the helm of Carnival Fascination for a four-night cruise around the Bahamas. Other artists set to perform include Cat Power, Ash and Palma Violets, and there’s a private island beach party too. It’s a similar idea to the ‘SS Coachella’, which saw Pulp and Hot Chip entertain passengers during a festival-at-sea in December 2012.

The party sails from Florida on February 13th.

What to say: ‘Encore!’

What not to say: ‘Is there an advanced napkin-folding class?’

Details: theweezercruise.com; from $649/€475pp (flights extra).

2) M/S Expedition: The Arctic Circle

ms expedition
M/S Expedition (picture from Wikimedia Commons) is a ship that does what it says on the tin.

G Adventures’ specialist expedition ship is tailormade for intrepid voyages into the Arctic Circle, although the spacious cabins offer 140 lucky passengers a surprisingly comfortable experience for its 105m size (everyone gets ocean views, en-suites, and there’s a fleet of Zodiacs for exploring along the way).

An eight-night expedition to the Svalbard archipelago includes flights and seven nights of walking expeditions, iceberg encounters, expert lectures and a good possibility of polar bear sightings. It departs August 22nd.

What to say: ‘I’m so glad I bought the split-image filter.’

What not to say: ‘Where are the penguins?

Details: trailfinders.ie/cruises; from €2,349pp (flights included).

3) Saga Cruises: Spirit of France

saga, cool cruises, cruise holidays

Saga has a Spirit of France cruise departing Dover on July 1st, with stops along the Atlantic Coast and the Channel Island of Guernsey. Wine tasting in Bordeaux, German naval sites (2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy) and medieval towns are all on the cards over the course of the leisurely, child-free cruise.

Saga is a good line for over-50s seeking quality food, gently intrepid itineraries and high levels of service and comfort. Potential ’Saganauts’ can book this and similar itineraries through John Galligan Travel.

What to say: ‘See you at 10pm in the Card Room.’

What not to say: ‘Let’s bring the grandkids.’

Details: jgt.ie; from £1,274/€1,542pp (flights included).

4) Mind, Body & Soul: New Orleans to Barcelona

thomas cook, cool cruises

Looking for a reboot? What about a 16-day wellness cruise crammed with fitness classes, expert dietary advice, cutting-edge vitamin supplementation and regular lectures on the art of life balance?

Thomas Cook Cruise has a ‘Mind Body Connection’ cruise departs New Orleans on April 26th, with stops in St. Maarten, Tenerife and Malaga before disgorging the brand new you in Barcelona. Cruise-only prices on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas start at €589pp, with free classes including yoga, tai chi and meditation. Flights are extra at €679pp.

What to say: ‘Where do I sign up for yoga?’

What not to say: ‘Where’s the soft-serve yoghurt?’

Details: thomascook.ie/cruise; from €589pp (flights extra).

5) Disney Dream: The Bahamas

disney dream, cruise holidays

Royal Caribbean may be the best cruise line for teens, but Disney wins hands down when it comes to younger families. The Mouse is very definitely in the house on Disney Dream, a 2,500-passenger ship launched in 2011, with Disney stage shows, characters, kids’ clubs, AquaDuck watercoasters, dining at the Royal Palace only the start of the treats for your pint-sized princes and princesses.

American Holidays has seven nights at the three-star Rosen Inn in Orlando, followed by a three-night taster cruise on Disney Dream for travel this September – but don’t worry, there are adult-only pools, nightclubs and restaurants too (even if they are called Palo and Remy).

What to say: ‘Faith, trust and pixie dust!’

What not to say: ‘They’re stealing our souls, one princess pull-up at a time.’

Details: americanholidays.com; from €979pp (flights included).

6) Queen Victoria: Auckland to Southampton

queen victoria, cunard, cruise

Does seven days sound like a short cruise to you? Perhaps you’re the type who’s just getting started after two weeks on the ocean? Then try Cunard’s mammoth 47-day itinerary from New Zealand to the UK.

The Queen Victoria sets sail on March 14th, crossing the International Date Line and several thousand miles of ocean, with stops in Hawaii, San Francisco, Panama, Florida and Portugal before arriving in Southampton. This is a cruise line with a venerable heritage, so expect a ‘Golden Era’ feel with plenty of formal nights, British traditions and upscale interiors.

What to say: ‘Champagne, darling?’

What not to say: ‘Do you have any dubstep?”

Details: cruiseholidays.ie; from €6,611pp (flights included).

7) Christmas Markets: River Danube

uniworld, river cruise

Yes, there are 335-odd days to Christmas. But you wouldn’t believe how fast river cruises for November and December sell out… particularly when itineraries take in the holiday markets of Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Uniworld currently has a sale on eight-day river cruises from Budapest to Passau over three departure dates in November and December. The River Danube route is enchanting, with 158 passengers visiting Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and Salzburg with plenty of classical music and shopping opportunities along the way. Meals, drinks, gratuities and excursions are included… though flights and single cabins are extra

What to say: ‘Ocean cruises are so mass-market’.

What not to say: ‘I hate Christmas.’

Details: uniworld.ie; from €2,429pp (flights extra).

8) Azmara Club Cruises: Grand Prix Voyage

azmara, cruise, holiday

Cruising was once seen as the preserve of “the newly-wed, over-fed and nearly-dead”.

How times have changed. Not only do we now have ships carrying ice rinks, central parks and rock-climbing walls, but themes ranging from cougar cruises to Antarctic knitting cruises. Azmara Club has an eight-night voyage taking in Tuscany, Barcelona and the rivieras before arriving in style for Race Sunday at the Monaco Grand Prix on May 25th.

The cruise departs Civitavecchia (Rome) on May 19th, and you can expect smaller vessels with personalised service (suite guests get an English butler) with Azmara. Grand Prix tickets are not included.

What to say: ‘Are you going to Tosca in Livorno?’

What not to say: ‘Can I borrow your binoculars?’

Details: azmaraclubcruises.com; from $3,099/€2,268pp (flights extra).

9) Fred Olsen: Canaries Meteor Showers

FRED OLSEN, cruise

Fred Olsen specialises in intimate, understated and traditionally British cruising experiences, but there are some surprising itineraries in the mix. Last December, for instance, passengers on the Black Watch accompanied a former Cold War intelligence specialist on a 10-day espionage-themed cruise.

This August, a 13-night Canary Islands cruise is timed to coincide with peak-time for the Perseid meteor showers. The voyage sets off from Dover, with stops including Madeira, Lisbon, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria.

What to say: ‘I’d love a cup of tea.’

What not to say: ‘What does ‘smart casual’ mean, anyway?’

Details: fredolsencruises.com; £989/€1,187pp (flights extra).

10) Strictly Come Dancing: Canary Islands

P&O oriana, cruises

Cool cruises mean different things to different people. For the 1,800 or so passengers joining Craig Revel Horwood and a squadron of professional dancers on P&O Oriana this April, however, it means one thing: Strictly Come Dancing.

Departing April 20th for a 14-night tour of Portugal, Spain and The Canary Islands, the themed cruise offers fans the chance to test their dance skills, as well as star interviews, an exhibition of dresses from the show and a chance to take part in a competition to perform live on stage with the Strictly team. Book in January, and you get €200 in onboard credit.

What to say: ‘Three words… Fab-u-lous!’

What not to say: ‘Isn’t this all a bit, erm, cheesy?’

Details: pocruises.com; from £1,149/€1,383pp (flights extra).

NB: All prices correct going to press, but subject to availability. This feature originally appeared in The Irish Independent.