What first comes to mind when you think of a luxury travel experience? Perhaps it’s an extended shopping trip through the ritziest corners of Paris. Maybe it’s a decadent blowout in Las Vegas or a decadent period of rest on the most exclusive resorts in the Caribbean.

Whatever it is, it’s very doubtful that a cruise is the first thing that came to mind. Embarking on a cruise trip typically conjures up images of being stacked shoulder-to-shoulder with retirees, sleeping in a rather Spartan, windowless cabin, and endless amounts of reheated buffet food. This, however, may no longer be the case in the near future. A trend is emerging across the travel industry which is seeing the idea of an extended cruise becoming an ever more popular option for those with some cash to burn.

This is because the industry is changing what it means to embark on a cruise, by overhauling the experience completely. According to a report in the Guardian, the cruise industry is working overtime to deliver an impossibly trendy, ultra-luxurious and, of course, Instagram-friendly alternative to traditional cruises. Gone are the days of zero WiFi and tacky stage performances, as cruise ships go all out to deliver glitz and glamour, including parties with the biggest DJs in the world, Michelin-star cooking and enough onboard boutiques to make Rodeo Drive look cheap.

These developments are incredibly recent, and while “ultra-luxury cruising” of this kind currently only accounts for around 28,000 passengers out of a total of 1 million in the UK, this number is rising rapidly. Let’s take a look at the shape of the luxury cruise industry today, to see if it really is set to become the next big travel craze.

Passengers on shore leave from their luxury cruise.
Passengers on shore leave from their luxury cruise.

The luxury lifestyle bible Frommer’s recently gave a glowing report of a thriving luxury cruise industry. While other mainstream companies have suffered since 2008, the ultra-luxury business is booming, with the number of companies and vessels skyrocketing in recent years. From just a few vessels catering solely to the 0.1% a few years ago, there are now hundreds of ships offering the luxury travel experience of a lifetime to those with deep enough pockets, with tickets rapidly selling out.

So what constitutes an ultra-luxury cruise in 2018, and why are people flocking to spend up to $15,000 a night on ships such as the Seven Seas Explorer (for which there is a lengthy waiting list)? There are a few things which characterise this new type of cruise; first off, they’re smaller and more exclusive than a regular cruise. A typical luxury cruise these days may often have just a few hundred people on board, as opposed to the monster-liners that try and cram up to 5000 people in one boat. This allows for more personal space and much more luxurious accommodations.

The most important defining aspect of the luxury cruise is the emphasis on experiences above all else. The ships themselves are floating palaces of luxury, spurning the cheap and tacky and opting for some of the finest chefs, DJs, musicians, cocktails and shopping in the world to keep their passengers occupied.

What’s more, the itineraries are just as geared towards these elevated tastes. Rather than a crash-course through the busiest ports of Europe, luxury cruises offer a carefully curated cultural experience, with a strong theme and an emphasis on sampling the very best of local cultures. A look at the aforementioned Seven Seas Explorer will bring up such alluring itineraries as “A Taste of Iberia”, “Sweet Caipirinhas and Fine Malbec” and “A Taste of the Riviera”. Rather than trying to cram in as much as possible, the luxury cruise offers the promise of an enriching and memorable experience worth paying for.

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What’s Driving this Growth?

So where has this trend come from? For one thing, the global rich have expanded massively in numbers in recent years, climbing almost 216% in the last few years. This has naturally fuelled demand for creative and immersive ways to enjoy such unprecedented wealth. What’s more, the new emphasis on experience over possessions has created a climate in which luxury cruises can flourish.

Private cruises have long been popular with the mega-rich, and the massive growth of the private yacht industry in the past five years is evidence of the growing appetite for luxurious seafaring. Betway’s ranking of the top luxury yachts for high rollers shows that insanely decadent private vessels with price tags to match are all the rage among the growing ranks of the wealthy – the PJ World comes in at an eye-watering $101 million. Being able to embark on an ultra-luxury cruise is naturally the next-best option for those who don’t quite have their own yacht, or would prefer to experience a voyage around the world in the company of other people.

Crucially, the age of the average cruise passenger is dropping. The cruise industry has long been shaped by the over-60s who make up their key demographic, but the new cruise ship passenger is likely to be considerably younger, with the BBC reporting unprecedented interest from millennials who would rather spend their hard-earned cash on once-in-a-lifetime experiences than material possessions.

Predictions for the Future

It’s impossible to say how long this boom will last, but one thing is for sure; with companies investing so much time and effort into creating a more exclusive, youth-oriented travel experience, we certainly haven’t seen the peak of this trend just yet.

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