One in five under-25s said to be considering a holiday afloat as operators revamp their image to appeal to 'party animals'
It might be hard to think of anything less conventionally "cool", but according to Abta, the travel industry body, a record number of young people want to go on a cruise. The average age of British cruisers is 56 – the highest it has been for a decade – but Abta reports a surprising leap in the number of 16- to 24-year-olds who are considering cruising instead of larging it in Ibiza or Malia.
The trade body, which represents more than 5,000 travel agencies, says that one in five under-25s are considering a holiday on the high seas this year – nearly three times the number that went cruising last year.
Cruise ships, say the travel experts, have finally "shaken off their old, staid image" and now many are "like floating theme parks, perfect for party animals". Many have ditched cabarets and black-tie dinners at the captain's table in favour of all-night parties, rock climbing, assault courses and surfing lessons in on-board simulators.
Coachella, the annual Californian indie rock festival, has even taken to the high seas. Pulp, the band best known for the 1995 hit Common People, headlined the maiden SS Coachella voyage from Florida to the Bahamas last winter. "If someone told us 15 years ago we'd be singing this [Common People] on a cruise," frontman Jarvis Cocker said from the deck of the ship, "I'd have said, are you sure?"
A trip on the SS Coachella, which also featured Hot Chip, Yeasayer and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, cost from $500 per person, sharing a cabin for four (the closest thing to camping on a luxury ship) to $9,000 per person for a "sky suite" with a veranda.
Carnival, which operates 23 liners, boasts "there's always a reason to party on a Carnival cruise!" "You won't be surprised that we take our pool and deck parties very seriously, and pull out all the stops to keep things kickin'," it says in its promotional material. "From live music to lively DJs, fun fellow cruisers to bubbly social hosts, and some of the greatest vistas this side of shore, open-air party-time is the time – and place – to be."
Phil Evans, managing director of cruise tour operator CruiseNation, says there is a "huge trend in young people going on cruises". He said cruise lines were overhauling facilities and ripping out old-fashioned decor to make boats more appealing to younger people, but admitted that the principal attraction was how cheap a cruise trip could be when compared with do-it-yourself holidays.
"People are very savvy about going out and finding the cheapest flights and cheapest hotels, but some are starting to realise it can be cheaper to do it with a tour group," he said. "We are offering a week's summer cruise for £399. People are saying, 'actually, I'm getting loads included in the price and it's cheaper than a week in Majorca'."
More adventurous trips are also popular, with the company's bestselling holiday being a trip that starts in Hawaii, followed by a flight to Alaska, a five-night wilderness cruise and then a train back down the Pacific coast. Evans said the average age of passengers on the trip, which costs from £1,500 for 15 nights, was 35, with many couples in their 20s. He said the real boom had been among 24- to 30-year-olds, but it is "growing in the early 20s too; the ages keep coming down and down". He said the average age of his passengers a decade ago was "55, if not higher".
He admitted that many of his younger customers get mocked by their mates for going on cruises, but says the critics eat their words when they hear about the trips. "My friends used to take the piss out of me all the time for going on cruises, but now they say, 'wow that's amazing!'"
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image: © Dave Herholz