Published: 11:18, 07 January 2015
Cruising brings more than £2.5 billion a year to the British economy – it’s the fastest-growing niche in the holiday market and now Richard Branson has announced he will be entering the business.
Richard Branson has confirmed the launch of Virgin Cruises with $1.7m funding for two new ships. It was perhaps inevitable the entrepreneur would enter the foray to get a full house with Trains and Boats and Planes.
Branson promises to ‘change cruising’ for ever although a start date for operations has not yet been announced.
The ships will be based in Miami or Fort Lauderdale and Branson said: “We plan to shake up the cruise industry and deliver a holiday customers will absolutely love. They'll be sailing on the latest ships offering great quality, a sense of fun, and exciting activities."
P&O’s flagship Britannia will be christened in Southampton in March and is the talk of the cruise industry. The 3,600-passenger ship is the biggest ship built for the British market and has the world’s largest contemporary version of the Union Flag emblazoned on her bow.
Southampton will be her home port and celebrity chefs James Martin, Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhara and master patisierre Eric Lanlard have signed up as Britannia’s 'Food Heroes’. They will be making guest appearances on the ship as well as being represented in the restaurants, cookery school and market café. The the Cs – cheese, charcuterie and chocolate will be big on Britannia, plus there will be a choice of 70 beers and ciders in Brodie’s Bar.
If you love music and dance, the Crystal Room with its rich wood dance floors, glistening chandeliers and collection of dance memorabilia will put a spring in your step. More glitz comes in the atrium with a giant starburst sculpture and spiral staircase. There’s a seriously stylish spa, theatre with LED wall, four pools, gym and a £1m art collection featuring many new British artists on the five-star floating hotel.
James Martin will sail on these cruises: Maiden cruise, 14 to 28 March; Mediterranean, 13 to 27 June; British Isles, 6 to 18 July; Iberia, 14 to 25 September; Mediterranean, 9 to 23 October. Eric Lanlard will also be on the maiden cruise; plus Guernsey, Spain and France, 23 to 30 May; Canary Islands, 25 September to 9 October; Caribbean transatlantic, 23 October to 6 November.
Robotic ballet-dancing bartenders, dodgems and a flight simulator. Royal Caribbean’s 4,800-passenger Quantum of the Seas is all about fun. It is also the most technically advanced cruise ship - there’s no check-in counter, no forms to fill in and no queues - passengers will be in their cabins within 10-15 minutes of arriving at the terminal, tracking their luggage on a mobile phone app.
Once on board guests can take a ride in the North Star, a pod which transports passengers more than 300ft above the ship, or get your highs from a dazzling Broadway-style show. There are 18 restaurants including Jamie’s Italian, serving dishes created by TV chef Jamie Oliver.
Passengers with an inside cabin will get a ‘sea view’ thanks to full-length screens creating virtual balconies showing real-time images from the ship. New sister ship Anthem of the Seas will arrive in Southampton in April, offering a three-night sample cruise, Paris and Bruges, from £529
Star turn: Viking River Cruises enters the ocean cruise market in May with Viking Star, a new 928-passenger ship which will be launched in Bergen, Norway. The luxury vessel is already sold out for 2015 but there are two more ships on order so bookings should eventually become easier. Viking Star is a classy ship with an infinity pool at the stern and a chilled room in the spa with ‘real’ snowflakes falling through the air.
Take it slow on Ol' Man River: Step aboard the American Queen paddlewheel steamboat and slip into the slow pace of the life on the Mississippi during a cruise to Memphis. Saga, the over-50s holiday firm, is offering a new Soul of the Mississippi 12-night escorted cruise and tour from £3,099. Spend two nights in New Orleans to set tone for this journey through the Old South. In Memphis, the birthplace of rock’n’roll, do not miss Elvis’s Graceland and call in to Sun Studio to savour the atmosphere of the 1950s music scene.
Royal debut: Regal Princess, sister ship to the Royal Princess christened by the Duchess of Cambridge, comes into service this winter and offers a royal tour of Scandinavia in May. The 3,560-passenger ship debuts in Copenhagen and sails to Oslo, Tallinn, Helsinki and Berlin.
Sailings for singles: Former Dartford-based Cruise & Maritime, now based over the river in Purfleet will introduce 1,250-passenger Magellan to its fleet this spring. Look out for Introductory fares with savings of up to 50% plus there is a generous proportion of cabins for solo passengers with 25% single supplement deal. Magellan’s maiden CMV voyage will be a 12-night cruise to Iceland and the Faroes for the Solar Eclipse and Northern Lights sailing from London Tilbury on March 15
Caribbean dream: Thomson Dream has just undergone a makeover of its sun decks and lounges and has added a new restaurant, the Asian-themed Kora La. Thomson is only UK cruise line operating out of Montego Bay and offers five new Caribbean itineraries in 2015, including Cuba.
Three Queens: Cunard’s three ships, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria will sail in to Liverpool and rendezvous on the Mersey for the first time on May 25. If you can’t take a cruise, it’s free to take a look from the riverside.
India by river: Sail on RV Ganges Voyager during a new 16-day holiday with APT, named Best River Cruise Line at the Telegraph Travel Awards. The holiday includes a seven-night Lower Ganges river cruise, taking a round-trip of West Bengal to visit Mother Theresa’s house and the former French colony of Chandenagor. The luxury river cruiser carries 56 passengers and the pre-cruise tour takes in the Taj Mahal, Agra and Jaipur. Price starts from £5,995.