Industry specialists say world cruises are gaining in popularity among well-heeled travelers who no longer want to hold off on bucket list trips and once-in-a-lifetime vacations until the economy fully recovers.
These extended cruises, which typically depart in January, range from 90 to 120 nights in duration, and offer travelers the chance to visit some of the world's most exotic and far-flung ports at a leisurely pace.
Who's taking them?
"The demographic for world cruises is affluent and retired," said Diane Blair Hickey, co-owner of World Cruises and Travel, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, who's booked clients on multiple world cruises. "They need both the time and money to be able to take long trips."
Hickey had a client recently return from a 72-day Asia itinerary on Holland America Line's ms Amsterdam, which cost about $53,300. Another went on a 94-day cruise on Cunard Line's Queen Victoria ship that cost about $46,081.
"People are deciding they want to use their money to create memories and experience the world in a different way" said Maggie Blehert, a spokeswoman for Seattle, Wash.-based luxury cruise agency Cruise Specialists. "And they want to do it now."
The world cruise appeal goes beyond the destinations.
"[Destination] is a huge part of it, but it's a lot more than that," Blehert said. "It's the community, [passengers] form on it, and it's not just a vacation, it's a lifestyle."
Cruise Specialists had 120 passengers booked on Holland America's ms Amsterdam, which left Port Everglades Saturday on a 113-day world cruise scheduled to visit 38 ports across five continents.
Among them were Fort Lauderdale retirees Richard and Connie Mayhill, who were on their third world cruise — their first with Holland America.
"We've always enjoyed the sea days," said Richard Mayhill of the world cruises. "It's a lot of fun."
The couple was excited about meeting up with friends they'd met on previous world cruises, and also to going on a Kenyan safari during the trip, Richard Mayhill said.
Florida Keys residents Dieter and Ilse Gerlach were also among the ms Amsterdam world cruisers.
"You meet the most interesting people," said Dieter Gerlach of the cruise's appeal. "It's very nice… everything is taken care of and we enjoy the activities."
Some industry insiders say world cruise prices have dropped in recent years because of the early booking discounts and other incentives offered during the recession to reinvigorate demand.
Several cruise lines now offer all-inclusive pricing, while others include perks such as free airfare and shore excursions and other freebies if customers book early.
Fares for ms Amsterdam's 113-day world cruise for example started at $20,000 per person, double occupancy. That compares to fares from $499 per person for a 7-day Holland America Eastern Caribbean cruise departing Fort Lauderdale Jan. 18.
Still, the skies the limit for some world cruise passengers when it comes to cost.
A passenger recently paid about $1.5 million for an all-inclusive stay with butler service in the largest Crystal Penthouse suite aboard the Crystal Serenity cruise ship for an upcoming world cruise, said Dmitri Iliukhin, a Serenity crew member during a recent Miami ship tour.
The 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity left PortMiami Sunday on a 13-day cruise to Los Angeles where it'll depart Jan. 18 on its 89-day world cruise that ends in London.
In 2008, about 150 people traveled on Crystal world cruises, today, there are more than 600, Iliukhin noted.
Some lines even offer longer experiences.
Oceania Cruises' first 180-day World Odyssey voyage will depart Miami Jan. 10, 2015 on its 684-guest Insignia cruise ship, visiting 44 countries and feature 89 ports of call. Cruise fares started at $40,000 per person double occupancy. The cruise sold out in less than eight hours after it went on sale.
Miami-based industry specialist Stewart Chiron of CruiseGuy.com said both the length of the cruise and the fact that a second one was announced for July 2015 is unusual but exemplifies Oceania's cult-like following.
"Oceania does things a lot differently than anyone else and provide an experience they believe isn't like anything else," Chiron said. "They don't try to mimic anyone."
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