Spotlight on Asian cruise trips

With lines resuming their operations on the Mekong and Singapore welcoming its first cruise ship carrying international guests in two years this summer, Jane Archer explores the region’s reopening for river and ocean

Remember Asia? That exotic eastern land that wowed thousands of cruisers – almost 76,000 from the UK and Ireland in 2019 alone, says Clia – with its food, colour and culture before the pandemic? Hopefully, yes, because after two-and-a-half years, Asia is back on the cruise radar and it’s time to sell the region again.

River lines have been first to press the restart button, with voyages on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as on the Ganges and Brahmaputra in India, already under way.

River restarts

Lotus Cruises, CroisiEurope and Viking restarted on the Mekong in August, Uniworld makes its Mekong and Ganges return in September (page 30), and Emerald Cruises, Riviera Travel, AmaWaterways and Avalon Waterways are back on the Mekong in October.

Also in October, Avalon returns to the Ganges and Assam Bengal Navigation restarts on the Brahmaputra. The Mekong was the top-selling river in Asia before the pandemic, attracting some 6,200 Britons in 2018, according to Clia, so it’s no surprise that it’s the one most companies are bringing back first.


AmaWaterways says confidence in travel to Asia has “definitely” returned, with the Mekong now the line’s bestselling river for the UK market for sailings next year. “Our guests are choosing the pre and post-cruise options of Ho Chi Minh City, Siem Reap, Hanoi and Halong Bay to maximise their exploration, opting for up to 15 nights in Vietnam and Cambodia,” says UK managing director Jamie Loizou.

Noting demand for October and November this year as well as 2023 and 2024, Emerald Cruises brand and marketing global director David Winterton reckons travellers are “itching” to explore again. Chris Townson, Uniworld’s managing director for the UK and Europe, agrees: “2023 feels like the year of the bucket list, as guests plan that long-haul trip they haven’t been able to do for three years.”

But Asia’s return is more of a marathon than a sprint. APT and Travelmarvel are not restarting on the Mekong until January 2023 due to what Brad Bennetts, head of sales and business development, calls a “degree of trepidation” among clients about committing to longer-haul travel.

Asia’s return is more of a marathon than a sprint

He says the focus for APT in Asia is getting the Mekong cruises up and running but promises other “outstanding destinations” will then be reintroduced, along with some new ones. He hopes the lines’ all-inclusive packages will spur nervous Brits to return to long-haul travel. APT has built more into its all-inclusive fares package, with new free airport lounge access.

The line’s fares already include home-to-airport transfers, flights, overseas transfers, drinks, tips, Wi-Fi and all excursions. For clients who are ready to return, there are some exciting new ships and itineraries to try.

APT has the Mekong Serenity, a new 88-passenger ship; Travelmarvel is introducing Apsara, which formerly sailed as AmaLotus for APT and holds up to 108 passengers. Viking hasAsia river cruise specialist Pandaw, which closed in October 2021 due to the pandemic but is back with new investment, is building a second ship to sail the Red River between Halong Bay and Hoa Binh in northern Vietnam.

Cruises restart in September 2022, on the 32-passenger Angkor Pandaw. New 20-berth ship Song Hong, meaning Red River, will enter service mid-2023. Pandaw’s cruises on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia and in Laos, and on the Ganges in India are due to restart in October 2022, with the Brahmaputra – a new itinerary for the line – launching November 2023.


Ocean sailings

Singapore is emerging as the most popular turnaround port as ocean cruising resumes. The city welcomed its first sailing with international guests in more than two years in July, with the Singapore Tourism Board saying that it expects cruise to be back at pre-pandemic levels “in 2023 or 2024”.

Marella Cruises is basing a ship in Singapore for the first time from December 2023, offering 14-night sailings on adult-only Marella Explorer 2. These call into Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, and include an overnight in Singapore.

“We’re offering the full flavour of southeast Asia,” says Tui UK managing director of cruise Chris Hackney. Silversea Cruises is returning to Singapore for its Asia sailings in September 2022, and pairs the port with Ho Chi Minh City, Bali and Laem Chabang (Bangkok) among a host of other places at the end of this year and early 2023.

Singapore is emerging as the most popular turnaround port

However, as with river cruising, there’s still a mixed picture among ocean lines. Regent Seven Seas and Seabourn have a couple of cruises at the end of this year, but large ocean lines have held back. Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line have scrapped some of their planned 2022-23 Asia sailings, blaming ongoing challenges and uncertainty in the region.

There is still plenty in 2023 to attract clients, though – including the new port of Celukan in Indonesia from Celebrity and New Year celebrations in Ho Chi Minh City from Seabourn. So for next year, all eyes are back on the East.

PICTURES: Shutterstock/CravenA, Lena Serditova, Richie Chan

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