With couples starting to book sailings again as travel slowly reopens, we reached out to small ship and river cruise lines that create intimate settings ideal for romantic getaways.
COVID-19 has undeniably changed the way we travel, but the reasons we vacation with the
ones we love are the same,” says Kristin Karst, AmaWaterways’ executive v.p. and cofounder. “Couples are looking to share new experiences together and create magical memories, and river cruising is one of the best ways to do so. The nature of river cruising guarantees an intimate, immersive experience. For example, our ships accommodate an average of about 150 guests, and our shore excursions are done in small groups.”
Small ship and river cruising have always been an ideal recommendation for couples, but now it’s a resounding recommendation, as travelers seek out even more private excursions, intimate spaces, and settings made for just the “two of us.” Betsy O’Rourke, CMO, Xanterra and Windstar Cruises, says smaller ships make for plenty of opportunities for “private togetherness.” They “offer an uncrowded experience for all guests, including couples—leaving lots of room for romance. On Windstar, it’s not uncommon to be the only people in a hot tub. Or the only ones you see walking on the deck or taking in a sunset. There are no lines to stand in, or tables to rush to reserve, deck chairs to vie for each day.”
As Oceania Cruises’ president and CEO Bob Binder says, “Larger ships simply cannot provide the pronounced ‘boutique hotel’ style, coziness and personalized vacation experience” travelers will be seeking in this new travel landscape.
Because of our size, Windstar’s yachts can tuck into small ports and hidden harbors unavailable to larger ships. Since they often dock right in town, you can come and go without a tender, making it easy to explore on your own and at your own leisurely pace. You don’t have to compete with thousands of other cruisers in port for the day, either. No jostling for space in the small shops, no elbowing your way along crowded sidewalks, no hunting for an unoccupied corner of beach for a romantic rendezvous.
— Betsy O’Rourke, Chief Marketing Officer, Xanterra and Windstar Cruises
The Perfect Setting
Binder points out that the Oceania fleet is the perfect setting for couples looking for a romantic getaway because its intimacy is complemented by “a wide variety of experiences both on board and on land, including gourmet dining options, expert-led classes at The Culinary Center, and unique shore excursions that allow couples to immerse themselves in local culture.” He adds that for “sweethearts celebrating a milestone, a popular choice to hold vow renewal ceremonies is in the elegant, English-style library.”
On board Crystal Esprit, meanwhile, Mark Spillane, director, sales and marketing for Crystal Yacht & Crystal Expedition Cruises, points to the culinary experiences, which, he says, “is one of the yacht’s best highlights. The Patio Cafe features many tables for two, including on the terrace for dining alfresco. This is a really special treat for couples to enjoy lunch while anchored in one of the many beautiful harbors. The Yacht Club Restaurant offers many tables for two for couples to enjoy the Michelin-inspired farm-to-table cuisine,” and, he adds, “guests can enjoy meals in the tranquility of their suite with In Suite Dining.”
Of course, in-room dining will no doubt become more popular in this new normal, and O’Rourke says that at Windstar, they’ll be “encouraging this option even more now and adding new items to the menu. Amphora’s full dinner menu will be available for room service. Couples can indulge in the made-to-order items and enjoy it in bed or in their seating area.” She also adds that couples can still have “date night” at Candles, watching the sun set over a postcard harbor, noting that “tables are spread out from other diners, and we’ll be offering expanded meal times to ensure even fewer tables are occupied at any one time in all our venues.”
Private Shore Excursions
It’ll be no surprise to our readers that once “travelers start thinking about planning their trips post-COVID, it’s likely that travel companies will be seeing an increase in the demand for more intimate and private experiences,” as Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, points out. And private excursions will be at the top of that list.
Karst agrees with Bettridge, pointing to what she thinks will be an “increased demand for visiting ‘off the beaten path’ destinations that offer more personalized experiences.” She says couples sailing with AmaWaterways can take bike rides along a quiet riverside path, or they can opt for long solitary bikes through fairytale-like settings where castles were built, and kings and queens were crowned. Even if they decide to join the group shore excursions, they are no more than 15 to 20 guests, so they are “intimate in nature,” she says.
Couples are looking for a vacation experience that provides impeccable service, amazing dining experiences, opportunities to immerse themselves into this wonderful world, all while creating life-long memories together.
— Mark Spillane, Director, Sales and Marketing, Crystal Yacht & Crystal Expedition Cruises
Couples sailing on board Crystal Esprit can also “choose from the included shore excursions,” says Spillane, “or for the ultimate private experience they can arrange a custom tour or excursion through our Destination team.” And private excursions on an Oceania cruise, says Binder, can mean everything from a sailing escapade in Papeete, Tahiti to a gourmet dinner at St. Regis Bora Bora or a 4-course meal accompanied with wine at a manor in Bordeaux.
O’Rourke says that this new landscape/demand for more exclusive outings meshes well with Windstar’s new array of shore excursions. “Our Beyond Ordinary tours are comprised of the most over-the-top experiences that deserve to be called ‘once in a lifetime,’ such as a panoramic helicopter flight from Monte Carlo that transports guests to Alain Ducasse’s La Bastide de Moustiers in Provence for a Michelin-starred lunch. A bit less high-flying but still exceptional is an excursion in Roses, Spain, with access to the Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery for a private yoga session on the rooftop, followed by brunch with views of the Mediterranean Sea.”
All of these intimate experiences coupled with new health and safety protocols that the cruise lines are putting in place along every touchpoint, allows for confident bookings for when your clients are ready to book romantic sailings again.
Crystal Cruises: crystalcruises.com
Oceania Cruises: oceaniacruises.com
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: uniworld.com
Windstar Cruises: windstarcruises.com