Most people envision four or five days at sea sunbathing in the Caribbean when they think of a cruise vacation. Joyce Halee had only just begun her journey at that point.
“Two weeks is a short cruise,” said Halee, 78. The retired legal secretary spends much of her time on cruise ships, sailing alone on long voyages that can last more than 80 days. Halee, who lives in Sun City West, Arizona, enjoys both the camaraderie that longer sailings foster among passengers and crew, as well as the easy access they provide to far-flung destinations like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
“They’re just fantastic because you get to see all these places you’d never see otherwise unless you sat on a plane for 12 hours, which I don’t like to do,” she explained.
Halee is one of many travellers who enjoy long cruises that last from a few weeks to several months, and some cruise lines have noticed an increase in interest in those itineraries. They are currently updating their offerings to reflect this.
‘I believe the camaraderie is definitely stronger.’
After they both retired, Steve Miller and his wife, Janet, began taking longer sailing trips in 2017. Miller said the couple, who live in Adelanto, California, were drawn to the more diverse itineraries. “I mean, we’ve been to Ensenada and Catalina on a cruise ship so many times,” he explained.
Since then, the couple has visited the Panama Canal and Alaska, and they have plans to sail to Nova Scotia, Iceland, and other places. They had so much time on board a recent 28-night Princess Cruises sailing to Hawaii, Tahiti, and Samoa that they took ukulele lessons on sea days and performed with other students in the ship’s theatre at the end of the cruise.
While three- or four-day cruises, according to Miller, lend themselves to on-board partying, longer itineraries tend to attract “more serious cruisers” and an older demographic.
Even those who have never taken a longer cruise before have noticed a difference in the atmosphere on board. Before Juan Botino and his wife, Mikaela, embarked on a 12-day Norwegian Cruise Line honeymoon cruise, he joined a Facebook group with other passengers who organised onboard events.
They did a pub crawl through onboard bars and group slot pulls at the casino during the December sailing, which took place over Christmas and New Year’s. They even took part in a gift exchange with gifts from each passenger’s hometown, during which guests had to explain the significance of their choice.
Botino, who lives in Atlanta, chose a platter with Atlanta landmarks and received chocolates and a beer koozie from the Berkshires in Massachusetts.
The 37-year-old, who had previously cruised for four and seven days, also met some other passengers at lunch on the first day and hung out with them throughout the cruise to grab a bite to eat or go to the pool. “I think the camaraderie is definitely higher after spending more days with them,” said Botino, the director of operations for an event security company.
Longer sailings are being offered by cruise lines.
Holland America is one of the cruise lines that has recently invested in longer sailings. According to Beth Bodensteiner, the line’s chief commercial officer, the change was made in response to guest feedback as well as to differentiate itself from other lines.
“We’ve long been known for our unusual and lengthy itineraries,” she explained in an interview.
This year, the line is offering 25% more sailings of 25 days or longer than in 2019, as well as 117% more sailings of 50 days or more. Earlier in the pandemic, passengers prioritised features like cleanliness, but now, according to Bodensteiner, guests prioritise destinations when booking.
She also mentioned that the line will offer some unique programming, such as “destination-rich lectures,” which will allow guests to get to know those places better than they would on a shorter cruise, and that it will stay overnight in some ports.
As part of the shift in focus, the line has launched new itineraries, such as a 22-day voyage on its Koningsdam ship from San Diego to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in April 2024, with stops in Mexico and Hawaii, and a sea day timed for prime viewing of a solar eclipse.
Holland America will also sail a 14-day solar eclipse voyage on Zaandam in March 2024, as well as a 12-day Historic Baja Peninsula & Sea Of Cortez sailing inspired by author John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts’ famous 1940 expedition. The latter will depart on Volendam in December 2023.
Advice for a Long Cruise
Sailing for extended periods of time, on the other hand, necessitates more preparation. Halee stated that she usually has a house sitter check on her condo once a week or stay there while she is on vacation. She mentioned that the post office will hold mail for up to 30 days, which travellers should be aware of (“My mail goes into a slot into my garage, so I have no problem with that,” Halee said).
She also ensures that enough medication is available for the duration of the voyage and that she packs clothing appropriate for the temperatures at various destinations, as long cruises can travel through a variety of climates. Most of Halee’s luggage is shipped to the cruise line ahead of time via Luggage Forward, so she doesn’t have to lug it around on her own.
Halee chooses her cruises based on the location and her mood. She’ll be returning to the South Pacific later this year. “I’ve been there several times before, but that’s what I feel like doing right now,” she explained. “Cities have grown on me. I just want to swim in the water of the South Pacific.”
For some, just one long cruise is enough to hook them, and Botino has other long itineraries planned.
“I haven’t talked to my wife yet, but… I found a 21-day and an 18-day (sailing) that I want to run by her,” he explained.