The U.K. Cruiser Speaks (in Math): Thumbs Down for Fly-Cruises, Thumbs Up for U.K. Homeports

May 6, 2011
(12:30 p.m. EDT) -- In 2010, you took shorter, cheaper cruises (but grabbed a luxury bargain where you could), said "No!" to flying and sailed from British ports to the Mediterranean in vast numbers.

That's you as a whole, the British cruising public, according to the just-released figures from Britain's Passenger Shipping Association, which produces a yearly set of statistics showing us how many Brits are cruising, why they're cruising and where they're going.

In a nutshell, the most interesting trends are:

Cruising From the Back Garden. 40 percent of British cruisers chose to depart from a U.K. port, an increase of 10 percent on 2009. Likely factors contributing to this are the ash cloud effect (remember, these are figures from 2010), the continuing increase in Air Passenger Duty, British Airways' strikes in 2010 and the general misery associated with flying.

Ports: Hot or Not. The Caribbean and the Canaries are both down in terms of numbers, and despite the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" phenomenon that's put Stockholm into the big league, Baltic cruises only increased by 2 percent last year. For Brits, it's the Med all the way -- the region saw an 18 percent growth in U.K. cruise passengers in 2010.

Cruising in the Back Garden. Having said this, 22,000 Brits took a round-Britain cruise in 2010. Could this be the next big thing, as we re-discover our own coastline?

Luxury Bargain? One in 50 Brits now spends more than £5,000 on a cruise, seizing the day for luxury bargains as the most expensive lines discount and throw in enticing extras like shore excursions and flights.

Mini-Cruise Equals Mini-Fares But four out of every 10 cruises are sold for less than £1,000. Average prices are going down year by year because more people are booking mini-cruises.

Douro Du Jour. Finally, some river cruising figures, which are based partly on actual data and partly on estimates: If sailing on the waterway du jour matters to you, the Nile, Rhine, Danube and Russian waterways were "in" in 2010, all attracting more Brits than ever before. The Rhone/Seine and the Yangtze are showing slight downward trends. But the "star" river of 2010 is Portugal's sleepy Douro, which welcomed 8,600 British visitors last year as opposed to 4,700 in 2009.

This massive and surprising increase could be down to the fact that the Douro, unlike better-known rivers, started from a relatively low number of cruise passengers, so any increase is going to look impressive -- and also simply that Portugal is a cheaper destination in which to travel than France or Germany, and the Douro offers a long, sunny cruising season. Or perhaps it's just the lure of the free port that tends to flow after dinner on Douro cruises.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor