Does a Price War Loom For Winter Cruises From the U.K.?

May 27, 2011
(1:45 p.m. EDT) -- As British cruise lines continue to abandon winter Caribbean fly-cruises for year-round sailings from U.K. homeports, we're not alone in asking: How are lines going to fill all these ships now stationed in chilly Britain in winter?" In fact, the point was raised by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' marketing director, Nigel Lingard, at yesterday's launch of Fred.'s new cruise programme. The line has pulled out of winter Caribbean fly-cruising for 2012/2013 because of the high cost of air travel, and based all four of its ships in the increasingly busy U.K. Fred.'s fleet will be joining the fray to compete with P&O Cruises, Cunard, Cruise & Maritime Voyages and Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas to sell winter holidays to the Canary Islands. "There is going to be a winter cruise market from the U.K. on an unprecedented scale," said Lingard. "And no doubt this will be very advantageous to the consumer." By which he means a price war, of course. It's not that cruise lines are only offering the Canaries; far from it. Fred. Olsen is hedging its bets on some long Caribbean voyages from U.K. ports in 2012/13, but so is P&O Cruises. Britain's biggest line will sail on Oriana and Oceana, supplementing its small fly-cruise programme on Ventura. But there's only a certain sector of the market -- older, with time and money -- that can afford, or even wants these three-week Caribbean cruises that include two mid-winter transatlantic crossings. So are we likely to see some creative itinerary planning to give cruise lines the edge over their competitors? Looks like it. Both Fred. Olsen and Cruise & Maritime Voyages are now dabbling in adventurous winter cruises to Norway, in search of the Northern Lights, an adventure that was until recently only undertaken by lines like Hurtigruten. Fred. Olsen is going a step further in cruising for the hardy in 2012 with a 12-night voyage on Black Watch at the end of November to Copenhagen, Helsinki, Tallinn and St Petersburg, to visit the Christmas markets. It's a romantic idea, but with four full days at sea and a chance of early sea ice in the eastern reaches of the Baltic, might be one for experienced sailors only. --by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor