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The day after Regent Seven Seas unveiled the world’s most luxurious – and, at $5,694 a night, its most expensive  –  suite on its Explorer cruise ship, the line raked in record bookings for a single day.
This, according to Regent president and chief operating officer Jason Montague, is because the Explorer will “redefine luxury vacations.’’
That may be.  Hard to tell…because the Explorer isn’t even built yet.
It is more likely to be yet another indicator of a trend in high-end cruising: the more white-gloved butlers, gold taps and champagne brands on board, the faster cruise lines book out.
So much so that lines like Crystal and Azamara are putting their 2017 itineraries on sale now.  Capacity is taken up so quickly that half 2016 on some lines is sold already, and 2017 is creating “a lot of interest”.
Don’t forget, we are still in January 2015!
Loyalty clubs and the cruise lines’ 50%+ repeat business does mean that they can count on many passengers returning to their favourite cruise ships. Nonetheless, the shift to early bookings on luxury – even with a falling Aussie dollar – is remarkable.
The Explorer’s sister ship, Seven Seas Mariner, called in to Sydney this week and left for a 16-night voyage to Papeete with the most expensive Master Suite at US$24,059 per person.  The suite was fully occupied.
Diane Patrick, managing director of Wiltrans International, said generally, it is the top-tiered suites and penthouse accommodations that sell first.
Other luxury lines are also experiencing the trend where the most expensive suites are first to be snapped up months ahead.
“Yes, I have seen a similar booking pattern,’’ said Julie Denovan, business development director of SeaDream.
“SeaDream’s Australian clients, both repeat and new, have always been strong suite bookers and less likely to book lead-in staterooms. Some of the popular destinations include Italy and Croatia.’’
SeaDream has already sold its most expensive Owners Suite at the cost of US$18,709 per person on the 10-day Mediterranean cruise which leaves Rome on July 29.
Seabourn Director of Sales Australia Tony Archbold said: “Locally we’ve seen a long term trend towards top end suites. Even with prices rising we are seeing demand remain strong for the top end of the market. The Australian appetite for the best on offer has been particularly apparent in the enthusiasm for our new Penthouse Spa Suites. Additionally, our top suite, the Grand Wintergarden, is nearly always full and often with Australians. With the US dollar strengthening we are also seeing more American guests travel to Australia to join local departures, leading to more competition to book these in-demand suites.’’
Luxury river cruise line Uniworld is also experiencing strong demand and forward bookings.
John Molinaro, General Manager at Uniworld says: “Since releasing the 2016 Asia programme we have seen a strong interest for bookings on our new India itineraries which host 56 guests onboard the all-suite Ganges Voyager II. India has seen a tremendous growth in its tourism and we are excited to launch the 13 day India’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges experience and offer the Uniworld experience in such a vibrant and historical country.”
Uniworld is also preparing for the inauguration of the S.S. Maria Theresa in March to set sail along the Rhine, Main and Danube.
“The 15-day European Jewels has seen an overwhelming response since announcing the itinerary in 2014.
Back on the Explorer Mr Montague was still searching for superlatives to describe the ship’s new offering.
“Every corner of this new ship will exude elegance, starting with a new category of luxury suite that we named the Regent Suite,” he said at a good luck ceremony when a silver coin was welded in the ship’s keel at an Italian shipyard earlier this week.
The suite “exceeds the loftiest expectations for luxury”.