Written by Sara Macefield
The cobalt sea sparkles enticingly in the sunlight, broken only by a scattering of rugged emerald islands and a pod of dolphins speeding through the waves around our ship like a flotilla of sleek torpedoes. I feel as though I’m in the Caribbean, or at the very least the Aegean, but the distinctive notes of bagpipes drifting on the breeze remind me that we haven’t even left the UK.The Titanic Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland
It’s no surprise that the mesmerising beauty of the Scottish Hebrides made it a star performer of this summer’s staycation cruises, perfectly showcased during the maiden season of P&O Cruises’ new flagship Iona. But it wasn’t the only one.
An unexpected boon of the Coronavirus curse and restrictions on international cruising was that it gave the British Isles a chance to truly shine as a cruise destination like never before.
Without the temptations of international hotspots to tempt cruise lines and their customers away, the spotlight focused on our own backyard, with the likes of Belfast and Liverpool gaining a new legion of fans wanting to return. And I became one of them.The Isle of Iona, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
I confess, I’d never really given these cities much thought, such was my habitual rush to join sailings in the likes of Miami or New York, which seemed far more glamorous. Yes, I was curious and planned to visit one day, but something else always took precedence. Now I’m asking myself why I waited so long.
Arriving at Belfast aboard Celebrity Silhouette and visiting the outstanding Titanic museum, delving into the province’s turaculent history and driving through Catholic and Protestant strongholds I recalled from TV news reports at the height of the Troubles was something I will never forget.Celebrity Silhouette
Liverpool was another revelation. I’d been expecting a musical medley of tales dominated by the Beatles. What impressed me more was the sense of history flowing through the streets of the city’s commercial heart where stately buildings possessed their own fascinating back story stretching over hundreds of years.
I still can’t quite believe that Liverpool, of all places, was where the American Civil War officially ended with the surrender of Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah at the Pier Head in November 1865. Who would have guessed that?
But such historic insights, combined with the British Isles’ natural beauty helped to turn staycation sailings into the success story of the summer, giving cruise lines an ideal shop window to promote their own individual styles. The British public was spoilt for choice. Never before had there been such a variety of sailings in domestic waters from so many companies, around 15 in all with newcomers quirky Virgin Voyages and tall ship debutante Tradewind Voyages bringing their own distinct stamp to the market.
Others included MSC Cruises, which kicked off the “seacation” season last May with new flagship MSC Virtuosa, while Celebrity Cruises unveiled the newly “revolutionised” Celebrity Silhouette.MSC Virtuosa
But more than anything, this hallmark season underlined the industry’s resilience and determination to bounce back with new protocols and streamlined procedures. The accelerated use of technology, from Princess Cruises’ OceanMedallion to P&O’s My Holiday smartphone app, promises to be one of the guiding lights of cruising into the future.
But, most importantly, this summer’s staycation sailings opened the eyes of many first-time cruisers to the enduring appeal of holidays at sea. As silver linings go, that has to be the most precious one of all.