“The Most Epic World Cruise Ever To Set Sail”: that is the claim from Royal Caribbean about the 274-night voyage aboard Serenade of the Seas. It is undoubtedly the 21st-century cruise that has caught the attention of the world like no other. But I have been taking a closer look at the “Ultimate World Voyage”, and it may not be all unremitting joy during its nine-month circumnavigation.
The Independent first reported on the voyage when it was announced in October 2021. That was an audacious move by the cruise line, given that it was not at the time even legal for British visitors to go to the US – let alone board a vessel for a journey calling at 60-plus nations around the globe. But in terms of the Covid pandemic being over, Royal Caribbean called it right.
That figure of 60-plus has fluctuated, with Russia and Ukraine taken out of the itinerary after the Kremlin’s invasion of its southern neighbour. Ashdod, the main cruise port for Israel, was removed following the attack by Hamas on 7 October 2023 and subsequent events.
At this stage, with Houthis still attacking shipping in the Red Sea, I would not put money on the Aqaba-Suez Canal-Alexandria segment. I suggest the passengers prepare for a long detour around the Cape of Good Hope.
A long run of “sea days” may not be hugely appealing to those on board. Serenade of the Seas is far from the ultimate cruise ship. She is relatively old (in service for over 20 years) and small (about 2,000 passengers, compared with 7,600 aboard the new Icon of the Seas). And a large part of the joy of a cruise is the many ports of call.
The Ultimate World Cruise comes with exactly 11 World Wonders:
- Chichen Itza, Mexico
- Christ the Redeemer, Brazil
- Iguacu Falls, Argentina/Brazil
- Machu Picchu, Peru
- The Great Wall of China
- Great Barrier Reef, Australia
- Taj Mahal, India
- Petra, Jordan
- Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
- Temple of Artemis, Turkey
- Colosseum, Italy
Some of those are traditional cruise excursions, such as Petra – about 80 miles inland from Aqaba in Jordan. But others are ambitious.
The Taj Mahal is 500 miles distant from the coast of India, which is inconvenient for an ocean-going ship. Instead, on 1 May some passengers will be flown from Kochi to Delhi, where they will overnight in a hotel. Next morning, they take a train to Agra, a bus to the Taj Mahal and then another transfer to a hotel. On day three, they fly to Goa, where they will rejoin the ship. They will find it somewhat empty because other passengers will be on a Goa-Taj-Mumbai excursion.
It sounds exhausting, and not the ideal way to contemplate an indisputable world wonder: India’s ultimate tribute to undying love.
The amazing sight of Iguacu Falls, where Argentina and Brazil converge at a spectacular cliff edge, is not noted for its proximity to Buenos Aires, which I calculate is 655 miles away. But some passengers flew in for a couple of days on terra firma.
Should you wish to board the vessel, there is plenty of room. The Ultimate World Cruise doubles as a long series of shorter cruises. Relatively few of the passengers on board are going around the world in the full nine months; most are doing just a short stretch, such as Southampton to Belgium on 26 July, and onwards to the Baltic, ending in Copenhagen 15 days later. The opening price: £2,482, which tallies well with the average cost per night on the whole voyage: around $200 (£165) per person for an inside cabin.
Given the intense interest in the voyage, I imagine Royal Caribbean and other firms are busily packaging up similar solutions to answer the question: “What can we do with this rather antiquated vessel.”
I will do my best to reach Southampton to talk to the passengers on 26 July, and hope to be convinced that for people with the odd £50,000 to spare, this is the optimum way to experience the world. Want a bet – let’s say, £1,000 – on it? No, thank you.