INTERVIEW Francesca Barone, The Queen of Cruising: “I sold a £220k trip. Cruises have it all: from helicopter, submarine, to butler service and fine food”

Cruises are loved by everybody. You experience special places from a whole different point of view and the ships are like small “floating cities” – you can find absolutely everything on board. There are a lot of offers on the market, tailored for any budget. But have you ever wondered how the rich prefer their cruises? Do they travel like ordinary? What is the most extravagant, never-heard-of ocean trip? We were also curious so we asked Francesca Barone, an expert in elite cruises. She sold a staggering £220,000 cruise ship to one client and the requests that the rich have? There are many…

Francesca Barone, expert in cruising – Credit; Courtesy of Francesca Barone

“Pre-Covid I wouldn’t be dreaming of cruising – I’d simply be making this happen..”

You are very familiar with the luxury world: what does the term “luxury” mean for you?

What does “luxury” mean to me? Many things I think and, to be honest, at the moment my answer will quite possibly be different in these worldwide pandemic times than it would have been if you’d asked me, say, a year ago…In the here and now, I’d say it means dreaming of being somewhere/doing something, that allows me to totally switch off, decompress and have people around to take care of my requirements.  Where this would happen would be on the oceans, on a small ultra-luxury ship where the attending crew anticipate my needs, before I even knew what they were myself. 

It could mean fabulous dining, fine wines and a delicious cocktail to sip on in the balmy warm air (I could equally be wrapped up nice and warm taking in the spectacular scenery somewhere such as Svalbard), up on deck sailing somewhere exciting, excited for the next port of call/or location to drop anchor and adventure off in the zodiacs.  Pre-Covid I wouldn’t be dreaming – I’d simply be making this happen.

Cruises offer the best from caviar to champagne – Credit: Courtesy of Francesca Barone

From helicopter, submarine, to butler service and fine wines – Cruises have it all

I see you offer elite cruises to the wealthy people. What do these cruises have exactly, what type of services do they offer? 

Cruises are in my humble opinion one of THE most wonderful ways to experience different parts of the world, with all the comforts of an ultra-luxury cruise ship to return to, after your adventures and explorations.  What they offer individually can vary from cruise line to cruise line, and also depends on the individual ships’ capacities (which is where my knowledge comes into play).  That said, what pretty much all of them offer includes wonderful suites (of varying sizes. most featuring private balconies) excellent quality bedding, pillow menus, butler service, amazing dining opportunities, fine wines, sommeliers, mixologists, lecturers (vary dependant upon itineraries), comprehensive group and private shore excursion opportunities, helicopter/submarine (specific to particular cruise ships), great space ratios on board (tonnage divided by guest capacity), nearly always 1:1 guest to crew ratios, incredible service, all inclusivity (shore excursions also included on expedition voyages), gym facilities, classes, spa and wellness. It varies quite a lot dependant upon size of ship.  Many cruise lines on the oceans and rivers also offer ‘themed’ cruises, directed at particular things such as golf, art, wine, bridge, foodies…to name but a few.

Cruises are available across the world – Credit: Courtesy of Francesca Barone

And which are the most popular destinations?

In truth, I book cruises for my valued clientele across the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic.  Expedition cruising is becoming more and more popular as discerning travellers are looking to reach the areas less travelled for their experiences.  River cruising is also a booming area of the market.  As regards specific destinations that remain popular, year on year, it would have to be the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Northern Europe, South America, Australia/New Zealand and South Pacific.

View on the decks – Credit: Courtesy of Francesca Barone

“I have booked a £220,000 cruise once, for one client.”

Given all these years of experience you have, can we ask you which was the most extravagant and out-of-the-ordinary request you ever received from the rich? Something in particular that stuck to your mind? Please share with us.

I have a few clients whose preferences are to take World Cruises – which usually run for around 3/4 months dependant upon the cruise line being used.  Given the area of the market that I specialise in, these are always for quite eye watering amounts.  The most expensive one that I’ve booked is on excess of £220,000 in one of the top suites on one of the top ultra luxury cruise lines.  For a different regular who also loved to take World Cruises, he used to travel on a sole occupancy basis.  However, he would have 1/2/3 different travelling companions who would join him for different sectors of the World Cruise itinerary, hopping on and off in different places around the world.

Another aspect of World Cruising that may interest your readers, is that one couple/person can purchase a suite for the entire voyage.  They can then decide that they wish to disembark in one or more places on the itinerary (at segment start and finish points) and arrange for other members of family to take their place in their suite for one or more segments.

View on the deck – Credit: Courtesy of Francesca Barone

“30 years ago, just taking a cruise could have been a luxury. Times change”

Has “luxury” changed over the years? What is “luxury” today….is the same as what it was considered “luxury” back in the day?

Well – let’s be honest, this means different things to different people and the same is true when it comes to people’s luxury requirements and desires in the cruise industry.  I had a single lady client over a number of years, who had an A4 sheet of paper covered on both sides, with her specific requirements for once she was on board.  The fact that there are cruise lines who are prepared to fulfill such a scenario is luxury, isn’t it? I do feel our expectations of luxury have changed over the years as people’s expectations have increased so vastly.  We don’t ‘settle’ and we are a world of demanding characters as so much more has become available/accessible to us. We also don’t like to have to wait. Another aspect of luxury: back in the day (I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years), just taking a cruise could arguably have been considered a luxury.  Luxurious ships, as we know them to be now, were in their infancy 30 years ago and were few in number.  Now, we are lucky to have several cruise lines who have ultra luxury fleets criss-crossing the oceans and rivers with their wonderful itineraries. They do all bring something slightly different though and it’s really important to speak to a knowledgeable agent such as myself who can give you the inside track on the ‘right fit’, without any bias to a particular line.

Cruise ship – Credit: Courtesy of Francesca Barone

“The sector is on its knees, bookings start for end of 2021.”

And the last question: as you know, 2020 has been so far a challenging year…How has it impacted this sector? What kind of cruises did you still sell this year and what type of clients bought them?

2020 Challenging Year…has it ever been and it’s far from over yet. Even with this latest talk of a vaccine being almost within touching distance, the vast majority of cruise lines are still not planning on getting back into operation until Spring 2021 (and this of course could still change further in this fluid situation).  The sector for now is on its knees. The powers that be in the industry, and large bodies such as CLIA, the CDC etc are all working away behind the scenes to get updated protocols in place, so that the industry can get itself re-started.  There are so many things to consider in order for this to be done safely.  I have made some bookings to a cross-section of my wealthy clientele this year, to various destinations.

Due to the circumstances we are working with, many cruise lines have released programmes into 2023 (which ordinarily wouldn’t yet have been available), so most of what I’ve been booking have been into the back end of 2021, 2022 and/or 2023.  The desire to cruise is definitely there and there is a bottle-neck of guests who literally cannot wait to get back on board their favourite ships, reconnect with their favourite crew members, see friends etc.  I’m always available for an impartial conversation about cruising dreams and aspirations and I will always convey an honest opinion on what I consider is the best ‘fit’ for each individual client, based upon their own personal requirements.

Francesca Barone owns and manages a cruising company, Elite Cruises, based in the United Kingdom. You can find her on Facebook or Instagram.

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