Keith Maynard is a popular UK Presenter, Actor, Voice Artist and Cruise Travel Expert. Passionate about cruise ships, and although he is now on dry land, he has spent the last 15 years in the cruise industry, 12 years at sea, including 3 years as the Entertainment Director of the Cunard Queens. Keith has also spent his last 3 years as the co-presenter of the Planet Cruise TV Show. He tells us more about his role, the industry and his experiences.
You are a versatile individual, why focus on the cruise industry?
The cruise industry gave me the chance to see the world whilst entertaining people and making them happy… well most of them! It's an incredibly exciting industry to work in where you get to work in a truly international environment and it's been very good to me. But to be honest, I never intended to work in the cruise industry.. it was a purely chance conversation with a bronzed actor friend in a freezing greenroom in Yorkshire that eventually led to me being offered the chance to work at sea.. and at that point, anything seemed better than huddling round a gas heater in an old freezing cloth mill in Holmfirth!
The cruise market is a multi-million industry. How popular are cruise holidays in the UK and what are the most popular destinations?
Cruising is the fastest growing part of the UK holiday market, with an estimated 2 million Britons taking a cruise in 2015. South East Asia and the Caribbean are still two of the most popular areas to cruise too, though for most people it's still the Mediterranean and the Fjords, which leads the way particularly as they can choose to cruise directly from the UK avoiding the discomfort of a flight and its limiting luggage allowance. Also, in the last couple of years, river cruising has really begun to captivate the imaginations of British cruisers with its more relaxed and personal experience, attracting an audience who seek really inclusive destination-intensive holidays, sailing down some of Europe's greatest waterways.
Cruising has expanded over the last 20 years mainly due to the attractiveness of destinations, port infrastructure and majestic new ships. Do you foresee continued growth over coming years?
The short answer is “yes”. There are still new deeper water ports being built all over the world to attract the new brand of super ships ushered in with Royal Caribbean's “Oasis” Class. The competition to attract cruise lines to dock at their port is worth millions to the local economies. I remember checking out potential new docks and destinations for a couple of the lines I worked for, and we were wined and dined and treated like lords in an attempt to seal the deal. And as I write this, 36 brand new cruise ships are on order taking us right through until 2022, and with Viking now moving into Ocean and Richard Branson deciding to enter the fray, there is no sign of the market slowing down!
What are the main differences between cruising in Europe and the US?
Cruising in the US is seen very differently. It's a more saturated market which is loved by young and old alike. In the UK, cruising is still shaking off the misconception of it only attracting the “grey pound” but that is beginning to happen and the potential for expansion in the UK is far greater as there is such a huge untapped market. The US is also still the main market innovator. Long gone are the days when British-built ships led the way, not only in design, but in holding the fame of winning the coveted blue ribbon. These days the new groundbreaking designs are being built in Germany and Italy for the big US giants of Carnival and Royal Caribbean.
How resilient has the cruise market been to the recent economic crisis?
Due to the ever growing number of cruise ships to choose from and the ensuing price war to attract new customers and retain the old, you could say that prices have been going down at the right time. Cruising is definitely the best value holiday available and therefore has not suffered unduly. In fact, because so much of the cost is paid upfront, cruise holidays have been seen as a safer option where people can budget more effectively.
Gibraltar is an attractive port for cruise calls all year round. What is your opinion about this location and its volumes?
Gibraltar was always one of my favourite ports of call and it's always one of the main highlights on any cruise ship itinerary. Laurie Lee once said it's like a “piece of Portsmouth sliced off and towed 500 miles
There is so much on offer at present. Do you have any tips on what to look out for before booking a cruise holiday?
Today there is more choice than ever and however you like to holiday there is a cruise line and ship that will be a perfect fit. For me, it's smaller ships that spend longer in port and focus more on the food. For others, it might be bigger ships with more entertainment or the chance to sail under canvas and climb the rigging. The only advice I can give is that it's no longer best to wait until the last minute – some lines are now offering to cover the reduction of any cruise you book early and certain companies offer better deals the earlier you book. But my best tip is to tune into the Planet Cruise Show at 8pm GMT on Tuesday's on Ideal World or watch it online at www.planetcruise.co.uk. Planet Cruise are the #1 UK cruise travel agent for most of the main cruise lines and therefore they get exclusive discounts that you simply won't see anywhere else. You can also follow me live on Twitter for the latest cruise information, updates and news via @beefikeefi .
What is your most memorable shipping experience and your favourite ship?
My favourite ship is my last - QM2 – I had three great years as an Entertainment (cruise) Director for Cunard and while I loved all three “queens”, QM2 is one of a kind. The worlds last true ocean liner. Built to cross the Atlantic in any weather, to keep to a schedule despite mother nature's best efforts, the only ship to welcome cats and dogs as well as humans and the fastest passenger ship in the world, capable of an incredible 32 knots. She has no equal and is a glorious reminder of the golden age of ocean travel, when countries flexed their industrial might by building the biggest, fastest and most beautiful ships.
My favorite experience was sailing through the Corinth Canal onboard the little 11,000 ton Calypso, literally just squeezing through as I regaled our guests with its fascinating history and we watched foxes sprint along the near vertical walls of the manmade wonder that splits the Isthmus of Greece.
Oh, and then there was the time I interviewed Sir David Frost….
Or the day we met the replica of the HMS Bark Endeavour during our circumnavigation of Australia on QM2… I could go on… and on… and on….
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Editor, Marine Strategy
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