Cruising is as popular as it has ever been, with 27.2 million people expected to set sail by the end of the year, according to a cruise industry trade organization. That’s an increase of nearly 10 million people since 2009, when 17.8 million passengers embarked.
As the industry grows, cruise lines are finding new ways to appeal to passengers of all ages, with better technology, more exciting destinations and adventures, trendy entertainment (a floating escape room, anyone?), health-centric themes and more.
“There’s a cruise for everyone, and there’s something on every cruise for everyone,” said Megan King, senior vice president, global strategic communications and research, at Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). King and two other cruise experts weighed in on what’s trending now in the world of cruises.
Cruises can make it easy to visit places that are otherwise challenging for travelers.
Hard-to-reach places are big draws to cruising, said Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor with Cruise Critic, a review site and online community. “They’re taking passengers to places like Western Australia and the Kimberley, and western Greenland, which, you don’t know you want to go there, but you want to go there,” she said.
King said she’s seeing lots of people cruise to places such as the Antarctic, the Galápagos Islands, Cuba and other off-the-beaten path locales.
“Access is the new luxury,” she said. “People are defining luxury as these individualized experiences to places that their friends don’t necessarily get to go.”
Cruise lines are getting more creative with attractions, entertainment and other offerings — for a price.
“Cruisertainment” goes well beyond karaoke and shuffleboard these days. Take Go-Karts: All three experts interviewed for this report mentioned the two-level track on Norwegian Bliss. Escape rooms, those interactive games where you have to solve puzzles and riddles to get out, are also becoming more popular.
There’s a reason for such offerings, and it goes beyond sheer entertainment value. “Read the quarterly reports from any of the major cruise lines, and you’ll see that they know modern cruisers value experiences over things. Translation: Passengers are more willing to pay to eat in a specialty restaurant or go on a shore excursion than they are to buy a souvenir in the gift shop,” said Doug Parker, producer of Cruise Radio, a weekly podcast that shares cruise reviews and news. “That’s why new ships feature everything from Go-Kart tracks to tattoo parlors, all of which come at an added price.”
Technology keeps getting better. Over the years, the internet has gotten more reliable and affordable on cruise ships. “All of the cruise lines are competing for the title of ‘best internet at sea,’ ” Parker said. But cruise lines are also experimenting with other technology. King points to Princess Cruises’ Ocean Medallion, which is a wearable device that stores your digital identity and allows you to make payments and access your room. Other cruise lines, she said, have used facial recognition.
In the realm of health and wellness, the right cruise ship can make it relatively easy to stick to your routine. Weight Watchers participants can count their points on a branded cruise via MSC Cruises, for example, and O, the Oprah Magazine, recently partnered with Holland America to offer trips influenced by Oprah Winfrey that keep wellness at the fore.
But you don’t have to be on a themed cruise to keep fit. McDaniel pointed out that most cruise ships are hyper-aware that wellness is expected today. “Cruise lines do a good job of keeping up with what’s trendy on land, so you can do SoulCycle or TRX or whatever is really hot right now,” she said.
Conscientious cruising is in. Cruises have become ecologically aware, said Parker: “In ways big and small, cruise lines are trying to decrease their carbon footprint. Every major line is moving toward eliminating single-use plastics, such as straws, and most either have ships on order that use liquefied natural gas — aka LNG, the cleanest-burning fossil fuel — or are looking into doing so in the near future.”
King said the conscientiousness also applies to respect for cultures and sustainability. She said that could mean limiting the number of people snorkeling in certain areas, or it could translate as cruise officials coordinating with a city: “We know that some of these places are primarily accessible by cruise ship, so we need to make sure that we’re working with those governments to help them enjoy the benefits of tourism while protecting their places.”
Cruise ships are embracing their connection to the ocean. While marine views have always been a part of cruising, the newer ships are finding ways to more consistently connect passengers with those views.
McDaniel pointed to the example of Celebrity Edge, a ship set to be launched in December that is making waves with its balcony designs. Rather than the traditional balcony that feels separated from the cabin, this ship actually incorporates an Infinite Veranda into the room. A guest can push a button and a window lowers, allowing a fresh sea breeze in. “It’s a very different take, and no other ocean ship has done this yet,” she said.
She said Celebrity Edge also has a feature called the Magic Carpet, which is a cantilevered platform on the side of the ship that can move to different levels and host events, such as special dinners or parties.
Other ships also are adding oceanic ambience. McDaniel said Norwegian Bliss, for example, has an observation lounge where passengers can take in views at the front of the ship while sipping a cocktail; Norwegian Breakaway and Breakaway Plus ships have an oceanfront promenade.
The whole family is going along for the ride. Travelers are realizing that cruises make a lot of sense for family vacations. According to research by CLIA, nearly half of families that cruise bring the kids along, compared with 29 percent of those traveling on land. King said a cruise is a good fit for a family because everyone can spend the day doing what they want — Mom and Dad can go to the spa; the kids can hit the pool or the kids club; and grandparents can amuse themselves, too. “It makes for a very easy vacation in keeping everyone happy,” King said.
McDaniel and others interviewed are optimistic about the future of cruising. “We’re in this period right now that we’re seeing new builds come in at a pace that is unprecedented and exciting, and there’s new technology on the horizon so passengers can have really great customized service on board,” she said.