Ships ahoy! Cruise trends for 2017

The Hamilton Spectator - - TRAVEL - JILL SCHENSUL,

Cruise lines are still trained on how to win over all those trav­el­ers who con­sider a va­ca­tion at sea too con­fin­ing, limited or old-fash­ioned. They’ve even gone so far as ton­ing down decor and re­word­ing brochures.

Here’s some of what you’ll see in the com­ing year on the high seas — and the rivers, of course, since river cruis­ing re­mains hot, in­ter­est­ing and, as far as I’m con­cerned, a good way to ven­ture into new-des­ti­na­tion ter­ri­tory. Thanks to CruiseCritic.com (my go-to for cruise in­sight) and Cruise Plan­ners for their trend info.

Ac­ces­si­ble travel: Royal Caribbean In­ter­na­tional was the first cruise line to re­ceive Autism Friendly Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion by Autism on the Seas for in­clu­sive pro­gram­ming de­signed to ac­com­mo­date chil­dren with autism. In­creas­ingly, those in wheel­chairs or with other spe­cial needs will find shore ex­cur­sions cater­ing to their re­quire­ments. Cruise Plan­ners has made a com­mit­ment to train travel agents on the best way to help clients through its re­la­tion­ship with Spe­cial Needs at Sea; the com­pany of­fers mo­bil­ity equip­ment rentals at de­par­ture f acil­i­ties. Also, many new cruise ports are be­ing de­signed with ac­ces­si­bil­ity in mind; ask your cruise agent in ad­vance of your trip.

Book­ing ahead: Re­flect­ing the trend of their land coun­ter­parts, cruise lines are see­ing a trend to­ward book­ings fur­ther in ad­vance — al­most a year out, ac­cord­ing to Cruise Plan­ners. So if you’re think­ing of sail­ing, get on it.

Redo, not new: Cruise lines are re­fur­bish­ing old ships rather than buy­ing new ones. Ex­am­ples: Hol­land Amer­ica’s $350 mil­lion up­grade of en­ter­tain­ment, ac­com­mo­da­tions and din­ing fleet wide through 2018; Nor­we­gian is spend­ing $400 mil­lion on its Nor­we­gian Edge pro­gram, fo­cused on rais­ing the qual­ity of din­ing, cab­ins and pub­lic ar­eas across the fleet; Crys­tal Sym­phony is get­ting a ma­jor makeover this year; and Sil­versea’s Sil­ver Cloud will trans­form from a cruise ship to an ex­pe­di­tion ves­sel.

Pop cul­ture themes: AMC’s “The Walk­ing Dead” and HGTV’s “The Prop­erty Broth­ers” have made a splash in the in­dus­try, and Cruise Critic pre­dicts there will be more of th­ese themed sail­ings — fans love be­ing able to rub shoul­ders with their favourite TV stars, per­son­al­i­ties and mu­si­cians.

Suite life: More lines are of­fer­ing an op­por­tu­nity for ex­clu­siv­ity aboard their ships. Royal Caribbean In­ter­na­tional’s new Royal Suite Class, for in­stance, not only in­cludes but­ler ser­vice, but a ded­i­cated concierge desk as well as spe­cial ar­eas and a restau­rant just for this premium cabin cat­e­gory.

Pri­vate ports: Once just a nov­elty, it seems most cruise lines are now in the pri­vate-is­land busi­ness. The lat­est en­try is Nor­we­gian Cruise Line’s new­est port of call, Har­vest Caye in south­ern Belize, which takes ad­van­tage of the world’s sec­ond-largest bar­rier reef. Carnival Cor­po­ra­tion is now sail­ing to a new port, Am­ber Cove, in the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, and guests can sip cock­tails pool­side, shop for sou­venirs and rent pri­vate ca­banas at this pri­vate port. By the end of the year, MSC Cruises will be­gin sail­ing to the new Ocean Caye, an ex­clu­sive 95acre is­land in the Ba­hamas with an em­pha­sis on cul­tural au­then­tic­ity and marine con­ser­va­tion. MSC ships will dock overnight at the is­land, giv­ing guests a chance to en­joy evening en­ter­tain­ment and nightlife.

Ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ing: Celebrity Xpe­ri­ence and Celebrity Xplo­ration will both be­gin sail­ing to the Gala­pa­gos is­lands, and Lind­blad Ex­pe­di­tions will po­si­tion its new Na­tional Geographic Quest in Alaska and the Pa­cific North­west. And they’re just the tip of the ice­berg; look for ma­jor growth in ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ing over the next five years.

Cruise bun­dles: Trav­el­ers are cus­tomiz­ing va­ca­tions, pay­ing in ad­vance for pack­ages that, along with the cruise, in­clude pre- or post-stays, plus airf are, even the on­board In­ter­net and a drink pack­age. Less to worry about once you em­bark and shift into va­ca­tion mode.

Ac­tive ashore: Most river cruise lines now have bikes — pas­sen­gers in port can go off on their own or use them for guided tours. Lines such as AmaWater­ways, Uni­world, Emer­ald and Scenic have hik­ing and kayak­ing tours. Mean­while, Avalon has de­vel­oped an en­tire Danube itin­er­ary that fo­cuses on ac­tive pur­suits, and it plans to add a sim­i­larly ded­i­cated itin­er­ary on the Rhine next.

Re­design­ing for mil­len­ni­als: Try­ing to cap­ture the at­ten­tion of older mil­len­ni­als who have va­ca­tion time and dis­pos­able in­come, cruise lines have be­gun turn­ing their at­ten­tion to more re­fined of­fer­ings such as wine and food pair­ings, overnights with im­mer­sive port ex­pe­ri­ences, and decor that’s de­cid­edly less busy and more re­fined. Some new ships are de­sign­ing cab­ins to look more ho­tel-like, even chang­ing their word­ing to call their cab­ins and state­rooms the more am­bigu­ous “ac­com­mo­da­tions.”

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