Sea changes on the hori­zon

Takes a look at new and de­vel­op­ing trends in the world of cruise tourism.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

You only have to wan­der around the Auck­land wa­ter­front in sum­mer to no­tice the in­flux of cruise tourists into New Zea­land. It’s right there star­ing you in the face next to the old brown ferry build­ing – a 4000-odd-bed float­ing re­sort town, docked for the night, then re­placed by an even larger one to­mor­row.

Cruise tourism is a big deal: 23 mil­lion an­nual pas­sen­gers big. More Ki­wis are set­ting sail too, with more than 90,000 of us tak­ing a cruise in 2016. Like any in­dus­try, it is try­ing to rein­vent it­self to ap­peal to new gen­er­a­tions, while giv­ing the loyal fol­low­ing enough rea­sons to re­turn. Here are some of the trends to en­tice you on board.

Big­ger is bet­ter

Royal Caribbean has the largest cruise ships on the wa­ter (Har­mony of the Seas, Al­lure of the Seas and Oa­sis of the Seas), with all three lin­ers of­fer­ing a max­i­mum ca­pac­ity of more than 6200 peo­ple. Next year, it’ll add Sym­phony of the Seas to that list, with the soon-to-be largest-ca­pac­ity cruise liner (6800+ peo­ple) com­ing into ser­vice in April 2018.

The com­pany’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor in charge of New Zea­land has con­firmed Royal Caribbean’s Ova­tion of the Seas (the big­gest liner to visit Aotearoa and still boast­ing a max­i­mum ca­pac­ity of 4900) will re­turn here for an­other two, longer sea­sons from Novem­ber. And the trend for float­ing cities isn’t slow­ing down – there are ru­mours that the even big­ger Oa­sis ship, or some­thing of that size, could soon be headed our way.

Not just is­land­hop­ping

It’s not just about what you’re cruis­ing on but where you’re go­ing that sees con­stant ap­praisal and change. The South Pa­cific re­mains the most pop­u­lar cruise des­ti­na­tion for Kiwi trav­ellers, with 32,000-odd peo­ple tak­ing a ship to find some is­land sun­shine in 2016, up 50 per cent on 2015.

How­ever, other des­ti­na­tions such as South­east Asia and Antarc­tica have come more on to the radar of cruise trav­ellers. Cruis­ing in Antarc­tica ap­peals par­tic­u­larly to those who love nat­u­ral, largely un­touched en­vi­ron­ments, ac­cord­ing to Dee Bo­das at travel group Chimu Ad­ven­tures.

‘‘It is now rel­a­tively easy to visit the frozen con­ti­nent. There are a num­ber of cruise ships depart­ing from the bot­tom of South Amer­ica, or the south­ern tips of New Zea­land and Aus­tralia,’’ Bo­das says.

Home­land is where the heart is

De­spite the of­fers of big-ticket des­ti­na­tions such as Alaska, the Caribbean or the Mediter­ranean, the big­gest in­crease for a des­ti­na­tion to do a cruise hol­i­day last year was … wait for it … New Zea­land.

Due to a larger loyal de­ploy­ment of P&O cruise ships, the num­ber of New Zealan­ders en­joy­ing cruise travel in lo­cal wa­ters jumped 177 per cent yearon-year in 2016. With P&O con­tin­u­ing its themed, short trips ded­i­cated to com­edy and cui­sine, this lo­cal trend could re­main strong.

Ev­ery­body loves a gim­mick

Fancy be­ing served by a ro­botic bar­man? How about gar­nish­ing your cock­tail with herbs picked fresh from the bar?

Best not to com­bine ei­ther with a sky-div­ing sim­u­la­tor, surf­ing pool ‘‘Flowrider’’ or a wa­ter­slide that de­scends 10-storeys. Com­pe­ti­tion is thick in this in­dus­try and cruise com­pa­nies are ea­ger to garner head­lines and eke out an ad­van­tage by of­fer­ing gim­micks and ac­tiv­i­ties that dif­fer from the rest.

Royal Caribbean’s of­fer­ing all of the above and more across its fleet. Just to up the stakes, Cu­nard’s re­cently ren­o­vated Queen Vic­to­ria of­fers guests the world’s first gin tap at sea, serv­ing its own epony­mous gin.

Mean­while, P&O’s lo­cal cruise liner, Pa­cific Ex­plorer, has disco-themed wa­ter­slides for the young and youn­gand-heart and a bare­foot bowl­ing green af­ter a re­cent ren­o­va­tion.

Will we be seated ac­cord­ing to class?

Fancy ships are about to get fancier. Although sea travel has a turn-of-the­cen­tury el­e­gance to it, that for a long time seemed lost as it drowned in its rep­u­ta­tion of dis­count pack­age tours, booze cruises and chil­dren run­ning

FlowRider, the surf­ing sim­u­la­tor on Voy­ager of the Seas, is just one of the many gim­micks and ac­tiv­i­ties of­fered by cruise com­pa­nies to stand out from the crowd.

KATH­LEEN KIN­NEY

Cruis­ers en­joy the sun­set by the pool on P&O’s Pa­cific Jewel.

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