To keep passengers shipping out, an industry shapes up
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 organisation. 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, health-centric themes and more. “There’s a cruise for everyone and there’s something on every cruise for everyone,” says 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 are making it easy to visit places that can be challenging for travellers. Expeditions to hard-toreach places are big draws to cruising, says Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor with Cruise Critic, a review site and online community. “They’re taking passengers to places like Western Australia and western Greenland, which, you don’t know you want to go there – but you want to go there,” McDaniel says. King adds that 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,” King says.
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 on a cruise, for example. 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 on cruises. Of course, there’s a reason for such offerings, and it goes beyond sheer entertainment value.
Doug Parker, producer of Cruise Radio, a weekly podcast that shares cruise reviews and news, says “new ships feature everything from go-kart tracks to tattoo parlours, all of which come at an added price”.
The internet has become more reliable and affordable on cruise ships. “All of the cruise lines are competing for the title of ‘best internet at sea’,” Parker says.
Health and wellness can be a part of cruising. Travel and healthy diets have never been the best of bedfellows. But the right cruise ship can make it relatively easy to stick to your routine. Weight Watchers participants can count their points easily 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.
Conscientious cruising is in. Cruises have become ecologically aware, says Parker: “Cruise lines are trying to decrease their carbon footprint. Every major line is moving toward eliminating single-use plastics, such as straws.”
King says the conscientiousness extends beyond the environment and applies to respect for cultures and sustainability. She says that could mean limiting the number of people snorkelling in certain areas, or it could translate as cruise officials co-ordinating 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 points to the example of Celebrity Edge, a ship set to launch next month that is already making waves with its balcony designs.
Rather than the traditional balcony that feels separated from the cabin, this ship actually incorporates a kind of veranda into the room.
A guest can push a button and a window lowers, allowing a fresh sea breeze in. Celebrity Edge also has a feature called the “Magic Carpet”, a cantilevered platform on the side of the ship that can move to different levels and host events, like special dinners or parties.
And other ships are also adding oceanic ambiance. McDaniel says that Norwegian Bliss, for example, has an observation lounge where passengers can take in views at the front of the ship while sipping a cocktail; and Norwegian Breakaway and Breakaway Plus ships have an ocean-front promenade, with shops to stroll by as well as dining and drinking options looking out on the water.
The family is going along for the ride. Travellers are realising that cruises make a lot of sense for family holidays. According to research by Clia, nearly half of families that cruise bring the kids along, compared with 29% of those travelling on land.
King says a cruise is a good fit for a family because everyone can spend the day doing what they want.
“And yet they can all gather together and have meals or do an excursion and spend some of that time together, too.”
Window panels surround the bridge of the Celebrity Edge cruise ship during construction at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in Saint Nazaire, France. Some cabins feature large windowsthat open for sea breezes. | Bloomberg