To keep pas­sen­gers ship­ping out, an in­dus­try shapes up

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRA VEL - KATE SIL­VER | Wash­ing­ton Post

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.

NEW TRENDS:

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

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