Ex­cur­sion­ists are on board with new des­ti­na­tions, at­trac­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY KATE SIL­VER

By de­mand, ex­pect new at­trac­tions on the high seas.

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,” 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. Here’s what’s new:

Cruises are mak­ing it easy to visit places that can be chal­leng­ing for trav­el­ers. Ex­pe­di­tions to hard-to-reach 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 the Kim­ber­ley, 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. “Peo­ple are defin­ing lux­ury as these in­di­vid­u­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ences to places that their friends don’t nec­es­sar­ily get to go.” She adds that cruises also ap­peal to trav­el­ers with a sense of adventure — and their com­pan­ions who may not feel the same way. Case in point: Her own par­ents went on a long cruise around South Amer­ica and each en­joyed the trip their own way. “It al­lowed my mom to climb Machu Pic­chu while my dad smoked ci­gars on the deck,” she 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, a trend that McDaniel says started with Royal Caribbean and has since spread. Of course, 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,” says 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 says. 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 says, have used fa­cial recog­ni­tion. “A lot of this is in the de­vel­op­ment stage, but I think it’ll wind up be­ing adopted be­cause it’s a con­ve­nience to the guest, and it adds to their ex­pe­ri­ence in terms of the level of ser­vice they can get,” she 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. “It’s part of a uni­fied vi­sion that in­vites guests to live life to the fullest,” reads the Hol­land Amer­ica web­site. (Win­frey her­self has been named “god­mother” of the ship Nieuw Sta­ten­dam.) But you don’t have to be on a themed cruise to keep fit. McDaniel is quick to point out that most cruise ships are hy­per­aware of the fact 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 says.

Con­sci­en­tious cruis­ing is in. Cruises have be­come eco­log­i­cally aware, says 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 — a.k.a. LNG, the clean­est-burn­ing fos­sil fuel — or are look­ing into do­ing so in the near fu­ture.” King adds that the con­sci­en­tious­ness ex­tends be­yond the en­vi­ron­ment and ap­plies to re­spect for cul­tures and sus­tain­abil­ity. She says 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, of course, 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 in De­cem­ber that is al­ready mak­ing waves with its bal­cony de­signs. Rather than the tra­di­tional bal­cony that feels sep­a­rated from the

“There’s a cruise for ev­ery­one and there’s some­thing on ev­ery cruise for ev­ery­one.” Me­gan King, se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion

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. “It’s a very dif­fer­ent take and no other ocean ship has done this yet,” she says. “But I think it’s such a cool thing that I ex­pect oth­ers will pick up the idea.” She adds that 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 dif­fer­ent events, like spe­cial din­ners or par­ties. And other ships are also adding oceanic am­biance. McDaniel says that Nor­we­gian Bliss, for ex­am­ple, has a re­mark­able 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 ocean­front prom­e­nade, with shops to stroll by as well as in­door/out­door din­ing and drink­ing op­tions look­ing out on the water.

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 says 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 zip line or the kids club; and if grand­par­ents want to join for a multi­gen­er­a­tional trip, they can amuse them­selves, too. “It makes for a very easy va­ca­tion in keep­ing ev­ery­one happy,” King says. “And yet, they can all gather to­gether and have meals or gather on ac­tiv­i­ties or do an ex­cur­sion and they get to spend some of that time to­gether, too.”

McDaniel and oth­ers in­ter­viewed are op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of cruis­ing. “Cruise re­mains hot and it is con­tin­u­ing to grow. 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 says. Plus, she adds, it’s some­thing that all types of trav­el­ers can get be­hind: “It’s con­tin­u­ing to be this great va­ca­tion that has a whole lot of value. Knock on wood, we’re not see­ing any slow­down any­time soon.”

Sil­ver is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twit­ter: @K8Sil­ver.


ABOVE: The two-level go-kart track on Nor­we­gian Bliss is one ex­am­ple of how cruise lines are be­com­ing more cre­ative with their en­ter­tain­ment op­tions. BE­LOW: Newer ships, such as the Nor­we­gian Break­away, of­fer up an oceanic am­biance with board­walks and restau­rants that look out on the water.



Celebrity Edge, set to launch in De­cem­ber, will al­low guests to lower win­dows with a touch of a but­ton. The ship will also have a fea­ture called the “Magic Car­pet,” a can­tilevered plat­form on its side that can move to dif­fer­ent lev­els and host var­i­ous events.

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