Top Trends in Ocean Cruising for 2019's Second Half

As the industry goes sailing through the second half of 2019, we take a look at what’s new, what’s next and what’s trending for the cruise industry and agents who sell ocean cruises. Here’s a look at several of the top trends that surfaced in discussions with travel advisors and cruise industry executives.   

Youth Power and the Rise of Generation Z

The rise of youth travel and Generation Z cruising was cited by Michelle Fee, CEO and founder, Cruise Planners, as a growing travel trend. Fee recently traveled with her grandchildren to the “Perfect Day at CocoCay,” Royal Caribbean International’s revitalized island experience in the Bahamas. “They were thrilled with the waterpark and all the insane waterslides and loved floating up on the helium balloon to take the ultimate selfies,” she says. 

Bottom line? Younger travelers have grown up with technology and depend on social media to stay connected with friends and family, and they love posting selfies. Simply put, they view Instagram, Pinterest and other social media sites as necessities in their lives. So, when talking about what to see, do and experience on a cruise, particularly for Millennials and the older members of Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2015) as well as other travelers too, it’s important to weave social media into the conversation. 

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“Gen Z guests are reshaping the travel industry,” believes Fee, noting that “they want it all and are willing to splurge for unique travel experiences that are immersive, exploratory and adrenaline-fueled.” She says these digital nomads love anything off-the-beaten-path, such as a private island with fewer guests or a music festival at sea. “They’re also focused on sharing their stories on their travel blogs and pictures on Instagram,” emphasizes Fee, who adds that “cruise lines have been updating and designing entire spaces to be ‘Insta-worthy,’ all in the hope of enticing these young travelers.”

Turkey Is Back, Cuba Is Out

Agents say clients are ready and many cruise lines — both big and small — have added Turkey back to their schedules or enhanced the offerings they already offer there by adding in more ports. Tourism officials report that 275 ships will bring 400,000 cruise visitors to Turkish ports this year, and that’s expected to increase next year.

Frank Del Rio, chairman, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, told financial analysts on an earning call earlier this year that “Turkey is the key destination that has been somewhat off-limits to the industry for the last couple of year.” But cruise lines are now returning as the political/security situation has improved. Del Rio said that North Americans now desire to go to the eastern Mediterranean again and are willing to pay a premium price to do so, “which bodes well for 2020.” All three of his company’s cruise lines have scheduled Turkey calls.  

Celestyal Cruises has a sizable number of upcoming “Eclectic Aegean” voyages heading to Turkey on the 1,200-passenger Celestyal Crystal. Other lines sailing into Turkish ports in 2019, 2020 and beyond include Azamara, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Oceania Cruises, Ponant, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises, Star Clippers, Viking Ocean Cruises, Windstar Cruises, and many others too. Antalya, Bodrum, Dikili, Istanbul, Kuşadası, Marmaris and Sinop are just a few of the ports back on cruise ship schedules. 

Azamara will debut new shore excursion programming in Turkey for its 2020-2021 winter/spring itineraries. On several different calls at Istanbul, it will overnight in port and guests can spend enjoy a full day and a half ashore – perhaps touring the ancient Hippodrome, St. Sophia Museum or Topkapi Palace. Also, Azamara will return to the ports of Antalya and Sinop. Antalya is home to the well-preserved Greco-Roman amphitheater at ancient Aspendos with seating for 15,000.

In 2020, Vantage Cruise Lines’ new Ocean Explorer expedition ship will debut. Among its inaugural season itineraries is an “Eastern Mediterranean Crossing” itinerary that calls at Turkey, the Greek Islands, Cyprus, Egypt and the Holy Land. Princess Cruises has unveiled its 2021 World Cruise, a 111-day voyage on Island Princess visiting 50 destinations in 32 countries across six continents. It’s offered roundtrip from either Fort Lauderdale on January 3, 2021, or from Los Angeles on January 17, 2021; one port call is at Turkey’s ancient city of Ephesus.  

But as Turkey rises in its popularity within the cruise industry and lines begin to reschedule voyages there, another destination — Cuba — has been pulled from cruise line schedules following new U.S. government regulations about travel there. Cruise lines sailing from the U.S. or carrying a high percentage of Americans have essentially ripped up their schedules, replacing the Cuba port calls with other stops in Mexico, the Bahamas or elsewhere in the Caribbean region and, in many cases, offering guest refunds or other compensation/future voyages/credit.

 

Value-Adds Continue to Rule

“The biggest trend in cruising we are seeing is the cruise lines adding valuable perks to entice guests to choose a cruise vacation,” says Jeff Leach, franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream Vacations, Omaha, NE. He cites such value-adds as beverage packages, specialty dining, free gratuities and onboard spending money. 

“In this highly competitive market, the major cruise lines understand many of their potential clients are looking for a more inclusive option,” emphasizes Leach. Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion Travel Group, also mentioned this trend, and she believes it will continue as the lines “try and drive pricing up by including more prior to the cruise.”   

Booking Contrasts: Farther Out and Closer In

During Crystal Cruises’ 2019 Trade Gala onboard Crystal Serenity in June, the line’s top producers — annual sales of $1 million and up — learned from Tom Wolber, Crystal’s president and CEO, that for many reservations, the booking window has lengthened with the trade doing a good job of getting luxury guests to book farther out. Crystal also now releases schedules three years out and Wolber reports that more than 300 accommodations have been booked for the full 2022 World Cruise

Yet, it’s a selling world of big contrasts too. Wolber also reports a trend this year of some luxury travelers booking “closer-in than is standard for the luxury market.” Also “seeing more close-in bookings than in the past” is Friedman, who also says, “this is resulting in more last-minute marketing pushes for 2019 sailings, whereas typically by now, marketing shifts to the next year.”

Agents Must Be Issue-Savvy

At the annual Cruise360 conference in Fort Lauderdale, FL, earlier this year, Adam Goldstein, global chair of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and president of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said that when he travels overseas, in every conversation, he’s asked about the cruise industry and its impact on the environment. In a hard-hitting keynote address, he told agent attendees that the time to prepare is now — to become educated about environmental initiatives and what cruise lines are doing on the sustainability and environmental side and to be prepared to discuss those with clients. While cruising comprises less than 1 percent of the global maritime business, it’s highly visible. 

“It becomes part of your world slowly but surely,” Goldstein said. “Just as you train and receive certifications and learn about other crucial aspects of the business … so also will you come to this.” He urged agents to learn more about the industry’s stewardship efforts — encompassing everything from new advanced wastewater treatment systems to exhaust gas emissions systems/scrubbers, hull coating, hull shapes, air lubrication systems that eject bubbles under a ship’s hull to cut down on fuel consumption, LED lighting, and single-use plastic bans. 

Lindblad Expeditions will become a carbon neutral company starting this year; it will effectively offset 100 percent of emissions from its ships (eight from the Lindblad-National Geographic fleet and five leased vessels), all land-based operations, employee travel, offices in New York and Seattle, and additional — small but measurable — emission contributors. Ports, too, are doing their part. For example, Port Canaveral, FL, is only one of two ports in Florida and one of 22 ports nationwide to receive Green Marine Certification.

“Now I don’t expect any of you to get your PhD in all of this,” Goldstein explained, but “I believe it will become increasingly instructive in dialogue with at least some guests — some increasing number of guests that you will begin to get questions from about these types of stewardship elements.” He said the cruise industry trusts agents in the sales arena and it also wants to trust advisors to be able to talk at a certain level about sustainability too. 

Over-tourism is another topic that clients are asking about. While thousands of cruise passengers visit Venice, Italy, daily, cruise guests comprise only a small portion of all Venice visitors. Yet, Goldstein said ships are highly visible there and elsewhere and thus attract activism ire about over-tourism. His hope is that agents learn more, become educated, and ask specific questions of suppliers. 

Feeding the Consumer Appetite for Restoration/Wellness

Consumers who are stressed out from fast-paced lives are seeking ways to check out from their daily responsibilities and rejuvenate, according to CLIA’s 2019 Cruise Trends & Industry Outlook. Not surprisingly, cruise lines are serving up total wellness with spa treatments, oxygen bars, healthy cuisine, fitness activities, and shoreside wellness focused activities.

Cunard’s 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth recently was revitalized with the launch of a new holistic spa concept, Mareel Wellness & Beauty, developed in partnership with CanyonRanch.

Even health and wellness extend to the littlest cruisers. Collaborating with Barilla, the University of Parma and Madegus – Masters of Taste, Costa Cruises has created a new onboard kids menu reflecting a Mediterranean diet. A related educational card game will heighten children’s awareness of healthy foods/nutrition. Kids who choose one of the seven new choices at lunch ,either in the Main Restaurant or with Squok Club leaders, will receive a package containing 10 playing cards by Italian cartoonist Fogliazza; they show original characters reflecting the colors of fruits and vegetables. Children can collect and exchange up to 85 cards and continue the game at home. 

Access Is the New Luxury

Within the past three years, expedition cruising has soared in demand with the public. Many cruise lines have or are adding new high-end expedition ships, among them Scenic’s new Scenic Eclipse, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Hanseatic inspiration and expedition vessels for Silversea, Seabourn and Crystal. Small-ship line Alaskan Dream Cruises has added a new expedition vessel, the 12-passenger Kruzof Explorer, which will set sail on three newly designed 2020 itineraries — pushing into Southeast Alaska’s most remote “edges” including the communities of Klawock and Yakutat. Even veteran Alaska cruisers are likely unfamiliar with those destinations and such ports of call as Pelican, Lituya Bay, Dall Island and Baranof Warm Springs

“Cruise travelers are setting their sights on destinations that were previously out of reach — some only accessible now by cruise ship — from the Galapagos Islands to Antarctica,” says Charles Sylvia, CLIA’s vice president, membership and trade relations. He says the growing fleet of expedition ships and yachts heading to off-the-beaten-path spots is “proof positive that destination access is a trend that’s here to stay.”

Seabourn recently cut steel on its first dedicated expedition ship, Seabourn Venture, launching in June 2021. A second, sister vessel will set sail in May 2022. Why is expedition travel soaring in popularity? “I think people are becoming more aware of the world around them,” suggests Robin West, Seabourn’s vice president —expedition operations and planning. With education, films and documentaries, consumers also are more aware of remote destinations, cultures and natural history, and West cites the impact of “new filming techniques that make you part of the experience.”

West also says well-traveled, educated luxury cruisers increasingly have a “thirst for knowledge, an internal drive that makes them want to explore the world, see it and learn as much as possible first-hand. This is what an expedition ship offers.” They also don’t want to compromise — so they desire to visit the far corners of the globe, have immersive shore experiences, yet travel in ultra-luxury style and comfort. But, once having taken a Zodiac experience, they’re usually hooked on expedition adventures. 

Adventure rules with all kinds of ships, though. Small-ship UnCruise Adventures is adding more Latin American destinations in 2020 with Belize, Guatemala and Colombia chosen for a new adventure cruise route. Oceania Cruises recently introduced “the Sirena Exotic Collection,” nine sailings of 10 to 24 days between November 2020 and April 2021. The 684-passenger, newly revitalized Sirena will sail to such exotic destinations as Israel, Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, India, Myanmar and Indonesia

Technology Built Into the Experience

“Cruise ship guests use technology in their daily lives so they expect smart tech while on vacation,” stresses Sylvia, citing the lines’ deployment of new apps, bracelets, key fobs, necklaces options providing a highly personalized, high-tech travel experience on and off the ship. Princess Cruises’ new Ocean Medallion — by many accounts, the cruise industry’s most robust onboard technology concept — is now fully operational on Caribbean Princess, Regal Princess, Royal Princess and Crown Princess. It will be introduced on other vessels as follows: Ruby Princess by January 27; Grand Princess by March 29; Enchanted Princess by June 15; Emerald Princess by August 16, 2020; Coral Princess by October 16, 2020; and Island Princess by December 20, 2020.

Sky Princess, the first new build to have Ocean Medallion integrated into ship design and construction, will offer it beginning October 12. In addition, many other cruise lines have beefed up onboard Wi-Fi; added electronic wayfinding boards; set up online technology so guests can book shore excursions, specialty dining and experiences; and created new ways to smooth the “ship to shore” experience. Wi-Fi packages purchased by guests on Royal Caribbean International’s Navigator of the Seas extend ashore for the guest’s use at Perfect Day at CocoCay, the line’s newly opened, revitalized private island experience in the Bahamas.

Off-Peak Demand Is Rising

Sylvia says the off-peak season for cruises is seeing a rise in popularity. Why? Sometimes cruise travelers just want to escape the cold in a bit more tropical locale than their home locale, such as heading to the Mediterranean in January, when it’s off-season there, but still nice, and typically far colder back home in the upper Midwest, New England states, Canada or elsewhere. Off-peak travel also entices with great deals and often fewer crowds. “Cruising offers some once-in-lifetime experiences during colder months including excursions to see the Northern Lights, visiting a penguin colony and touring European Christmas markets,” says Sylvia. 

Sailing year-round in the Mediterranean is MSC Cruises. The new MSC Grandiosa, launching later this year, sails a seven-night winter season voyage roundtrip from Marseille, France, visiting Italy, Malta, Spain and France. For January 10, January 17, January 24 and January 31 departures, fares (at press time) for that itinerary on the line’s newest ship started at just $449 per person double for an interior cabin. So, cruisers get a highly affordable fare, a new, amenity-laden mega-ship experience and a full Mediterranean voyage and destination experiences without the crowds of summer.  

Increasing Passion for “Everything Land”

Showing just how important the land side is to the cruise experience, most lines have “hugged” the destinations in a big way. Notably, Azamara, which recently dropped the “Club Cruises” from its name, explaining that it’s further enhancing its destination immersion onboard, has introduced an even more robust selection of pre- and post-voyage land programs and now offers more than 1,700 land program offerings for cruisers. “This is just the beginning,” says Larry Pimentel, Azamara’s president and CEO. “We expect our land programming to grow even more as we continue to augment our services.”

Partnering cruise and land in another way is Vidanta Cruises, Grupo Vidanta’s luxury cruise vacationing brand, will set sail with its first ship, Vidanta Elegant, this fall. With just one check-in, travelers will split their trip between Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta, the company’s land resort destination, and Vidanta Elegant, giving them access to both a cruise and resort vacation in the Mexican Pacific region.

Brightline, the higher speed rail service currently running between West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, FL, has rebranded as Virgin Trains, which now is building new tracks to Orlando, with plans to open that route in several years. So, Virgin Voyages’ guests could take a cruise, add on a hotel stay in South Florida and ride the train to Orlando for a theme park visit and stay. MSC Cruises and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, sailing from PortMiami and the Port of Palm Beach, respectively, also have partnerships with the former Brightline.  

More Support for Consumers and Agents Alike

Some lines have added new programs and guest services that agents can use to help entice guests or assist them with their cruise reservations. Making it easy for guests to make monthly cruise payments after a reservation is made is Holland America Line’s new EZpay service. Equal, interest-free payments auto-charge monthly and allow clients to budget and pay off their cruise fare balance prior to the final payment date. Extra funds can also be added to a payment, if desired, and the following payments will be adjusted down accordingly. Guests pay no additional fees. Nearly all Holland America itineraries are eligible unless they’re within the final payment deadline. 

And the ultimate dilemma for some consumers? They may wonder why they should use a travel agent to book a cruise versus booking it themselves. What are the benefits? To benefit the trade and educate consumers, several months ago, Carnival Cruise Line introduced its new WUATA — Why Use a Travel Advisor? — program to support travel advisors. In June, the new website, www.WUATA.com, debuted, along with a new Facebook page, Facebook.com/CCLWUATA.  

Additional WUATA Parties (several have been conducted already) are planned to raise awareness of the value of using a travel agent. Next up is the New Jersey/New York WUATA Party on September 18 at the Liberty House Restaurant on Liberty Island, followed by one in the Los Angeles area (Pasadena) on October 23. The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) are co-sponsoring those events. 

Themed and Specialty Cruising

Agents also report the growing trend of consumer interest in themed or special interest cruises. Here are three topics generating more cruising interest.

Sip & Savor: Culinary and wine travel has been a draw for consumers for several years, and it continues unabated. In turn, cruise lines continue to beef up their culinary offerings. Seabourn has debuted a new “Cook Your Catch” program for Seabourn Sojourn guests in Alaska this summer; Silversea continues to develop its innovative, new S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Tastes) local cuisine program, debuting on Silver Moon in August 2020; and Crystal Cruises just launched its latest video, episode 8 of “Crystal Cruises Presents: A Culinary Journey Hosted by Jon Ashton,” focused on Madagascar

Ponant is introducing a new “Epicurean Delights of Southern Italy and Sicily” on the new Le Jacques Cartier’s (entering service in 2020) October 18, 2020 sailing. Regent Seven Seas Cruises will debut 65 new shore experiences in 2020 for the new Seven Seas Splendor’s 2020 inaugural season. From Honfleur, France, guests can take a Calvados distillery tour and sample premium apple-cider-based brandy, while from Glasgow, Scotland, they can learn to cook Scottish cuisine using seasonal ingredients in a hands-on class.

Cruising for a Cause: Dana Salem-McCarthy, Dream Vacations, based in North Fort Myers, FL, and Cleveland, OH, is among several agents who’ve told us that “cruising for a cause” is growing in appeal for both agents and their clients. Salem-McCarthy, a breast cancer survivor, has partnered with fellow agency owner, Renee Gerber, Dream Vacations, Woodstock, MD, to host an “Anchored in Hope 2020 Breast Cancer Cruise” on Royal Caribbean International’s Navigator of the Seas, departing October 2, 2020. Visit www.getawaywithreneeanddana.com.

“Too many women we know and love have been diagnosed and battled breast cancer over the past few years,” says Gerber, adding that the cruise is "one way to give back to help find a cure.” Salem-McCarthy says: “If I can help prevent what I experienced for just one woman, it’s a blessing … We need to keep society engaged in finding a total cure for breast cancer and why not have some fun while doing it.” Increasingly, clients want to “make a difference,” says Salem-McCarthy. “They seriously want to help, give back and participate in change.”

LGBT Pride Focus:  Increasingly, cruise lines and agencies are discovering opportunities within the LGBTQ+ community. In June, Celebrity Cruises hosted its third annual Pride Month across its fleet with daily multi-generational LGBTQ+-focused programming and a Pride Party at Sea extravaganza. Officers, staff and guests across the globe participated in such Pride programming such as The Largest Kiki At Sea, Silent Disco Pride, and Pride Art Hour. Separately, Variety Cruises, a small-ship boutique line, celebrated Pride Month by launching a gay-friendly brochure.

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