What's the Top Cruise Story of 2018? Advisors Sound Off

As the year draws to a close, Travel Agent asked eight cruise selling travel advisors to identify what each considered the top story or top development for the cruise industry in 2018. 

From low water levels on European rivers to razzle-dazzle new ships with innovative features, here are their top picks, with some agents giving Travel Agent a "runner-up” top story as well.

Important to note? These cruise sellers are geographically diverse -- from South Carolina to Minnesota, California to Florida, Alabama to Washington state and Connecticut.

Here’s their “take” on 2018’s top cruise industry story.

Kelly Brock, Bluffton, SC

Growth in small ship cruising, especially river cruising, is tops for Kelly Brock, senior travel specialist, AAA Carolinas in Bluffton, SC, who says: “I’m seeing more interest and have booked more U.S. and Canada small ship cruises than ever before.

Mississippi River Bridge Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez. Editorial Use Only.

The Mississippi River, Natchez, MS is shown above; photo by Visit Natchez

And, she emphasizes, that’s “not only on the go-to Mississippi and Columbia rivers, but also the Great LakesSt. Lawrence River and British Columbia, which are gaining in popularity.”

Brock says it's an "added bonus" that river vessels are being modified, upgraded or built with the luxury customer in mind.

Her "runner-up" top trend is that cruise lines offering onboard credits are now allowing – “and in some cases, insisting” -- those credits should be applied to excursions clients are booking prior to boarding their cruise.

Denise Schaefer, Encino, CA

“The biggest cruise development this year is the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection launch,” believes Denise Schaefer, travel consultant, Plaza Travel, a Signature Travel Network member agency in Encino, CA.

“It’s exciting to have a mid-ranged priced ship with about 250 passengers which no one else has out there,” she says, adding that she thinks the yachting experience will create a new standard in luxury travel and a one-of-a-kind experience like no other.  

She sees the second biggest story of the year as the launch of Celebrity Cruises' innovative Celebrity Edge and Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas, the world’s largest ship, both of which she calls “revolutionary” for all their bells and whistles.

Schaefer believes both ships "will be monumental in increased sales as families look for more exciting things to experience onboard."

Marc Hayes, Ormond Beach, FL

When it comes to evaluating 2018, new ships are the top story, believes Marc Hayes, president and co-owner  of Cruise Elite Inc., an Ensemble Travel Network member agency in Ormond Beach, FL. His wife, Marisel Aleman, is also a co-owner.

“It seemed almost everyone had a new baby to deliver to the world,” says Hayes. 

Norwegian Bliss Racetrack

Go-karts zoom around Norwegian Bliss' racetrack ; photo by Susan J. Young

Early in the year, "NCL captivated us with ‘Bliss,'" he notes, mentioning the suite style of The Haven, the Broadway-style show, "Jersey Boys," as well as go-karts and other fun diversions.   

Then, he says, “Royal rolled out another monster, Symphony of the Seas. If these ships get any bigger they’re going to need a zip code.”

He describes that ship as typically Royal Caribbean in style – taking agents and guests “over the top again.” But, that aside, “Celebrity Edge, the long awaited hype of two years, was definitely the story of the year” calling it “pretty amazing.”

Highlights? Hayes was impressed with the Magic Carpet for its use as a tendering platform, as multiple tenders can be used in a wide open area, avoiding the inevitable cramped hallways that occur during most ships' tender service. Hayes says it's "a much safer and faster way to get on and off the ship.”

While appreciating the gadgetry within the Edge Stateroom with Infinite Veranda -- such as a night-time shade that electronically moves up and down -- Hayes says he still misses curtains that let a guest peek outside.

Still, he appreciates the Aqua Class bathroom with lots of shower room, shelf room and “even a real night light.” He also likes the ship’s food, service and theater with its high-tech sound system, and says the Retreat suite class experience will wow those looking for more.

He isn't personally a fan of Eden, but likes the food. But he quips that "my wife...loved every single bit” of the new ship.

Both agree, though, says Hayes: “Celebrity Edge is the 2018 Cruise Story of the year.”

Sofia Markovich, Birmingham, AL

“I think the biggest cruise story this year is that cruise lines are continuing their commitment to addressing and tackling global issues and how they impact our world and communities,” emphasizes Sofia Markovich of Sofia’s Travel, LLC, an independent agency in the Avoya Travel Network, Birmingham, AL.

She says the travel industry as a whole has taken responsibility through cooperative efforts to create awareness, plus many cruise lines are now implementing some sort of sustainability policy. Several brands have aligned these objectives with the United Nation’s sustainable development goals (SDG), according to Markovich.

For example, she mentions the elimination of plastics by Royal Caribbean International and other cruise lines and the efforts of the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fund to protect the places that the line explores through conservation, research, education and community development.

Lindblad National Geographic

Guests can have close encounters with sea lions during some Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic voyages; the two firms are committed to eco-protection. Photo by Lindblad-National Geographic.  

Markovich also points to the Travel Corporation’s operation of the non-profit TreadRight Foundation, which works to encourage sustainable tourism development.

“Every time a person travels they are supporting these global initiatives that impact our local and international communities,” says Markovich. Having traveled to all seven continents, she sees the need to step up efforts to create awareness and says the cruise industry plays a vital role.

Looking forward, she stresses: "I believe we will see greater alignments between CLIA, ASTA and other cruise brands for the SDG as these initiatives gain momentum and become part of every organization's operations."

Annie Scrivanich, Seattle, WA

From the perspective of Annie Scrivanich, senior vice president, Cruise Specialists in Seattle, WA: “The biggest cruise development of the year is the phenomenal growth in expedition-style cruising.”

In particular, she cites developments within the luxury cruise segment -- including Crystal, Seabourn, Scenic, Silversea and Ponant, along with Hurtigruten’s new Roald Amundsen, the line's first hybrid ship.

She also cites Celebrity Cruises' launch this year of Celebrity Flora on year-round Galapagos sailings. She believes all those developments add new luxury and enrichment opportunities to consider for clients.  

Scrivanich also says another major cruise-related story in 2018 is the continued growth in the World Cruise sector as more cruise lines are now offering programs.  

Captain Knutsen Welcomes Guests Onboard World Cruise for Viking Sun at PortMiami

Viking welcomes World Cruise guests at PortMiami; photo courtesy of Viking

Even more interesting, Scrivanich says the average age of her group’s World Cruise clients is decreasing while the number of its solo cruisers is increasing.

Karen Quinn-Panzer, Milford, CT

"As 2018 closes, I believe the biggest cruise development of the year is ship innovation - across many different categories of cruising, says Karen Quinn-Panzer of Milford, CT, a franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream Vacations.

She says that from contemporary lines to premium and luxury lines to river cruising, there is a reason to try cruising for the first time and for loyal cruisers to come back for a new and exciting experience.

Norwegian Bliss introduced its out-of-the-box racetrack on top of the ship along with a spectacular Observation Lounge with two-story high windows - built for the Alaska cruise market,” she notes.

Based on that new ship's success in Alaska, Norwegian Cruise Line is now redeploying Norwegian Joy (formerly in Asia and also with a racetrack) to the Alaska market as well, Quinn-Panzer adds.

In addition, she says, "Celebrity launched their game-changing Celebrity Edge, arguably one of the "most anticipated ships of the year" with trend-setting style and the “technology marvel of the Magic Carpet and the Infinite Veranda - the balcony that can become part of your stateroom with a touch of a button.”

She also likes that ship for its innovative embarkation process that uses facial recognition technology and Le Petit Chef, which offers custom 3D table animation art, where the plates seem to come alive with theater. 

Also cited by Quinn-Panzer are Ponant’s new Explorer-class expedition ships with the multisensory "Blue Eye Lounge," in which guests can go underwater to observe the seabed and photo-luminescent organisms through video from non-intrusive underwater cameras. 


AmaWaterways' AmaMagna is extra wide. Rendering by AmaWaterways. 

And she mentions AmaWaterways' new extra-wide AmaMagna, debuting in May 2019 on the Danube with multiple dining venues, a Sundowner launch, a new golfing program and a Renewals of Vows program; all that, she says, can expand the market.  

Ted Blank, Stillwater, MN

“The explosion in luxury expedition ships offering destination immersion itineraries is the biggest cruise development of the year,” according to Ted Blank, travel advisor, Travel Leaders, Stillwater, MN. 

He cites the cruise lines “chasing each other to tap into the strong market for off-the-beaten-path itineraries, often to remote and exotic destinations, combined with a true onboard luxury experience.”

The good news? These cruises book up years in advance, shipyards are full of new vessels, and these cruises are proving very popular with well-traveled guests, even those who have never cruised before, Blank stresses: “This is truly growing the cruise market.”

His runner-up topic for the cruise industry's top story of the year is the increasing complexity of cruise fares and the increasing popularity of non-refundable deposits. "No longer can the advisor sell on itinerary, stateroom category and onboard experience," he says, but "it's vital to be a value interpreter and help clients navigate these additional complexities."

Danny Genung, Redlands, CA

“The biggest story in river cruising is still going on currently,” reports Danny Genung of Harr Travel, a Nexion Travel Group member agency from Redlands, CA. “The water levels on both the Rhine and the Danube have been at record lows for a record amount of time.”

Rhine River

The Rhine River (shown above) and the Danube both are having low water issues. Photo by Harald007/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

In fact, at press time, Genung was “waiting to hear whether we will be able to make it to the end of our cruise as planned.” He has had several groups affected, but he also says the lines have really differentiated themselves.

“The design of the ships played a huge role, as well as the way they reacted to the situation,” he says, crediting AmaWaterways for being "incredibly proactive and communicative."

Recently, he also was with an Avalon Waterways group at the end of a 14-night itinerary and "all of the guests were highly satisfied with the compensation as well as [the line's] ability to adjust on the fly.” From his perspective, Avalon being part of the Globus family of brands was a “huge benefit."

In ocean cruising, he’s excited about two particular innovations. First is Celebrity Edge’s Magic Carpet. “As someone who has been on over 100 cruises, I have experienced over and over one of the worst parts of big ship cruising – tendering,” he emphasizes. 

But Magic Carpet's cantilevered, floating platform "makes it much easier and more comfortable, but more importantly it bridges the onboard product with the destination,” he tells his clients.

He can't wait to see the concept in use in Europe, and someday perhaps in Asia, particularly as that involves islands that he can't now recommend to those clients who may have certain accessibility needs.  

He also cites for innovation Norwegian Bliss’ Observation Lounge and Haven Lounge: “These are the most beautiful spaces to 'take in' Alaska.

When he was in the Haven Lounge, he also felt as though he could have been at an high quality Denali-area lodge. "The aesthetic is beautiful, but more than that it really captures the essence of an Alaskan Cruise [and has] sweeping views in a wonderfully comfortable environment."

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