Staying on top of what’s happening in the cruise industry is one strategy that could help ensure that 2018 is indeed a happy new year for your agency. Here are some key trends to take note of.
Caribbean Is Back in Business
A post-hurricane campaign developed by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and the cruise industry is spreading the word, “The Caribbean is Open!” Agents have seen frequent TV commercials promoting Caribbean sailings — emphasizing that warm weather and great vacation experiences await. The region has more than 100 ports and the reality is that only a few islands were sizably impacted by the storms, among them Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and a few others. But now such tourism attractions as Old San Juan, downtown Philipsburg on St. Maarten, and Magens Bay on St. Thomas, for example, are again welcoming visitors.
Royal Caribbean International resumed San Juan home porting on October 7 with Adventure of the Seas and has since resumed Freedom of the Seas’ port calls there. Carnival Cruise Line returned to San Juan with Carnival Conquest on November 30 and will resume Carnival Fascination’s home porting there on February 18 for year-round, seven-day Caribbean cruises. Seabourn, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises and others also have returned. SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream II will operate a seven-night San Juan roundtrip on February 10 and a St. Thomas roundtrip on March 10.
Many agents initially had concerns about post-hurricane booking impact. But 68 percent of travel agents who took a TravelAgentCentral.com survey in mid-November reported advance winter Caribbean bookings about the same as last year. Sixteen percent said those bookings were “good, a bit higher than last year” and four percent called them “strong, off the chart.” Only 12 percent said Caribbean advance bookings were “not as strong as last year.”
Luxury Cruise Demand Soars
A newly released Travel Leaders Group survey of luxury travel agents found that among top destinations for luxury travel in the coming 12 months, Italy is number one (easily explored by cruisers from such ports as Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia and Venice). Coming in second and third, respectively, were European river cruises and Mediterranean cruises, followed by the U.S. and Ireland.
Also, 92.6 percent of the travel advisors say their luxury travel bookings are higher than or on par with this time last year, up from 84 percent who said so last year. “Some people are scaling up their vacations to include high-end accommodations and exclusive experiences and others are simply taking more trips because of their confidence in the economy,” says Ninan Chacko, CEO, Travel Leaders Group, adding that “cruising in Europe continues to gain in popularity and availability.”
A Pipeline of Large Ships
Last month, the MSC Seaside with an innovative condo / hotel-like design began sailing year-round from Miami, closing out 2017’s industry line-up of new ships. What’s most anticipated for 2018?
Many agents point to Celebrity Cruises’ 117,000-grt, 2,918-passenger Celebrity Edge, launching in December. Sailing from Port Everglades, FL, it will offer such innovations as a cantilevered Magic Carpet platform that moves up and down on the ship’s exterior and “Edge Staterooms with Infinite Veranda” with a drop-down window that creates an open-air balcony, better sea views and more interior space, created by moving the superstructure farther into the ship’s interior.
The new ship will operate Caribbean voyages in winter 2018-2019 before heading to Europe.
Also making waves this year are Carnival Cruise Line’s 113,500-ton, 3,960-passenger Carnival Horizon, launching in April and sailing Mediterranean, Bermuda and Caribbean voyages; MSC Cruises’ new 154,000-grt, 5,179-guest MSC Seaview, sister to MSC Seaside, launching in summer and sailing on Mediterranean and South American voyages; and Norwegian Cruise Line’s 167,800-grt, 4,400-passenger Norwegian Bliss, debuting in May and purpose-built for Alaska cruising with a two-level forward Observation Lounge. It will also sail Caribbean voyages from PortMiami.
In addition, the latest Oasis-class ship, Royal Caribbean International’s 230,000-grt, 5,535-passenger Symphony of the Seas, will launch in April and home port in Barcelona and Miami. We can’t wait to see this ship’s 1,346-square-foot, two-level “Ultimate Family Suite,” accommodating a family of eight in up to two bedrooms. Eye-popping suite features? Look for a slide from the kids-only bedroom to the living room below; floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall; air-hockey table; hidden nooks; and separate 3-D movie theater-style TV room with popcorn machine and library of video games across multiple gaming systems. Plus, the suite’s 212-square-foot wraparound balcony will offer a bumper pool table, climbing experience and whirlpool.
Launching later this year, Holland America Line’s 2,660-passenger Nieuw Statendam could be considered either a large ship or a mid-sized one, depending on guest perspective. Home ported at Port Everglades, FL, it will sail the Caribbean with the lively Music Walk, upscale Pinnacle Grill specialty dining and family oceanview staterooms.
A Revolution in Technology
From Carnival Corporation’s high-tech wearable “Ocean Medallion,” now being field trialed in phases on Regal Princess in the Caribbean through spring, to Royal Caribbean’s “Excalibur” program (see www.travelagentcentral.com for details), techies should love new cruise industry technological enhancements to make their sailing experience easier and more customized. Recently launched on Norwegian Sky is Norwegian Cruise Line’s new, free “Cruise Norwegian” app, also planned for Norwegian Bliss when it launches this spring, and eventually for all Norwegian ships.
With the new app, guests can book shore excursions; make dining or entertainment reservations; purchase onboard dining / beverage packages or special occasion packages before they cruise; get directions to the port; use mobile check-in (e-docs) for a paperless boarding process; review onboard purchases; and see disembarkation information and more. While the app itself is free, unlimited onboard calls and messages are charged at a one-time fee of $9.95, plus $.79 per minute for most international outbound calls.
An Increasing Appetite for Culinary and Wine Cruising
A recent “American Culinary Traveler Report” by Mandala Research reveals that more than 39 million American leisure travelers are passionate foodies who cite availability of culinary activities as a prime reason for their vacation choice. Another 35 million are opportunistic culinary travelers who enjoy pursuing culinary activities while traveling. “We are finding that more and more agents are exploring their local communities for culinary opportunities,” says Drew Daly, general manager of network engagement and performance, CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. That could mean focusing on local celebrity chefs or a local winery / brewery and helping bring their fans together.
“The agents have been able to capitalize on these and put epicurean adventure trips together spotlighting the chef or the local brewery / winery while still traveling to new places and experiencing new cultures,” says Daly, who also points to river cruises as one good option. Among the river lines tapping into the culinary or wine theming are Avalon Waterways with its 19-day “Rhine & Rhone Revealed with Barcelona for Wine Lovers” itinerary in 2018, AmaWaterways with 50 wine-themed voyages this year, 60 in 2019, and Uniworld’s “Connoisseur Collection,” designed for lovers of French food and wine.
Oceangoing Oceania Cruises has introduced the elegant “La Cuisine Bourgeoise,” a seven-course, food-and-wine pairing experience by Master Chef Jacques Pépin. Now on Marina and Riviera, it celebrates fresh, seasonal ingredients, table rituals and savoring classic dishes, many of which are Pépin’s favorites. In North America, small ship operator American Cruise Line will indulge seafood lovers this year with multiple themed summer “Grand New England Lobsterbake Cruises.”
Speaking of seafood, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas will debut Hooked Seafood, the line’s first New England-style seafood restaurant (located in the forward Solarium) with fresh seafood and a raw bar with oysters shucked to order. Also, Carnival Vista’s Seafood Shack (for lobster rolls, fried clams and New England chowder) was added to nine additional Carnival ships.
The Popularity of Mid-Sized
With the proliferation of mega ships, vessels that once would have been considered large are now mid-sized. What’s enticing for some guests is that these vessels are “walkable,” yet large enough for an enticing array of onboard dining, wellness / spa and entertainment venues.
Viking Cruises’ 47,800-grt, 930-passenger Viking Orion will launch in July and sail Mediterranean, Asia, Australia and Alaska voyages. The size of Viking’s vessels, its no-NCFs policy and its cookie-cutter design approach (that guests love) is paying off for some agents, including Holly Tucker, a Nexion agent from Tucker Travel, Hendersonville, NC, who’s seeing “strong bookings with Viking Ocean Cruises.”
Continuing Robust Competition
Fleet growth can strengthen competition and foster even more industry support of agents, as they’re crucial to filling the added berths. One line that trade sources expect to evolve into an even stronger competitor this year is Azamara Club Cruises, which will acquire its third former R-class ship (the former P&O Adonia) in March. That will allow it to expand its voyage portfolio by 50 percent. Look for Azamara’s first voyage to Peru with an overnight experience to Machu Picchu; Iceland with its fire-and-ice attractions; and in-depth exploring of smaller Greek isles.
With Azamara Pursuit, the brand will create 48 new late-night experiences, 19 new itineraries and 15 maiden calls. Larry Pimentel, Azamara’s president and CEO, told us that the line’s loyal guests and travel partners have been clamoring for this expansion. Read more about it at www.travelagentcentral.com and search “Pimentel.”
The Rise of Australasia
More cruises are home porting or calling at Asian ports as well as those in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. China remains a hot source market. Ocean cruises increasingly sail from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japanese port cities and other Asian / South Pacific destinations. And CLIA research shows a record 66 cruise ships were deployed in Asian waters in 2017, up from 43 ships deployed in 2013.
“Cruise itineraries throughout Asia are captivating travelers ranging from those simply looking for an exotic, unique destination to those wanting to fulfill a bucket-list vacation of a lifetime,” says Cindy D’Aoust, CLIA’s president and CEO. The growth isn’t only ocean-focused, as river cruises also sail the Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Ganges and other Asian rivers.
CLIA Australasia’s inaugural “CLIA Asia River Cruise Conference and Destination Forum” kicks off April 10-15 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It includes a three-night “sample cruise” on the Mekong from Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia with visits to a floating market, tribal village and catfish farm. Conference sessions at Le Meridien Saigon Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City will help agents identify potential river cruise clients and learn about Asia’s river cruise diversity.
Growth in Small-Ship Options
In August, Scenic will launch its first oceangoing vessel, the new 16,500-grt Scenic Eclipse. Serving just 228 guests, it will sail the world from the Mediterranean to the Arctic and Antarctic. In summer, Hurtigruten will launch the 530-passenger Roald Amundsen, with cutting-edge, hybrid technology that will reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20 percent, plus assure “quiet sailing” in polar waters. French-styled Ponant will launch the first of four new luxury expedition yachts, the 184-passenger La Laperouse this summer.
Other new small ships launching in the first half of this year include the Star Clippers’ five-masted, 300-passenger Flying Clipper; Seabourn’s 600-guest Seabourn Ovation; and Mystic Cruises’ 200-passenger World Explorer, which will also sail for Quark Expeditions. Silversea Cruises’ also recently transformed its Silver Cloud into an ice-class expedition vessel after a $40 million refurbishment.
Launching new river vessels this year are Crystal River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises, CroisiEurope, Riviera River Cruises, Pandaw Expedition Cruises, Avalon Waterways, Amadeus Waterways, American Cruise Line and others. For a detailed look at these new vessels, check out January’s Luxury Travel Advisor or www.luxuryta.com.
Trendy Makeovers for Ships
Keeping the cruise product fresh across all ships is constant. Royal Caribbean will invest $100 million in a humongous, six-week update for Mariner of the Seas, which has been sailing in Asia but now will return to the U.S. market, sailing short cruises from Miami. Also, during a March drydock, a 49-foot mid-section will be inserted into Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit, resulting in more suites.
Among many other ships being refreshed in 2018 are Carnival Legend, Norwegian Jewel, Crown Princess, Seven Seas Mariner, Crystal Serenity and Zaandam. Costa Cruises just updated Costa Magica with updates to the spa’s wellness and gym spaces; a sauna, thalassotherapy pool and thermal area were added. On Costa Pacifica, new digital signage and Pizzeria Pummid’Oro were added, plus the Gelateria Amarillo was added to both ships.
New, Unusual or Just Plain Fun
In the “what’s new” category, here are some cruises in 2018 or 2019 to whet clients’ appetites for cruising, depending on personal interests.
For Colorful Leaves: Beginning in 2018, Royal Princess will join sister Regal Princess in New York City for Princess Cruises’ most robust Canada and New England deployment ever. On 10- and 11-night cruises from New York and Quebec, the ships will call at such ports as Newport, Boston, Portland, Saint John, Halifax, Sydney (Cape Breton Island), Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island) and others. Royal Princess’ cruises will have an overnight at Quebec City and the 11-night cruises by the ship will also overnight in Boston.
For Genealogy Buffs: One in five U.S. immigrants came to the U.S. on a Cunard liner. Clients who board Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 transatlantic sailing on November 4 can explore their personal “roots” during a “Journey of Genealogy,” offered in partnership with Ancestry.com. Ancestry experts will help guests track their family’s journeys, learn about their heritage, sift through records and discover ethnic origins with AncestryDNA.
For “Down Under” Adventure: Australian small-ship line, Coral Expeditions has just opened bookings for its new Coral Adventurer, launching in 2019. A series of themed voyages, “In the Trail of Tasman,” will retrace the 17th-century path of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, the first to map the coastlines of New Zealand, New Guinea and northern Australia. The first cruise begins in Singapore on April 24, 2019 and ends in Darwin, Australia.
For New York, New York: Clients dying to see a Broadway show in the Big Apple? Starting this spring, the 4,266-passenger Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Cruise Line’s largest vessel to ever sail from New York, arrives for home porting at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. The ship will operate seven-day summer Bermuda cruises, before sailing Canada-New England, Bahamas / Florida and longer southern and western Caribbean cruises.
For Long-Cruise Aficionados: Seabourn’s new “Extended Explorations” voyages on Seabourn Sojourn in 2018 and 2019 are designed for clients who love longer cruises to more exotic destinations. Itineraries range from 12 days to 128 days with travel to the South Pacific, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Africa and Southeast Asia.
For Small-Ship Alaska: A sampling of new small-ship Alaska options for 2018? UnCruise Adventures’ 88-guest S.S. Legacy, a replica coastal steamer previously sailing the Pacific Northwest, is newly outfitted with kayaks and skiffs and will reposition to Alaska. Windstar Cruises’ newly refreshed, 212-passenger Star Legendwill debut a new Signature Expeditions program, with an expedition team of five on every sailing, plus new enrichment discussions and optional small group excursions (hiking, kayaking or Zodiacs). Alaskan Dream Cruises is adding a new “Alaska’s Spring Wilderness & Wildlife Safari” on five departures roundtrip from Sitka.
For Stunning Photos: Photographer Jack Hollingsworth will sail on Emerald Waterways’ “Sensations of Southern France” voyage on August 4 to help guests improve their smartphone photo skills.