Do you remember “The Love Boat,” that iconic, long-running network TV show from the 1970s and 1980s? That popular show played a major role in bringing the concept of cruising to the consciousness of the masses. As people watched Captain Stubing, cruise director Julie McCoy, purser Burl “Gopher,” and the rest of the lovable cast interact with its celebrity guests, week after week, cruising made its way onto the bucket lists of many Americans.
We’ve come a long way since then. Today’s cruise ships have evolved and innovated in ways that surprise and delight travelers. Here are nine of the biggest changes, all of which can help in-the-know travel advisors sell more cruises.
1. Cruise ships are bigger.
Today’s Godzilla-sized megaships always seem to take the media spotlight in our bigger-is-better social climate. The largest cruise ship today can accommodate more than 5,500 guests and 2,000-plus crew members. A sizeable segment of the mass market loves their megaship experiences, where their options for eating, drinking, and playing seem limitless - without ever leaving the ship.
2. Cruise ships are smaller.
Running parallel to the supersize-it phenomenon is a move towards smaller and more exclusive ships. “The biggest change I’ve noticed is the size/capacity of cruise ships,” said an executive at one of today’s top cruise lines. “Much attention has been given to the megaships and their huge passenger capacity. But at the other end of the spectrum, some cruise ships are getting smaller. Fewer guests, in larger suites, with a greater space-per-guest ratio comes with a premium, but some cruise passengers are willing to pay for that luxury. That’s why we’re seeing the demand for luxury cruising increase.
“The smaller is better trend is important, because long-time cruisers are looking to upgrade, and get away from the crowds. Additionally, clients who have never cruised may now consider cruising, as it’s now more appealing to them.”
The best part about trends #1 and #2 is that, as Mary Rembold, of Pikes Peak Cruise and Travel, said: “There has been an increase in the sheer number of ships, and clients have the option to choose from large ocean-going vessels to small yacht-size accommodations. This opens options for clients to find the perfect cruise to meet their needs and wants.”
3. Luxury comes to in-room amenities.
Cruise guests are increasingly demanding more luxury. Those touches of abundance come in the form of larger staterooms, most of which now have balconies; upgraded in-room amenities, such as flat-screen TVs, spa-style bathrooms and toiletries; smartroom features; and even a personal butler or concierge.
4. Destinations have gone off the beaten path.
Believe it or not, the majority of Americans have not yet taken a cruise. So, for many years to come, there will be a significant market for the standard, first-time cruiser destinations of the Caribbean and perhaps the Mediterranean. But, repeat cruisers are increasingly seeking out less-traveled cruise destinations, such as Alaska, Antarctica, Norway, the Seychelles, and Indonesia. In addition, river cruise lines have made their mark and have grown in popularity, taking guests to more remote destinations that ocean-going ships simply cannot access - in Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond.
5. Expedition cruising is one of the hottest trends.
As the cruise industry matures and cruisers look for new experiences, expedition cruising is emerging as one of the hottest niches. Many new builds are coming to market, purpose-built ships designed for a particular region, the Galapagos or Antarctica or Greenland, for example. And guests want a more luxurious feel to their adventure cruising.
“The most significant change we’ve seen in expedition-style cruising over the past decade is a trend toward nicer hardware. Gone are the days when most cabins had fixed twin beds and a dark, cramped lounge. As new builds and conversions enter the market, they overwhelmingly have larger cabins, a higher percentage of balcony suites, multiple dining venues, and spacious public areas that connect travelers with the environment,” said Shelley Fry, marketing and media manager, at Seattle-based Expedition Trips.
“The trend toward upscale accommodations means that travelers don’t have to sacrifice comfort to explore very remote regions by small ship, and that opens up expedition-style cruising to an entirely new market segment. This is exciting news for travel agents, not only because it’s a lucrative market, but also because they likely have clients who don’t consider themselves as ‘cruisers,’ but who would enjoy this style of travel.”
Rembold added: “The new expedition cruise options make it easier for travel agents to move their clients from classic cruise ships to luxury expedition ships seamlessly. What clients would not want to look out their window in the Galapagos, and have butler service, too?”
6. Onboard entertainment delivers thrills or educates.
Where late-night buffets and shuffleboard were once the norm on cruises, today’s vessels offer a myriad of wow-factor activities that are meant to either thrill or educate. Guests on the larger ships can partake in all sorts of adrenaline-spiking entertainment, such as climbing rock walls, ziplining, surfing, skydiving, and water park attractions, in addition to catching a movie under the stars deckside, strolling on an indoor boardwalk, and seeing a Broadway-style show.
The smaller vessels that focus on luxury and cultural immersion provide more exclusive experiences, like cooking classes with celebrity chefs, spa treatments, lectures by prestigious experts on timely topics, intimate musical revues, and destination seminars.
7. Shoreside excursions run the gamut.
Always popular, shoreside excursions have expanded to offer something for every taste and experience level. Among the possibilities are: a day at the beach, water sports, adventure activities (like biking, hiking, ziplining, and jungle tours), historical walking tours, natural attractions, wildlife experiences, and the evergreen standby of shopping.
But, many cruise lines are now diversifying, offering more memorable excursions that include private tours to places and events that travelers could not arrange on their own. For instance, in Slovenia’s Istria, cruise guests can take a scenic drive in an off-road vehicle to a traditional village, where they meet a pack of truffle-hunting dogs and their master, watch the hunt from a hilltop, and then enjoy a private lunch that includes a selection of the estate’s wines. Or in St. Petersburg, Russia, guests take a special after-hours tour of the storied staterooms of the Winter Palace (from the time of Catherine the Great) in the Hermitage Museum, followed by a reception and performance by the State Hermitage Orchestra.
8. Culinary innovation is trending.
“Years ago, the joke was that you went on a cruise and gained 10 pounds. These days, many people try to watch what they eat, they smoke less, and they exercise more. Cruise lines have recognized that trend, and market a lifestyle - active, foodie, wellness,” said one cruise line spokesperson.
Sophisticated culinary offerings now grace the vessels, including specialty restaurants curated by celebrity chefs; farm-to-table, locally sourced menus; healthy and vegetarian dining options taken at flexible times; and bartenders serving up artisanal cocktails. Culinary-themed shore excursion enrichment programs are also a hit with guests.
9. Technology is everywhere.
In response to customer demand, WiFi is everywhere onboard these days, and costs to connect are lower or even free. Cruise lines are also using technology to simplify and customize guests’ experiences, including wearable tech that opens cabin doors and pays for items like drinks and spa services. One cruise line even has a virtual balcony and porthole in its inside cabins.
What does the future hold for cruise guests? We can count on a growing sensitivity to environmental sustainability, and more onboard technology. But in truth, who knows what will come next? Rembold said it so well: “I truly believe the sky is the limit. If it can be conceptualized, cruise ships can make it happen.”
In the meantime, with so many cruise options to choose from, what’s a traveler to do? Contact their travel agent, of course. “While consumers can easily internet search cruise options, they can be overwhelmed. The role of the travel agent to guide them to a cruise that meets their needs is more important than ever,” said Rembold. “We are seeing a sharp increase in the number of ships along with options available. Cruise lines recognize the benefit travel agents provide, therefore we see a strong partnership established. Who better to book a cruise than a travel agent who knows their clients and can guide them to the right cruise experience?”
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