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Celebrity Edge (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Celebrity Edge (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Cruise Trends 2019: Cruise Critic's Biggest Predictions

Cruising is already well into a multiyear growth spurt, with tons (pun intended) of new ships -- large and small -- launching over the next several years. With so many new vessels and even new cruise lines entering the market, expect lots of innovations coming down the pipeline; the cruise industry will see both evolutions and revolutions. Here are 10 cruise trends we predict are coming in 2019 and beyond.

Updated January 11, 2019

1. Cruise Line Crossovers Amp Up

Though cruise category crossovers -- where a cruise line decides to expand its brand into a new niche -- are nothing new, it wasn't until Viking River Cruises branched out with its ever-expanding Viking Ocean line that we really began to see cruise lines testing out other forms of cruising. Cruise lines are no longer content to just compete in one area of the industry; instead the lines want to get the customer at every possible point of entry. In the past few years, we've seen Crystal Cruises enter river and announce expedition, Scenic Cruises build an oceangoing expedition ship and MSC lay plans for new luxury ships. We expect to see more enterprising cruise lines announcing they'll try their hands in other cruise sectors in the coming year. Furthermore, we predict Viking, which has signed a letter of intent with expedition specialist builder Vard, will announce its move into expedition cruising by the end of the year!

Trendy concepts -- blow dry bars, brunches, downtown-chic tattoo parlors, modern arcade attractions (laser tag, VR games) and tiki and specialty cocktail bars -- are finding their way onto more cruise ships faster than ever before. Leading the charge are Royal Caribbean, Virgin Voyages and U by Uniworld. This embrace of land trends makes cruise ships feel more like modern hotels than traditional sailing vessels. Pioneers here include American Queen Steamboat's American Duchess and Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Edge, the latter of which used new-to-cruise interior designers (namely Kelly Hoppen). Virgin is taking this further, working with 10 designers that have never stepped foot on a cruise ship before.

3. Focus on Adults

Cruising provides an amazing vacation for families, but couples without children, empty-nesters and other cruisers have long sought ways to get away from the rug rats. On most ships, the only options have been age-limited pools or sun decks, but now we're seeing premium cruise lines, as well as upscale new ships, that are quietly pushing children out of the picture. Both Viking Ocean and Virgin Voyages are 18 and older. And new ships Norwegian Bliss and Celebrity Edge have put kids clubs out of sight on the ship's lowest levels. We expect to see more upscale lines invest in public spaces that are decidedly grown up and unappealing to kids.

4. Instagram Inspires Cruise Ship Design

The Magic Capet Restaurant on Celebrity Edge (Photo: Celebrity Cruises)

All the visually amazing "wow" moments that each line is coming up with are perfect for social media in general, and Instagram in particular. From smoking cocktails served in miniature treasure chests (Celebrity Edge) to drag queen brunches (Virgin Voyages), art pieces that make you go "whoa!" (Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Holland America) and top-deck Galapagos glamping setups (the upcoming Celebrity Flora), cruise lines are serving up experiences that even the least-likely influencer is going to want to document. We predict every new cruise ship and every refurbishment going forward will include one or more Instagram-worthy spaces or activities that will get the industry buzzing.

5. Cruise Lines Plan Itineraries to "Avoid the Crowds"

As over-tourism threatens more destinations, cruise lines will continue to stagger their arrivals in the most popular ports (like Barcelona or Venice), as well as develop "less discovered" ports to spread out the crowds. This is already happening in Europe, where you see ports like Malaga and Vigo on the rise, and cooperation among lines visiting places like Dubrovnik and Santorini. Princess Cruises is leading the way by looking for off-the-beaten path ports in Europe, as opposed to the been-there, done-that destinations. We also predict fewer overview-type city tour excursions on each sailing, as more themed or outside-the-city tours will take their place -- another way the lines can thin the crowds, making both their passengers and the destinations happy.

6. Cruise Lines Bundle Suite/Extra-Fee Perks

Living room of the two-story Edge Villa suite in Celebrity Edge (Photo: Celebrity Cruises)

Cruise lines are starting to look like airlines when it comes to getting passengers to fork over money for special perks. We're seeing more and more exclusive, suite-only venues and inclusions -- lounges, restaurants, sun decks, internet -- rolling out across fleets and we don't expect the trend to slow down. For cruisers who can't afford or don't want to book a suite, lines are also starting to bundle some of these same perks into extra-fee packages to offer a VIP-light experience that might include priority embarkation and tendering, reserved theater seats, access to suites-only venues and more. You can be sure we'll see more of these packages, as well as an expansion of suites-only locations onboard.

7. Cruise Lines Look for New Ways to Go Green

The banning of straws and/or single-use plastics across much of the cruise industry was huge in 2018, and we expect to see more of the same on an even larger scale next year. Look for cruise lines to provide free or extra-fee reusable mugs and cups as a way of encouraging passengers to go green. In particular, we expect all the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. brands (Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Azamara and Silversea) to debut aluminum water containers in place of water bottles, a move that first debuted on Celebrity Edge. We also predict more cruise lines will look for ways to cut back on the number of printed papers that are delivered to cabins, instead looking to phone applications for delivering daily schedules. Two other related predictions: Cruise lines will increase, or at least offer, once-a-day stateroom servicing options; and lines will install newer high-tech keycard electric wall slots that cannot be fooled by anything that remotely resembles a cruise ship keycard.

8. Cruise Lines Invest in 21st-Century Terminals

Virgin Voyages' PortMiami terminal (Image: Virgin Voyages)

If you're cruising in 2019 and beyond, chances are you'll be moving through a more modern cruise terminal than ever before. With new terminals under construction in Port Canaveral (Orlando), Miami, Galveston, Ensenada (Mexico) and Icy Strait Point (Alaska) in North America; Trieste, Dover and Southampton in Europe; and also in Dubai, cruise lines are as committed to refining the cruise experience as it starts on land as they are to improving their ships. Look for more announcements about cruise terminals -- both new-builds and high-tech refurbishments -- in other U.S. and European ports by the end of the year.

9. Cutting Edge Tech Will Change the Cruise Experience

Cruise lines have been talking about technology on cruise ships for some time, but 2019 will be the first year we see the cruise experience truly transformed by it. From facial recognition that gets you onto your cruise ship faster (Celebrity Edge, Royal's new Oasis Class), to a digital, voice-activated "helper" in your cabin to answer your questions or turn on your lights (MSC Cruises), to smart bands that tell your door to open before you even touch the doorknob (Royal and MSC), virtually every aspect of our cruise will be technology-enabled. Look for phone apps that let you turn up the heat in your room while you're still in the theater (Edge) or order a pizza to be delivered to you poolside (Carnival), and digital signage that recognizes you as you pass to let you know that trivia will be in the XYZ lounge in 10 minutes (Ocean Medallion on Princess Cruises). It's Blade Runner meets Star Trek, and it's coming to a ship near you.

10. Expedition Cruising, In High Gear, Hits Road Bumps

Roald Amundsen (Photo: Hurtigruten)

With more than 20 new expedition cruise ships slated for launch between January 2019 and December 2021, the growth of expedition cruising is in high gear, and we expect to see even more announcements next year. But with such explosive growth comes the inevitable snags, and we're already seeing a handful of ships on order delayed by shipyard issues. Look for more delays as small shipyards are stressed beyond their means. We also predict the conversation on overtourism will spread from popular European ports to traditionally less-traveled places, such as Greenland and New Guinea, leading cruisers to worry about their impact on the environment.

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