The cruise biz is constantly evolving. What's hot one year might be out the next as ideas and technology progress. At Cruise Critic, we love watching changes unfold and seeing advances on ships, in ports and on the rivers -- and we see a lot of them coming in 2017. Here are 10 cruise industry trends we think you'll see in the coming year.
Why spend billions on a new ship when you can modernize and upgrade your existing fleet? The trend now is to extend the life and appeal of older ships, rather than selling them and debuting fresh ships every year. Holland America has invested $350 million to upgrade entertainment, accommodations and dining fleetwide through 2018, while the "Norwegian Edge" program, a $400 million undertaking, focuses on raising the quality of dining, cabins and public areas across Norwegian's fleet. Luxury lines have committed, too; Crystal Symphony will get a major makeover in 2017, and Silversea's Silver Cloud will transform from a cruise ship to an expedition vessel. Expect the upgrades to continue into 2018 and beyond.
Don't think cruising is for you? Never say never. Pop culture theme cruises, such as AMC's "The Walking Dead" and HGTV's "The Property Brothers," have made a splash in the industry, and we expect to see more. These big-name sailings, which are designed to lure people who might not have considered cruising before, have proven to be a hit -- so much so that demand has allowed companies to offer second sailings when the first have sold out. Fans can't beat a chance to vacation with their favorite TV stars, personalities and musicians.
The exponential growth of expedition cruising that Cruise Critic expects to see over the next few years kicks off in 2017 with the addition of two ships in the Galapagos. Celebrity Xperience and Celebrity Xploration join Celebrity's fleet in January, but they won't be the only "new" expedition ships next year. (We say "new" as both are older ships that have been refurbished.) Lindblad Expeditions launches its brand-new ship, National Geographic Quest, in June 2017 in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Expect to hear much more about expedition cruising next year; five cruise lines will be delivering double-digit expedition new-builds over the next five years. The wave of new ships certainly will draw a new batch of travelers to the cruise industry.
An all-inclusive luxury cruise might not be right for every passenger, but customizing the vacation experience and paying up-front is still appealing to many travelers and their budgets. That's why the advent of bundling, or rolling parts of a cruise vacation into prepaid package deals, is becoming increasingly common in how cruises are sold by the lines and purchased by consumers. Cruise fares are paid before boarding, but why not include a two-night pre-cruise hotel stay, round trip airfare, an internet package, drink package or gratuities? That's five fewer things to worry about after sailaway.
Tired of the same old walking and coach tours? River cruises are adding more choices for active travelers. Most lines now have bikes that can be used by passengers in port on their own, as well as for guided tours. Lines like AmaWaterways, Uniworld, Emerald and Scenic have hiking and kayaking tours. Meanwhile, Avalon has developed an entire Danube itinerary that focuses on active pursuits, and it plans to add a similarly dedicated itinerary on the Rhine next.
The Last Frontier is seeing record numbers of cruisers, as some travelers choose to stay closer to home rather than sail abroad. Tons of cruise lines and ships in the Alaskan region once meant unbeatable capacity and choice, but a limited cruise season (May to September) and high demand have led to a rash of early bookings. For 2017 (and yes, looking ahead to 2018), be sure to book as soon as possible to secure your choice of ship and itinerary; sailings are selling out almost a year in advance.
As cruise lines struggle to capture the attention of older millennials who have vacation time and disposable income, they've begun turning their attention to more refined offerings like wine and food pairings, overnights with immersive port experiences, and decor that's decidedly less busy and more refined. In fact, some new ships -- including MSC Seaside with its aft corner suites -- have drawn inspiration from land-based hotels. Some lines have even gone as far as changing their wording, eschewing traditional cruise-centric words like "cabin" and "stateroom" in favor of more ambiguous terms like "accommodations." Look for major players to align themselves more with the hotel industry next year.
Since Royal Caribbean deconstructed the back of its Oasis-class ships starting in 2009, opening up swaths of previously enclosed spaces to the outdoors, the cruise industry has been looking for more ways to bring alfresco experiences to passengers. This trend, which was evident in 2014 and 2015 on Norwegian Cruise Line's Breakaway- and Breakaway Plus-class ships, and in 2016 on Carnival Vista, will be supersized on MSC Seaside, which will offer one of the largest rations of outdoor space of any cruise ship. Among the many outdoor attractions on Seaside will be a giant aqua park, open-air spa treatment rooms and fitness equipment, plus an outdoor mall filled with shops, bars and outside dining.
With the opening of Harvest Caye, Norwegian Cruise Line's private island in southern Belize, it's clear that a new sort of exclusive experience is emerging. Although passengers are beholden to the cruise line for excursions allowing them to leave the island, there's plenty -- like Norwegian's commitment to the local culture and economy, and the fact that no food is available for free on Harvest Caye -- to suggest that it's more like a standard port of call than a private one. Similar ventures like Carnival-developed Mahogany Bay and Amber Cove highlight the success of purpose-built ports, but with Norwegian stepping it up a notch, we predict this trend will continue into 2017 and beyond.
The International Maritime Organization has been cracking down on sulfur emissions for years, and cruise lines continue to explore new ways to be more environmentally friendly. Liquefied natural gas, heralded as the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, is the fuel of choice for a growing number of cruise lines. According to LNG leader Carnival Corporation, the natural gas eliminates sulfur oxide and soot particles completely and drastically reduces nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions. Other green-cruising initiatives we expect will continue to grow are scrubber technology and paperless options for passengers, who will have the choice to go mobile, thanks to apps that allow access to the ship's daily planner and reservations systems.