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.
Old is the New New
Why spend billions on a new ship when you can modernize and upgrade your existing fleet (or just buy old ships from other lines)? The trend now is to extend the life and appeal of older ships, rather than selling them and debuting fresh ships every year. It started last year with Thomson Cruises' TUI Discovery (the former Royal Caribbean ship, Splendour of the Seas), which had a bow-to-stern makeover and re-emerged in June as TUI's new flagship -- as well as the winner of Cruise Critic's Editors' Picks Best New Ship of the Year. Thomson will continue the trend with TUI Discovery 2, Splendour's sister, Legend of the Seas, which launches in May this year. Meanwhile, 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.
More U.K. Departures From More U.K. Ports
Southampton may well be the main U.K. port for cruise ship departures, but two lines -- Cruise & Maritime Voyages and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines -- are well known for setting sail from ports all round the country; CMV claims the top spot with 11 while Fred. departs from 10. Meanwhile, two lines -- Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises -- both make a welcome return to these shores after a few years away. Norwegian Jade will offer 10 sailings from Southampton; while MSC Fantasia and MSC Preziosa will offer a number of U.K. departures. Thomson Cruises’ Thomson Celebration also returns to the UK with a series of cruises departing from Newcastle throughout summer 2017. And finally, Viking Star sails from the U.K. for the first time.
Expedition Cruising Grows
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. Looking ahead to this time next year, Ventus Australis is a new-build from the Chilean-based expedition cruise line, Australis. With 210 passengers capacity, in 100 cabins, the ship launches in January 2018. Meanwhile, Oceanwide Expeditions' newest cruise ship -- the Polar Class 6 vessel Hondius -- will enter service in 2019. It joins the Dutch line's existing polar expedition ships, the 116-passenger Plancius and Ortelius.
More Bundling Builds an Inclusive Experience
An all-inclusive luxury cruise might not be right for every passenger, but customizing the holiday experience and paying up-front is still appealing to many travellers and their budgets. That's why the advent of bundling, or rolling parts of a cruise 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- or post-cruise hotel stay, return airfare, an internet package, drink package and tips? That's five fewer things to worry about after sailaway.
River Cruises Are Getting More Active
Tired of the same old walking and coach tours? River cruises are adding more choices for active travellers. 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.
After many years tipped as the Next Big Thing, it's safe to say Iceland is now finally on cruise lines' radar, with many adding multiple calls there on no-fly itineraries from the U.K. Voyages to Antiquity released a new itinerary for 2017 with a focus on Iceland -- the 15-day Iceland, Faroes & Shetland voyage, which departs London on June 29 -- calling at four of the country's ports; while Thomson Cruises has a 14-night Fire and Ice itinerary on Thomson Celebration -- departing Newcastle on July 29 -- which calls at three of the country's ports. For a better chance of catching a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis -- which are more prevalent from September through March -- aim to book the last voyage of the season to Iceland: Norwegian Jade's 14-day Norway, Iceland & UK itinerary departing from Southampton on September 11. And CMV's newest ship -- Columbus -- will also be calling in there later this year.
Cruise Lines Don't Want to be Cruise Lines
As cruise lines struggle to capture the attention of older millennials who have holiday 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. Nowhere is this more obvious than the cruise line formerly known as Virgin Cruises which rebranded last year to Virgin Voyages.
Use of Outdoor Space Becomes Standard for New Cruise Ships
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 Miami-based 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.
Private Island Hybrids Emerge
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. Meanwhile, the recent opening of Sir Bani Yas Island, off Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, opens up an exclusive beach area to both MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises passengers.
Cruise Lines Look for New Ways to "Go Green"
The International Maritime Organization has been cracking down on sulphur 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 sulphur 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.