Demand for bucket-list voyages are on the rise – here we chart some of the top cruise trends.
As travel slowly reemerges from the 2020-2021 “dark era,” EY’s Future Consumer Index reveals that consumers have a strong desire to stop reacting to events and instead begin creating the lives they want. Today, many are doing exactly that and rewarding themselves with “bucket list” cruise holidays.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) UK & Ireland reports that holidaymakers from this region alone took approximately 1.7 million cruises last year, nearing demand levels last seen in 2019. Up to 85 per cent of cruise passengers intend to take a holiday at sea again, while 70 per cent of holidaymakers who’ve never cruised before will consider it in the next few years.
Cruisers simply can’t wait to gaze at wild penguins in Antarctica, sip wines at vineyards along European rivers, or soak up the sunshine along the Mediterranean or in the Caribbean. Cruising across the globe is back in 2023 – and in a big way. Here we look at some of the biggest cruise industry trends.
Lengthier ocean cruises
Week-long voyages remain popular, but many holidaymakers desire lengthier holidays. Why? They want to check off more bucket-list destinations, make up for pandemic-era “lost time,” and squeeze optimum value from increasingly pricey air tickets. People say: “If I’m going to spend the money to go across the globe, I want to get the most out of my journey and stay longer.”
P&O Cruises offers both Classic Southern Hemisphere Journeys, typically spanning a month or two travelling to Australia and Asia, and 50-to-65-night Grand Tours sailing round trip from Southampton to regions in the Americas and the Caribbean. Industry-wide, many lines have introduced more of those one-to-three-month Grand Voyages plus even lengthier World Cruises of 100 to 180 days or even more.
NCLH, the parent company of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, has cited a “strategic shift to longer, more immersive itineraries.”
As for one unique journey, in May 2023, Holland America Line unveiled a 133-day “2025 Grand Voyage: Pole to Pole” journey, which visits both Antarctica and the Arctic region. Fares begin at £26,599 per person, based on double occupancy.
River lines are also stretching itineraries, combining travel on multiple ships on different rivers. For example, AmaWaterways will offer multiple, 45- to 49-night “Seven Rivers Journeys” in 2023 and 2024, while Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ second annual 55-day “Rivers of the World” itinerary departs from Lima, Peru to Ho Chi Minh City next year. In August 2024, American Cruise Lines will operate a 61-day “Great United States” itinerary.
Many river lines have also extended their European sailing seasons to add more Christmas markets voyages. Viking River Cruises will become the first major line to offer year-round European river cruises. From December 2023 through March 2024, its new ten-day “Treasures of the Rhine” itinerary will operate between Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Basel, Switzerland. Typically, lines don’t operate European river voyages this early on in the year. Guests sailing in winter on the 190-passenger Viking Alruna or sister Viking Tialfi will likely experience Middle Rhine culture with fewer crowds and easier access to landmarks. Pricing starts at £1,595 per person, double occupancy.
Remote workers and connectivity Some cruise lines are seeing more remote workers heading for the high seas. After all, what could be better than doing one’s job while simultaneously travelling the world? Some ships are now starting to include features aimed directly at remote workers, including large business centres, libraries, offices and meeting rooms.
Whether guests are working aboard ship or not, staying connected at sea is increasingly becoming a priority. Carnival Corporation, NCLH, Royal Caribbean Group and many other companies are turning to SpaceX’s Starlink for an upgraded internet/wifi experience. Starlink’s low-latency broadband internet system taps into an extensive network of advanced, low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which can improve reliability and speed, even in remote areas.
For consumers with unbridled wanderlust, ocean ships are returning to Africa, Asia, South America and the South Pacific, while river lines have returned to Southeast Asia’s Mekong River. Hong Kong expects 160-plus cruise ship calls from 16 cruise lines this year. And next year, the Azamara Onward cruise ship will operate a 21-night “Astounding Australia/Asia Voyage,” departing 1 March, 2024, from Sydney to Hong Kong.
Travellers are additionally boarding small expedition ships in droves to explore intrepid destinations such as Antarctica, the Arctic region and Alaska, with an increasing desire to couple eco-adventure with luxury. Travel insurer Squaremouth predicts that “Antarctica will be a top destination for the first time in 2023.” Heading there this winter are Swan Hellenic’s new 192-passenger SH Diana; Scenic Group’s new Scenic Eclipse II, Seabourn’s new Seabourn Pursuit; and Atlas Ocean Voyages’ newly-acquired World Voyager, among others.
A voyage that’s likely to deliver lifetime bragging rights for guests is French cruise ship operator PONANT’s journey to the geographic North Pole on luxury-icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot during a 2024 Abercrombie and Kent full-ship charter.
Focus on sustainability
At least 76 per cent of British cruise passengers who sailed in the past 12 months are more aware of environmental and sustainable tourism, according to CLIA UK & Ireland. On the sustainability front, CLIA’s oceangoing member lines, including “the big four” cruise companies, have charted a course for net zero carbon cruising by 2050.
To meet this target, they are building new liquefied natural gas ships, using shoreside power while in port, and incorporating fuel cells or batteries, among other initiatives. MSC Cruises’ new MSC World Europa, for example, is now sailing with new fuel cell technology: a solid oxide fuel cell or SOFC.
Cruise lines are hoping the way to cruisers’ hearts is via their stomach, with a range of improved offerings and gourmet-inspired initiatives. In 2023, Princess Cruises introduced The Catch by Rudi, created by Rudi Sodamin, its head of culinary arts, which is inspired by the ocean. The fresh seafood concept will be available on Enchanted Princess, Majestic Princess and Sky Princess, and soon on Discovery Princess. Meanwhile, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has introduced immersive Epicurean Perfection culinary programming, plus new Epicurean Spotlight Voyages to step up their foodie game.
PONANT and Relais & Châteaux will offer two new Gastronomic Voyages to New Zealand later this year. Carnival Cruise Line is debuting a new specialty Il Viaggio on Carnival Venezia. And the list of foodie draws, wine-themed options and new mixology programming goes on.
At least 18 new ocean-going ships will set sail this year. Among the new beauties is Oceania Cruises’ 1,200-passenger Vista, first in its new Allura-class. Christened in May 2023, this luxurious ship, the first new-build to join Oceania’s fleet in 11 years, offers several new dining options, pampering service and a residential feel.
Other new ships in 2023 include Virgin Voyages’ 2,770-passenger Resilient Lady, with rain showers and balcony hammocks, Silversea Cruises’ 728-passenger Silver Nova, which features an innovative asymmetrical design and sustainable technology solutions, and Celebrity Cruises’ 3,260-passenger Celebrity Ascent.
P&O Cruises’ 5,200-passenger Arvia was delivered at the end of last year as one of the biggest cruise ships globally, while at the smaller end, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 746-passenger Seven Seas Grandeur looks to elevate luxury at every stage of the design.
Most cruise lines see themselves as entering an exciting new phase of high demand and growth. For holidaymakers, though, it’s all about the joy of cruising once again and seeing what’s beyond the horizon.
Words: Susan J Young