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The Outdoor Grill Bar on board a Ritz-Carlton yacht.
The Outdoor Grill Bar on board a Ritz-Carlton yacht.

CLIA’s 2018 annual study and outlook reports spotlighted upbeat news for the bottom lines of travel advisors, thanks to findings that showed not only consistent sales growth but an increase in spending on the part of cruise clients. It’s a strong signal that the industry is listening and responding to travelers who don’t mind making their wishes known. Wishes that turn into trends. Trends that reshape the sailing experience on oceans and rivers alike.

“Travel with friends!” says Cruise Planners franchise owner Brenda Daisey, welcoming a trend toward groups of parents traveling together. “I’m seeing more and more clients setting up a trip and inviting friends to join them. Often times they’ve been sitting on the sidelines at their kids’ games, planning a getaway for when there’s a downtime. Usually it’s a cruise because there’s so much to do for a variety of ages. I’ve had great success in setting up ‘come along’ groups with both Royal Caribbean and Carnival.” 

Disney Cruise Line offers adults-only areas so parents can have some “me” time.
Disney Cruise Line offers adults-only areas so parents can have some “me” time.

Family Travel
Also in the “come along” picture: Disney Cruise Line. Always a winner when it comes to family travel, Disney is making sure that adults find just as many onboard lures as kids. 

“Families are taking more cruise vacations than ever before,” notes Carrie Matson, the line’s director of marketing strategy. “Research shows that while 44 percent of families book a cruise for child-based services, parents are looking for a vacation option where they can relax and have fun, too. Kids can play alongside Disney characters in our youth clubs, while parents enjoy our adult-exclusive offerings such as a relaxing pool, fitness center, luxurious spa, intimate fine dining, and entertainment in the adults-only nighttime district.”

Baby Boomers to Millennials
Then there are the burgeoning client populations from Baby Boomers to Gen Z and Skip-Gen. According to CLIA, the percentage of Millennials who checked “definitely will” book a cruise for their next trip increased from 63 percent last year to 70 percent this year. 

“We’ve introduced river cruising to a completely new segment of travelers this year with the launch of U by Uniworld,” points out Ellen Bettridge, president & CEO. “Our first year was all about disrupting the industry, quite literally ‘testing the waters’ as we debuted a never-before-seen product. Entering our second season, we’re following ever-evolving consumer trends and listening to feedback from guests as we seek new ways to push the limit on the river cruise experience, from enhanced excursions to onboard activities.” Enhanced excursions are, in fact, exploding across the industry. On a U itinerary in France, for example, a client might accompany the chef to a local market to choose ingredients for dinner, or climb Etretat’s legendary cliffs. Options on Rhine, Main and Danube itineraries include paddleboarding and canoeing the Ilz River and sampling Hungarian street food at a market.  On board, look for silent discos, painting plus wine, and sunrise rooftop yoga. For an additional cost, clients can camp on the rooftop, enjoying a nightcap cocktail and breakfast picnic basket. 

From Historic to Expedition
Deep diving into American heritage, from Jamestown Settlement to Vicksburg National Military Park, is the specialty of American Cruise Lines. “Immersing yourself in the culture of a region is one of the greatest advantages to small ship river and coastal cruising,” says Susan Shultz-Gelino, director of business development. “Our itineraries offer small ship access and shorter distances between ports, which allows more time to explore towns and historical sites.”

Adventurers who would love the chance to customize a cruise are finding prime opportunities. “We find that most of our guests seek a unique vacation experience that can be tailored and customized to satisfy their interests,” says John Stoll, Crystal’s v.p. of land programs. “Thrill-seekers may want to search for great white sharks in a cage-diving adventure in South Africa.” Or kayak the Strait of Magellan. Or climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

Clients might similarly choose a brand known not only for luxurious comforts but customizing the experience—i.e., giving customers what they want. “I’m seeing interest in the new boutique companies,” says Cruise Planners franchise owner Lorrie Ortega, “including The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection and Virgin Voyages, both debuting in 2020. It will be interesting to see how the luxury lines fit in with their sophisticated and specialized cruises.”

Experiential tourism is now the name of the game, according to Adriana Matos,
Cruise Planners franchise owner. “People are looking for experiences that resonate on a deeper emotional level, driving travel brands to develop packages that are more adventurous, more personalized, and more attuned to local culture.”

Windstar Cruises offers a Signature Expeditions program in Alaska
Windstar Cruises offers a Signature Expeditions program in Alaska

Enter expedition travel—not new but hotter than ever. “Remember 10 or 15 years ago when river cruising just took off?” asks Steve Simao, Windstar’s director of sales. “This is the next river cruise boom for the expedition side of the business. Windstar is well-positioned for this because we are small, and we just launched our new Signature Expeditions program in Alaska this year aboard Star Legend. The ship is ice-rated with zodiacs and kayaks for guests to get up-close and personal, plus we hired a skilled team of expedition staffers. The program is scale-able and we plan to deploy it in Costa Rica in 2019 and other regions after that.”

Seabourn, too, cites expedition travel as an evolving trend, along with the escalating popularity of bucket-list destinations. “Our guests in the luxury category are placing greater emphasis on the destinations and experiences they can have,” says Chris Austin senior v.p. of global sales and marketing. “For example, this coming season in the Southern Hemisphere we will sail to Antarctica five times and make maiden calls to unique destinations like Tivanipupu, Solomon Islands, and Fraser Island in Queensland, Australia.”  

Sail to Cuba
Destinations on the upswing? Notes CLIA: “Nearly 43 percent of agents reported an uptick in sailing to Cuba.” Pearl Seas has been prepared since January 2017 with visits to smaller ports that larger lines can’t access, according to Susan Shultz-Gelina, director
of business development, pointing to Pearl Seas’ 11-night Cuba Cultural Voyages as ideal for circumnavigating the island. “Our all-inclusive small-ship itinerary is perfect for those who want to truly experience Cuba, not just cruise there.”

In contrast, Carnival provides a larger ship option, adding 23 sailings aboard five ships next year. “Carnival Corporation launched the first cruises to Cuba aboard our Fathom brand two years ago,” says Roger Frizzell, the company’s senior v.p. and CCO. “Since then we’ve significantly expanded our presence with three of our brands—Carnival, Holland America and Seabourn—scheduling calls to this sought-after destination.”

Contact Information
American Cruise Lines: americancruiselines.com
Carnival Cruise Line: carnival.com
Crystal Cruises: crystalcruises.com
Disney Cruise Line: disneycruise.disney.go.com
Holland America Line: hollandamerica.com
Pearl Seas Cruises: pearlseascruises.com
Royal Caribbean International: royalcaribbean.com
Seabourn Cruise Line: seabourn.com
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection: ritzcarltonyachtcollection.com
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: uniworld.com
Virgin Voyages: virginvoyages.com
Windstar Cruises: windstarcruises.com