Seatrade Cruise Global 2016 Reveals Destination, Expedition, Experience Rule Supreme
Seatrade Cruise Global, the cruise industry’s premier conference, took place just steps away from the cruise terminal in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this week – and the general consensus is that it was a whirlwind three days.
While the conference’s tone was predictable (cruising is great and a great value, execs told us), this year revealed perhaps more than ever just how ever-changing the industry is – and how flexible it remains in adapting to shifting economic and political climates.
The Year of the Luxury Expedition
We could have told you that expedition cruising is an enriching way to travel, but never has it been so hot. Crystal Cruises and Scenic both came into the luxury expedition game in a big way, with both lines announcing new vessels that have all the toys of a billionaire’s yacht. The Crystal Endeavor looks the part too, and she’ll have one of the highest ice class ratings in passenger service. So will Scenic Eclipse, which also will boast two helicopters and a submersible craft (Crystal Endeavor will feature two submersibles). Also see Scenic Eclipse: Glen Moroney Tells Us More About His New ‘Discovery Yacht’
Both lines have firmly committed to the luxury market – but the existing players in the region are already out in front. Silversea Cruises and Hamburg-based Hapag-Lloyd Cruises have been in the luxury expedition market for years now, and both lines are ramping up their expedition products substantially. Silversea, for example, will convert the 1994-built Silver Cloud into an expedition vessel that will enter service during the last quarter of 2017.
Although not luxury, Norwegian Hurtigruten is expanding its polar voyages with the new 200-guest Spitsbergen, and through the redeployment of the 2003-built Midnatsol to Antarctica this fall, where she’ll join the company’s rugged flagship Fram in offering expeditions to the Last Continent.
Refits Are The New Newbuilds
While 2016 offers no shortage of ship launches (Carnival Vista, Koningsdam, Seven Seas Explorer, to name a few), refits are big news as we move firmly into 2016.
Carnival Cruise Line continues to refit its existing FunShip fleet with its FunShip 2.0 Enhancements, and Royal Caribbean has committed to ongoing refurbishment programs that are adding Oasis and Quantum-like features to some of the line’s most popular vessels. The line is also sprucing up the venerable Majesty of the Seas, and returning the cozy Empress of the Seas to service under the Royal Caribbean banner after a nearly decade-long absence.
One of the largest refits planned for this year will happen this summer, as Cunard’s 12-year old flagship Queen Mary 2 goes in for her most extensive drydock to-date. The line went into the archives for this refit, pulling details from original plans and photographs of the venerable RMS Queen Mary and including them in this latest refit. Cunard describes it as a re-imagining of Queen Mary 2, and that’s exactly what it appears to be.
To that end, expect to see numerous Art Deco touches, and little motifs designed to recall the original Queen Mary and the grand age of transatlantic travel with Cunard Line. These touches have been added to suites, public areas, and throughout the ship.
The King’s Court buffet is getting a radical (and much-needed) makeover that will even see the removal of QM2’s midships glass elevators that run from the base of the Grand Lobby to Deck 7, where they currently empty out into the restaurant. That’s how committed Cunard is to this refit: The line is removing two very large, very expensive elevators just to improve the flow of guests.
Other areas being altered include the ship’s Britannia Club Staterooms, the addition of new Solo Staterooms, the repurposing of the Winter Garden, the rebranding and refurbishment of Todd English and more. Cunard promises that this refurbishment will touch every corner of the ship in some fashion.
You can read about other details of the refit in our past article here.
The other overriding theme at the conference focused on ports of call; specifically, new ports of call. As the world undergoes a dramatic geopolitical upheaval, cruise lines are forced to develop new itineraries and invest in new ports of call in order to stimulate growth and compensate for areas of the world that may be too oversaturated to turn a profit in, or in order to stay away from areas that are (rightly or wrongly) deemed unsafe by either the line, its guests, or both.
Because of this, destinations like Cuba are being talked about a lot. There’s also good evidence that the Pacific Coast – including the Mexican Riviera, California Coastals and Alaska are experiencing a surge in traffic thanks to over-capacity in the Caribbean and desires among many North Americans to cruise closer to home.
Northern Europe and the Baltic continues to grow in popularity, with passenger numbers to Scandinavian ports of calls increasing year-over-year. In an interesting twist, actual ship calls – the number of times that a ship visits port – is falling across the board as lines deploy larger ships carrying more guests, but on fewer individual stops.
France also continues its march in popularity among ocean cruisers, with a modest increase of 5 percent year-over-year for American visitors arriving by cruise ship – even after the devastating Paris attacks last year.
We’re All In This Together
Perhaps the most interesting trend – repeated by several cruise line executives – was the notion that we’re all in this together, and that all lines need to work together to build the global cruise industry. This feeling of a competitive – yet friendly – spirit permeated the conference. Crystal sent shuttles from its event (where Crystal Air was announced) to deliver journalists to events put on by Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean executive Richard Fain spoke briefly but candidly about the cruise industry at an event on Tuesday night at the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, mentioning the industry as a whole and encouraging its growth.
The cruise industry is big – that’s undisputable. But in the grand scheme of travel, it’s relatively small. Only a handful of people, statistically speaking, have cruised before, compared with the total population of travellers worldwide. And the question on everyone’s lips is: How do we tap into that?
Our answer? Show them the beauty of cruising, and they’ll be as hooked as we are.