A demand for more in-depth experiences - from learning how to scuba dive to dining in a private home once in port - are shaping what's new in the cruise industry this year. Cruise passengers can also look forward to more Alaska trips, a few precious sailings to Cuba and potentially game-changing new technology.
HIGH SEAS, HIGH TECH
Princess Cruises will debut a coin-sized medallion in November aboard the Regal Princess that could dramatically change guest experiences. Passengers will carry or wear the medallion, which will direct them to their cabins, unlock their doors as they approach and alert crew members to their schedules and preferences - whether it's a class they've signed up for or a favourite cocktail.
The medallion will also streamline the process of getting on and off the ship.
Alaska expects 1.06 million cruise passengers this year, which would break its 2008 record of 1.03 million visits. The Alaska Travel Industry Association says larger ships are bringing more visitors, and destinations like Sitka, Juneau and Icy Strait Point have extended piers to accommodate bigger vessels. Smaller ships are simultaneously expanding services, specialising in more remote destinations the bigger ships can't reach.
Holland America Line marks its 70th year of exploring Alaska with the redeployment of its Oosterdam ship from Europe to Alaska. Seabourn, a small-ship line, returns to Alaska in June for the first time in 15 years. Lindblad launches a new ship, National Geographic Quest, whose itineraries will include Alaska.
Carnival Miracle will do a 14-day round-trip to Alaska from Long Beach, California, which will include Carnival Cruise Line's first call at Icy Strait Point. Crystal Cruises, which last summer sailed the largest luxury passenger vessel through the Northwest Passage, offers a repeat trip from Anchorage on August 15.
In 2018, Norwegian Cruise Line will launch Norwegian Bliss, a ship that has been custom-built for Alaska trips.
NEW EXPERIENCES ON BOARD AND ON SHORE
Royal Caribbean is the only cruise line offering scuba-diving certification through the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. Passengers begin the course at home online, continue lessons in a ship pool and finish with four mandatory open-water dives in ports of call.
Carnival Cruise Line is offering longer sailings of nine to 15 days with options for more immersive and adventurous experiences beyond beaches and bars. Passengers might visit a school in Mexico or get a home-cooked meal at a private house in Jamaica. "People are looking for meaningful experiences," said Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz.
MSC Cruises launches a wellness experience in April with personalised health assessments and fitness programmes, along with a Weight Watchers cruise from Miami to the Caribbean in May.
Princess is expanding Discovery at Sea offerings for kids with new programming such as MythBusters science activities and destination-themed programmes on culture and nature. Princess also has a new show, Born to Dance, produced with American composer Stephen Schwartz, paying tribute to Broadway's greatest choreographers and dancers.
Holland America Line's new programmes include cooking shows and workshops in partnership with America's Test Kitchen, plus Rijksmuseum at Sea, with interactive displays about the award-winning Amsterdam museum as a tie-in to the cruise line's Dutch heritage. HAL has also just rolled out a partnership with BBC Earth, with games, activities and live concerts during screenings showing wildlife and wilderness series.
Norwegian Cruise Line has opened a new private destination in southern Belize called Harvest Caye, with a beach, villas for daily rental, a lagoon for canoeing and kayaking, and Flighthouse with a zip line, ropes course and more. The port also makes it easy for guests to explore Belize on shore excursions.
Cunard's Queen Mary 2 this year offers trans-Atlantic cruises themed on space exploration and fashion.
Disney Cruise Line will offer Marvel Day at Sea featuring Marvel Comics characters in activities, shows, parties and films on seven sailings on Disney Magic from New York City from September to December.
Long-term prospects for travel from the US to Cuba remain uncertain under the new presidential administration.
But for now, a number of cruises are scheduled until June.
Havana is on the itinerary for sailings from Florida in April and May aboard Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas, and in May on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky.
The Fathom brand continues seven-night sailings to Cuba every other week through May.
The industry's presence in our waters continues to grow, with Azamara Club Cruises announcing its 2019 itineraries will include first-time visits to Gisborne, Nelson and Stewart Island.
Its 16-night New Zealand Intensive voyage from Auckland to Sydney sets sail on January 22, 2019, with foodie stops in Wellington and Nelson on the way to Rakiura.
In November, Royal Caribbean debuted the world's largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, with a 5479-passenger capacity, two, 10-storey enclosed dry slides and an escape game room.
This year Viking Cruises adds two ocean-going ships, Viking Sky and Viking Sun, with the Sun embarking on Viking's first world cruise, 141 days long, in December.
Viking is also adding two new river ships to its fleet, Viking Herja and Viking Hild.
Crystal Cruises launches two river ships this summer, Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, and is debuting AirCruises on a private Boeing that will take guests around the world, starting with a 27-day, $227,000 trip.
Silversea Cruises launches Silver Muse in April with eight dining venues, including a jazz club and Hot Rocks, where guests can cook their own meal tableside. Silversea's refurbishment of Silver Cloud as an ice-class expedition ship will be completed in November, in time for 11 Antarctic and eight Arctic trips in 2018.
In July, American Queen Steamboat launches American Duchess, the first contemporary boutique paddlewheeler built for Mississippi River cruises.