George Pathori looks at upcoming trends for cruise passengers wanting new
ways to explore the world.

What's new in cruising? As usual, there's lots of razzle-dazzle — laser tag, water slides, zip lines and massive LED screens — along with a continued emphasis on healthy lifestyle options, from dining to fitness.

But there are also changes under way in ship design, itineraries and who's cruising.

Design, demographics and destinations
New ships are offering more outdoor spaces and views of the sea, with promenades, boardwalk-style decks, glass walls, transparent walkways and see-through slides.

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Small ships, river ships and expedition cruises are booming, with more itineraries in cold-water destinations like Iceland, Greenland and the polar regions. Alaska cruises are as popular as ever, for big and small vessels.

"The big ships suit many, and offer a fantastic holiday, but we see people wanting to visit smaller ports, to immerse themselves in the local culture or wildlife, and get a rewarding experience," says Leanne Schou, product manager for Our Cruise. "Antarctica is a massive bucket-list destination and this is the perfect example."

There's a new focus on marketing to millennials, particularly for river cruising. Uniworld is offering U by Uniworld river cruises for ages 21 to 45 only, with European itineraries that include music festivals.

Troy Ackerman, of Globus and Avalon Waterways, says river cruising has gained greater awareness in New Zealand in recent years. "We are also seeing a growing interest in exotic cruises, which is an amazing way to experience iconic waterways such as The Ganges in India and the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia."

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents most of the world's major cruise brands, has noticed another new phenomenon: "skip-gen" cruising.

Grandparents are cruising with grandkids, but sometimes skipping a generation by sailing without Mum and Dad. Most cruises provide a range of children's programming so grandparents aren't babysitting all day, while also offering activities, excursions, meals and shows that all ages can enjoy together.

Industry growth
The cruise industry continues to grow, with 28 million cruisers expected worldwide this year, a million more than 2017 and up from 18 million in 1979. Last year, 98,000 Kiwis took a cruise — that's about 2 per cent of our population — and there's room to grow — across the Tasman the figure was closer to 8 per cent.

Gerard Murphy, of Bon Voyage Cruises & Travel, says Kiwis follow the "up and down cycle of cruising". "Starting with a local ship close to home, they move up to bigger and better ships, going up in quality, inclusions and destinations further afield. The next stage is staying up in quality but looking down in size – to smaller luxury ships and expedition cruises."

There are also 27 new ships coming out this year — 10 for river cruising, 17 for ocean.
"We're in our golden age," says CLIA chairman Arnold Donald, who is also CEO of Carnival Corp. "Cruising has never been more popular."

New ships
Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas became the world's largest cruise ship when it launched in April. Features include a laser-tag arena, Bionic Bar where robots make drinks, a 10-storey racing slide called Ultimate Abyss, rock climbing and ice skating. The ship has been hosting the Broadway hit Hairspray and its sports bar features 30 big-screen TVs. A luxury family suite for eight includes a two-storey slide, private movie theatre, Lego wall and secret crawl space. Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Bliss, also launched earlier this year, is designed for enjoying natural scenery, with a 180-degree observation lounge perfect for watching glaciers and a spa with a snow room and a salt room.

Holland America Line launches the Nieuw Statendam in December. The ship has World Stage, an entertainment venue with a two-storey, 270-degree wrap-around LED screen;
Music Walk, where three lounges offer different genres of music; and BLEND, where guests can blend their own wine. Holland America is continuing to partner with O, The Oprah Magazine, on 300 cruises with programmes for meditation, health, style and book club.

Celebrity Edge begins sailing next month. Its futuristic design includes the Magic Carpet, a cantilevered movable deck that will serve as a walkway, a place to enjoy ocean views and a space for live music and themed dining. The new ship also features Eden, which has a three-level window on the ocean, al fresco seating, walkways and an "Eve at Eden" experience that will blend performance art and unique culinary offerings.

The family-friendly Carnival Horizon debuted in April with a Dr Seuss-themed waterpark, an eatery called Smokehouse Brewhouse and craft beers brewed on board.

Last December, MSC Cruises launched MSC Seaside — it was promptly named best new ship of 2017 by CruiseCritic.com. It has an interactive aqua-park, open-air promenade with glass-floor catwalks, two zip lines, a four-deck atrium, Aurea Spa with a snow room and beach-like condo suites. You can see the sea from glass elevators. Seaside, with a 4100-guest capacity, is based in Miami for Caribbean itineraries. Its sister ship, MSC Seaview, launched in June, sailing in the Mediterranean for its inaugural season.

Small and perfectly formed
Many who haven't cruised are put off by the size of the ships. "The usual hesitations from landlubbers are the size and scale of the cruising experience," says Filippos Venetopoulos, of Intrepid Group. "They should check the ship's passenger capacity, and keep it to under 50. Smaller ships can access ports that the large ships have to use smaller boats to ferry passengers in. That means you can pull up in the heart of a city and embark and disembark at will."

With close to $6 billion of high-end expedition ships on order between now and 2022, Joseph O'Sullivan of Travel Marketing says the appeal of small-ship luxury remains high.

"Small-ship, ultra-luxury brand Seabourn has more than doubled its New Zealand guests in the last two years. Kiwis seem to gravitate to the intimate style of the smaller ships.

Expedition and small-ship coastal cruising and European barging holidays are taking off too."

Familiar ports
Jacqueline Unsworth, cruise marketing manager at helloworld, says some cruise lines have begun to signal a return to Turkey and guests are eager to visit and booking well in advance. "Due to Game of Thrones, Croatia is incredibly popular — from small ships to large ships.

"With the Rugby World Cup next year in Japan, cruising there is becoming the holiday of choice pre or post all the footie on the field."

Airline access can open the pathway for cruisers, says Royal Caribbean's Mark Kinchley.

"The Mediterranean is typically the most popular international destination with Kiwis, however, we're also seeing a spike in Kiwis booking Caribbean holidays. This is partly because it's now a lot easier to access with direct flights now available to Houston from Auckland, taking guests on to cruise ports in Galveston, Texas and Florida to board their cruise."

— Additional reporting: APs