Sailing into 2023, survey after survey shows that consumers are rewarding themselves by planning dream cruise vacations. While some desire to gaze at wild penguins in Antarctica, others wish to sip wines at vineyards along European rivers or venture to Australia. Corralled by pandemic-era travel restrictions, they’re now eager to explore the world in a robust way.
Increasingly, people view personal travel as a priority, and that’s translating into solid cruise demand. On January 3, Lindblad Expeditions posted its largest booking day ever, a 14-percent increase over the previous record day. Call volumes were up almost 30 percent over the busiest day in 2022.
So what top trends are shaping the cruise world this year? Here’s a snapshot.
Longer, More Luxurious Cruises
Upscale cruise lines including Holland America are adding more grand voyages. These two- to three-month-long cruises allow guests to visit more ports and check off more boxes on their must-see list. Also fueling interest is the increase of remote work, so during an overnight Hong Kong port call one might shop in Kowloon in the morning, then return to the ship to work online before heading out for dinner and a harbor sound and light show. On the rise are even longer world cruises, typically more than 100 days and some 180 or 274 days. For instance, guests on Viking’s newest ship, the 930-passenger Viking Neptune, are now sailing on the 138-day Viking World Cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to London.
On the river cruise front, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises recently unveiled its second annual Rivers of the World cruise for 2024. The 55-day itinerary departs October 3, 2024, from Lima, Peru, and will take 68 guests to 10 countries in South America, Europe and Southeast Asia. Guests will cruise on four different river vessels.
The Rise of Expedition Cruising
Small-ship expedition cruising is another hot trend that pairs adventure with luxury. Consumers can couple their cruise vacation with adventure and eco-discovery, often in Alaska, the Great Lakes, the Galápagos Islands, the Arctic, Southeast Asia or Antarctica. In revealing its top five 2023 travel trends, travel insurer Squaremouth says Antarctica will be a top destination for the first time. Among many ships sailing there during winter 2023-2024 are Swan Hellenic’s new 192-passenger SH Diana and Ponant’s luxury icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot, which will operate several new Antarctic itineraries.
I recently sailed in Antarctic waters on Silversea’s 200-passenger Silver Endeavour. Cocooned in an ultraluxury suite, I savored a cooked-to-order room service breakfast served by a private butler. Then, donning a parka, waterproof pants and boots, I suited up for a morning Zodiac cruise. Outside, I gazed at the incredible natural beauty of glaciers, snow-covered mountains, penguins, seals and humpback whales. Returning to the ship, I enjoyed a delectable Grill lunch with top-notch service and fine wine while seated in a two-deck, glass-enclosed space with a full pool and hot tub. Expedition ships carry Zodiacs and kayaks for exploring, and some offer aerial and underwater options. Launching in 2023, Seabourn’s second ultra-luxury expedition ship, the 264-passenger Seabourn Pursuit, will carry two six-person submersibles, so guests can dive for views of marine life. Also setting sail this year, Scenic Eclipse II will carry two helicopters and one submersible.
Launch of Many New Ships
Tallying up new ship orders for deliveries between late last year and 2028, the Seatrade Cruise Orderbook shows 61 new cruise ships with 147,010 lower berths. That’s $45.5 billion in new tonnage, and at least 18 ships will debut in 2023.
Setting sail in May is Oceania Cruises’ 1,200-passenger Vista, first in the line’s new Allura class and the first new build to join the fleet in 11 years. Among other new ships launching this year are Virgin Voyages’ 2,770-passenger Resilient Lady, Celebrity Cruises’ 3,260-passenger Celebrity Ascent, Royal Caribbean International 5,610-passenger Icon of the Seas and Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ ultraluxury 732-passenger Seven Seas Grandeur.
Focus on Sustainability
Cruise Lines International Association’s oceangoing member lines are charting a course for net-zero-carbon cruising by 2050. More than 15 percent of new cruise ships launched in the next five years will be equipped to incorporate fuel cells or batteries. In August, Silversea’s 728-passenger Silver Nova will set sail with the line’s first use of hybrid technology (LNG and hydrogen, plus battery power). MSC Cruises’ MSC World Europa is now sailing with new fuel-cell technology, which potentially can deliver significant CO2 emission reductions.
Consumers Are Primed to Spend More
As consumers begin to plan cruise vacations this year, Squaremouth’s research reveals that they’re already primed to spend at least 25 percent more on travel than pre-pandemic, with millennials spending an average of 40 percent more. In a late 2022 business update, Carnival Corporation said that its full-year 2023 cumulative advanced booking position was higher than the historical average and at higher prices. Other big cruise companies report similar results, and as available 2023 inventory drops, cruise fares could further rise. Early in 2023, several cruise lines also raised prices for gratuities and Wi-Fi. But this month, many wave season promotions are still creating great value and perks.