Cruising is having a moment: World-class chefs are bringing their culinary magic to the water, onboard entertainment options are going way beyond the status quo, and expedition vessels are taking travelers to places once deemed inaccessible. The world is catching on to cruising’s popularity, too. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) predicts that 30 million passengers will set sail in 2019, up from 17.8 million a decade ago. Here, a few of the trends drawing them on board:
Your cell phone is your room key, and other smart technology upgrades.
Smartphone apps and wearable accessories loaded with passenger info are making processes such as embarkation and booking shore activities easier than ever. "We’ve definitely seen an uptick in smart tech," says David Andersen, an Irvine, California-based Virtuoso travel advisor. “The ship check-in process used to involve very long lines and a 10- to 15-minute conversation with a boarding agent. Now it’s much faster!”
Wellness isn’t an afterthought.
Seeking respite from demanding work schedules (and with an increased awareness of wellness in general), travelers are eager to incorporate self-care into their vacations. For cruisers, that means on-board yoga classes, guided meditation sessions, full-service spas, and healthful dining options. Locally sourced meals inspired by the destinations on an itinerary are becoming commonplace; and some lines even have dedicated fitness trainers and sports scientists who lead onboard exercise classes and active shore excursions, such as a bike ride across Portugal's countryside.
There’s more time to stay on shore.
Days in port aren’t limited to the standard, hit-up-all-the-big-sights tours anymore. “We’re seeing an increase in people wanting deeper experiences – more private tours that take them to places beyond the museums," Andersen says. Shore excursions focus heavily on local culture – a guided chef’s tour to a farmer’s market, for example, or an olive-oil-making experience at a family grove in Greece. Plenty of ships are staying put for longer than a few hours too: Many feature multiple overnight port calls on the same itinerary, and pre- or post-voyage land adventures are gaining popularity.
As more destinations experience increased tourism, cruise lines are working to reduce their environmental impact. They’ve reduced plastic waste by removing plastic straws, water bottles, and other related single-use items from their ships; they’re working to reduce their carbon emissions; and they’ve launched voluntourism shore excursions for guests interested in giving back while docked in the Caribbean and beyond.
Expedition cruising is the new way to adventure.
Thanks to smaller ships, destinations once inaccessible are now attainable for passengers, allowing for more adventurous itineraries and expeditions. Cold is the new hot: Sailings to the Arctic Circle and Antarctica are in high demand, and, in recent years, several lines have begun traversing the intrepid Northwest Passage as well.
Dinner menus are raising the bar.
Passengers want to experience culture through food, and cruise lines are delivering with more specialty and regionally influenced options. Onboard cooking classes, themed menus, and James Beard award-winning guest chefs let passengers dive into the culinary history of the regions they’re traveling through. Some lines have also forged more long-term partnerships with marquee chefs – including Nobu Matsuhisa and Thomas Keller – who are bringing their menus to special onboard outlets.
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