What the year ahead holds for the industry

Image result for Future cruising
Next Gen. Cruise ship for MSC.

Until recently, expedition cruising was a quiet corner of the ocean cruise business, with occasional new tonnage added to a small fleet of spartan ships sailing to wild and majestic places.

The ships are still small, but some are not so spartan anymore, and the expedition niche in 2018 is trending bigger.

By one estimate, at least 18 new expedition vessels are ready to debut over the next 24 months.

Setting the tone was the transfer in 2017 of the original Silversea Cruises ship, the Silver Cloud, to the line’s expedition fleet after conversion to an ice-hardened vessel capable of visiting both polar regions.

In 2018, the parade of new expedition builds begins in June with Le Laperouse, the start of a new class for the luxury expedition brand Ponant, which will add three more of the 180-passenger vessels by mid-2019.

The French brand will be joined this year by Norway’s Hurtigruten, which is expecting a new prototype, the 530-passenger Roald Amundsen, in August. Soon after, Scenic Cruises will take delivery of the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, another expedition-style vessel.

And by year’s end, Quark Expeditions plans to take delivery of a 176-passenger ship, currently under construction in Portugal, capable of polar sailing.

The boom is underway in part because small ships for expedition cruising are easier to finance than the $1 billion behemoths now being ordered by contemporary ocean cruise brands. And there is a greater variety of shipyards able to take on the projects.

Companies like Lindblad Expeditions have gone public and are tapping into public equity to finance expansion.
Expedition cruise lines expect that many consumers who have been introduced to cruise vacations by the larger lines in recent years are now familiar with the concept and will be receptive to trying a different kind of cruising.

New technologies

In addition to a bumper crop of expedition ships, 2018 will also see the advancement of technology on larger ships designed to save time and smooth out the points of friction to make cruising more enjoyable.

The technologies go by disparate names: Royal Caribbean International calls its package Excalibur, MSC Cruises has MSC for Me and Carnival has its Ocean platform, which includes the Ocean Medallion and Ocean Compass app. Luca Pronzati, MSC’s chief business innovation officer, said MSC’s technology will provide wayfinding onboard the ships, a reservations function and a more convenient way to access and personalize an activities agenda.

“You can schedule your day in an easy way,” Pronzati said. “It’s really changing the paradigm.”

Passengers can access the information through smartphones, on their in-cabin TVs or at screens in public areas of the ship. Pronzati said that the current functionality of MSC for Me, which is available on the MSC Meraviglia and the MSC Seaside, is a foundation and that the line is working on expanded capabilities, such as a digital concierge service.

Carnival’s Ocean platform, although it debuted for a limited number of passengers on Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess in November, will be rolled out onboard five more ships by the end of 2018.

Carnival expects its phased activation of the Ocean Medallion and Ocean Compass app onboard the Regal Princess to be finished by the first quarter of 2018, with all passengers being able to use it simultaneously thereafter. The two technologies are designed to give each cruise customer a more personalized vacation. It will, for example, provide suggestions for activities, drinks and meals based on stored preferences and proximity to venues on the ship.

Royal Caribbean’s package of onboard technologies, Excalibur, is expected to be on 15% of its fleet, starting with its most-recently delivered ships, within the first few months of 2018. It will be on a majority of Royal’s 25 ships by the end of the year.

One focus of Excalibur is expedited embarkation, which Royal calls “frictionless arrival.” It will allow passengers who input information before arrival come aboard without stopping at a check-in counter. Other applications include using it to order room service, open cabin doors and connect with friends and family onboard.

One of the ships that will benefit from Excalibur is Celebrity’s new Celebrity Edge, the first in a class of four ships ordered so far that will be a prototype for the design of Celebrity’s fleet.

The innovations already announced for the ship include “infinite verandas” in which balcony space is incorporated into a cabin and the Magic Carpet, a 90-ton platform that hangs off one side of the ship and will move between four decks, including the embarkation deck, where it will serve as a shore excursion platform.

Following a December 2018 christening in Fort Lauderdale by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, the Edge will make its first seven-day Caribbean cruise.

Celebrity plans to spend $400 million over the next six years to make the rest of its fleet look more like the Edge class.

The Cuba connection

Some of the oldest ships in the cruise industry will also be part of its newest trend in 2018: expanded cruises to Cuba. Norwegian Cruise Line has tapped the Norwegian Sun for four-day cruises to Cuba from Port Canaveral next summer. The Sun is joining Norwegian’s oldest ship, the Norwegian Sky, which does the itinerary from Miami.

Royal Caribbean is also expanding its capacity to Cuba, putting the 28-year-old Empress of the Seas in Miami for five-, seven- and eight-day trips that for the first time include Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, while its second-oldest ship, the Majesty of the Seas, will provide four- and five-night Cuba itineraries from Tampa.

Advertisements

Hurtigruten names new expedition ships

Hurtigruten, the Norwegian coastal and expedition cruise line, said two new ships it is building for 2018 and 2019 will be called the Roald Amundsen and the Fridtjof Nansen.

While they may not exactly trip off the tongue, the names honor the two most influential Norwegian polar pioneers from the era when the company first started offering adventure travel.

The 530-passenger ships will be designed by Rolls Royce and built by Kleven Yards in Norway.

The interior will mirror the exterior waters and landscapes, Hurtigruten said. Materials will be predominantly Norwegian and be inspired by nature using granite, oak, birch and wool, among other materials.

The ships will have large observation platforms on several decks for guests to get close to nature and wildlife. Six out of ten cabins will have balconies; two out of ten will be suites.

The vessels will have three restaurants with menus reflecting local flavors and destinations. A pool deck will include infinity pools, Jacuzzis and bars.

Hurtigruten said itineraries for the new ships will be announced in November.

World’s most dangerous cruise? 1,070-Passenger Ship To Enter Northwest Passage

Crystal-Cruise-Ship

The 1,070 passenger (plus 655 crew) ship Crystal Serenity.

by Ethan Lou (Reuters) The first commercial cruise ship to sail through Canada’s Northwest Passage was set to depart on Tuesday, part of a growing Arctic tourism industry spurred by rising temperatures and receding ice.

The ship Crystal Serenity was to depart from Anchorage, Alaska, and cut through frigid northern waters before reaching New York in one month, according to a schedule from its American operator, Crystal Cruises.

The route was first navigated more than a century ago by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, but has been ice-free only in recent years. The journey raises questions about further human degradation of a region disproportionably affected by climate change, where temperatures are rising twice as quickly as the world average.

The World Wildlife Foundation recognizes that Crystal Cruises has been planning this voyage for years and tried to minimize its environmental impact, but the area lacks the infrastructure to deal with potential accidents, said Andrew Dumbrille, a foundation specialist in sustainable shipping.

Crystal Serenity likely will not cause problems, but more cruises will follow, said Michael Byers, a professor at the University of British Columbia who studies Arctic sovereignty and the environment.

Byers said ships, which can traverse the waters only because of melting ice, have large carbon footprints, and an accident would be devastating for the fragile Arctic.

“They take advantage of climate change, and they cause even more climate change,” Byers said. “That is an enormous problem and also a terrible irony.”

Crystal Cruises did not respond to requests for comment.

The cruise was priced at a minimum of $19,755 per passenger, which is more than $600 per day higher than last year’s average daily cruise price of $168.43, according to the industry analytics firm Cruise Market Watch.

Crystal Cruises has said the trip is sold out and that it is planning another cruise in 2017.

The Arctic has been warming quickly because a thaw of white ice and snow exposes darker ground and water below that absorb more of the sun’s heat.

Tourism has grown in some polar areas. The number of nights spent by visitors to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard north of Norway rose to 107,000 in 2013 from 24,000 in 1993.

While Canada claims sovereignty over the Northwest Passage that flows through parts of the country, the United States and the European Union have disputed that, calling the waters an international strait.