No doubt: 2018 promises to be one of the biggest years in cruising. With so many brand-spanking-new cruise ships launching, we're downright giddy with all the new hardware hitting the waves -- not to mention all the cruise innovation we expect to see. Here are 12 cruise trends we predict are coming in 2018.
1. Technology Augments the Cruise Experience
The cruise industry has seen a proliferation of technological gizmos over the past few years, but 2018 and beyond will see technology augment the cruise experience in an entirely new way, from virtual-reality dining experiences and shore excursion samplers to interactive avatars that follow passengers around the ship. Wearable technology will also enable you to open doors with the wave of a hand or order food and drinks without ever leaving the comfort of your poolside lounger. Plus, Wi-Fi will continue to get faster, reaching land-like speeds on more ships.
2. Cruises Focus on Specific Countries
While cruises can be a great way to get a taste of a place, several cruise lines are choosing to immerse passengers in a culture by offering cruises that concentrate solely on one country. Azamara Club Cruises offers journeys that make multiple stops within Japan, Costa Rica, Australia or Norway's North Cape, while Ponant offers New Zealand, Chile, Cuba, Croatia, Iceland or South Africa-intensive voyages. Even mainstream cruise lines like Princess Cruises are concentrating on Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
3. Big Continues to Be "Better"
As cruise ships get bigger, they will continue to become smarter and unveil more jaw-dropping offerings. In 2018, Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line will launch their biggest ships to date -- each of which will feature not only firsts for the lines, but also the industry, while building upon previous ships' designs. For example, Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas will introduce a reimagined Boardwalk (an Oasis-class staple) with a new sports bar and arcade; Carnival Horizon will expand on sister ship Carnival Vista's dining program, with a new teppanyaki restaurant and combo barbeque/brewery venue; and Norwegian Bliss will take the line's Breakaway Plus Class to the next level with features like an electric go-kart race track, laser tag and a massive Observation Lounge with 180-degree views. Symphony of the Seas also will debut a mobile check-in service that uses facial recognition technology to speed up the process in the terminal.
4. Better Entertainment on Local Ships
P&O, Princess and Royal Caribbean have led the charge to improve the standard of shows on Australian cruise ships. Norwegian Cruise Line is next in line, bringing the brilliant Burn the Floor dance extravaganza to Sydney-based Norwegian Jewel. P&O will host the biggest comedy festival at sea in June, with more than 70 other comedy cruises slated for 2018 and 2019, starring big-name comics. Princess is expanding 'The Voice of the Ocean' to more ships, complete with the judges' red chairs that spin around, while the arrival of the new Majestic Princess should see some excellent new entertainment.
5. Expedition Blasts Off
With nearly 20 expedition ships entering the cruise market between 2018 and 2020, expedition cruising is entering a golden age unlike any we've seen. Plus, traditionally non-expedition brands including Windstar and Seabourn are adding expeditionary facets to their itineraries. Expedition ships are being added all over the world. What's more, the comfort level of these cruises is increasing; you can indulge in luxury experiences on brands such as Crystal Cruises, Ponant and Australia's own Scenic, with local company Aurora Expeditions building its new ship for 2019. Look for high-end service on these cruises, as well as high-tech toys that include underwater lounges, helicopters and submarines.
6. Overnight Stays in Australia and NZ
Port fees in Sydney are the most expensive in the world so it's always been prohibitive for most cruise lines to justify the expense of docking longer than one day. However, the future will see more ships sucking it up with two-day stays at more ports around the country. Viking Ocean Cruises' Viking Star, which is sailing in Australia and New Zealand for the first time, has scheduled overnight calls in Sydney and Auckland (plus an 11pm departure from Cairns) in December 2018. This is in addition to the dozen ships whose Sydney overnight visits are highlights of their 2018 world voyages, including Azamara Journey (also overnighting in Wellington and Dunedin), Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony (on the same night), as well as Viking Sun, making the line's maiden visits down under in February. It's a trend that will eventually extend to more locally based ships, such as Celebrity Solstice, which introduces overnight calls in Sydney, Hobart, Cairns and Tauranga in 2019/2020.
7. Cruise Lines Expand Culinary-Themed Offerings
It used to be cruises were all about eating food. We predict the emphasis will increasingly turn toward learning about and appreciating food. Look for lines like Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises to expand their culinary-themed tours, Windstar Cruises to leverage its James Beard partnership, new cruise ships to debut with test kitchens and cooking demo centres, and mainstream lines to hop on the luxury bandwagon and start offering market tours.
8. Passengers Looking for Health and Wellness
Wellness programming is not only a way to combat the misconception that cruises are bastions of overeating and debauchery. It's a way to attract new cruisers and keep returning passengers excited about older ships or ho-hum itineraries. From luxury to river and mainstream, expect to see more health-focused activities in the coming years. In 2017, Princess hired a sleep doctor to design a new bed, Regent and Oceania began wellness tours in select ports, Seabourn partnered with Dr. Andrew Weil to offer healthy lifestyle onboard programming and MSC rolled out its Wellness Experience package in conjunction with Technogym. Look for these lines to expand their activities, and other lines to copycat. River cruise lines are also adding exercise classes, healthy menus and active shore tours.
9. Cruise Lines Look to Rivers/Land for Inspiration
Cruise lines have been innovative when it comes to public spaces and dining on their ships, but changes to cabins have been less noticeable. That ends in 2018 with the introduction of Celebrity Edge, which took inspiration from river cruise ships and resorts for its cabins. Edge will introduce infinite balconies, where the space closest to the outside can transform from a fresh air veranda into a closed-off sun room with the click of a button. This concept is familiar to river cruisers, but it's brand-new to ocean vessels, and Celebrity made some major architectural changes to make it work. (Now that Celebrity has figured out how to do this, you can be sure other cruise lines will follow suit.) Additionally, the line looked to trendy boutique hotels for lobby, lounge and restaurant ideas. Virgin Voyages is doing the same, and though details are scant, you can be sure each Virgin ship will look more like a chic hotel than a cruise vessel.
10. Yachting Gains Traction in the Cruise Industry
SeaDream Yacht Club used to be in a class all its own with 110-passenger ships that emphasised outdoor space and incredible service in an attempt to mimic the private yacht experience on a small cruise ship. But with luxury cruise ships growing larger, privileged passengers lamented the loss of intimacy, and the cruise lines listened. Crystal came out with 62-passenger yacht Crystal Esprit in 2015, with plans for a more adventuresome yacht in 2019. The 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse will debut in 2018, and Ritz-Carlton's foray into cruising will see a new 298-passenger yacht launch in 2019. Though slightly larger, these ships will focus on that sleek yacht look and personalised luxury feel. We predict many luxury travellers will jump ship from the 600-passenger ships back to these tiny beauties.
11. Millennials Drive Experience Onboard and Ashore
Craft beer, silent discos, farm-to-table dining and rooftop bar-style sun decks … cruise lines are innovating ships to lure the growing millennial market. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has gone as far as to develop a river cruise brand solely for 21- to 45-year-olds, called U by Uniworld. These river cruises include complimentary yoga classes and Wi-Fi, and unique experiences in port such as kayaking France's Seine River and cocktail-making in Amsterdam. Celebrity Cruises will introduce a Library of Plants bar feature on its new ship, Celebrity Edge, from which bartenders will be able to handpick ingredients for artisanal drinks. Meanwhile, Virgin Voyages, helmed by mogul Richard Branson, has come right out and said millennials are the target audience for its first ship, launching 2020; the ship will be for adults only and boast a trendy design akin to the company's airline.
12. Ocean-River Combo
Connecting an ocean cruise and a river cruise in one trip is appealing to Australians who travel for a long time in Europe. Evergreen Tours combines its Southern France river cruise with the Mediterranean, or the Rhine River with Ireland, England, Belgium and the Netherlands. Viking offers almost seamless itineraries with the ship-switch at the same port, such as Amsterdam, where passengers transfer from a Viking longship to the Viking Sun for a Norwegian Fjords itinerary. Expect to see more back-to-back combos of both styles, and probably an expedition option.