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Here’s what you can count on in the 2018 cruise picture: There’s certain to be something that pings your clients’ radar. From an onboard underwater multi-sensory lounge dubbed Blue Eye (Ponant), to a shore excursion to catch a performance by the Russian Ballet (Uniworld), the coming year promises a plenitude of not only new ships but fresh concepts, first-time itineraries, and downright irresistible adventures.

Take that Blue Eye. “Ponant wants passengers not only to see the fragile and captivating marine life,” says Navin Sawhney, the line’s CEO of the Americas, “but to be inspired to preserve it. The lounge is an innovative way to better understand the ecosystem and environment we live in.” It’s also crazy fun. Set beneath the water line on Le Laperouse and Le Champlain (two Explorer ships debuting in summer 2018 with two more to follow in 2019), the space will spotlight a pair of portholes that re-create, yes, the eye of a whale. Digital screens will project images filmed live by underwater cameras, complete with sea sounds. Besides Blue Eye, clients can score a chance to cross the Antarctic Circle via a choice of 25 sailings in 2018-2019.

Edie Rodriguez, brand chairman and corporate special advisor for Ponant, notes that she can’t wait to show travel agents all of the cruise line’s “iconic itineraries of a lifetime, from the cold weather destinations of the Chilean fjords to warm weather destinations like Cuba and Kimberley, Australia.”

Among other brand-new choices in the cruise industry:
MSC Cruises, slated to introduce MSC Seaview in May, will send MSC Lirica on a first-ever voyage to the East Mediterranean, April 6-Oct. 26, calling at Mykonos, Heraklion/Crete, and Corfu, Greece; Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Bari, Italy.

•Norwegian, scheduled to begin inaugural sailings of its new Norwegian Bliss in spring, plans to home port Norwegian Breakaway in New Orleans for the 2018-19 winter season, cruising to Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras; and the island of Harvest Caye, Belize.

• Viking Ocean Cruises, set to launch Viking Orion (formerly known as Viking Spirit) in July, will also kick off its new Viking Voyages concept that combines itineraries of both river and ocean cruises. “Guests can fly overseas once and enjoy two sailing experiences,” points out Sheryl Van Aken, Dream Vacations franchise owner and vacation specialist. “It’s the best of both worlds where the river meets the sea, including both coastal ports and villages along the river banks.”

• From uber-luxury Silversea comes the new Couture Collection, custom-curated ocean-plus-land programs of five to 11 days. Think private helicopter service in Mongolia, vintage rail in India, Gulfstream jets in Antarctica.

• Already underway and continuing through the winter season 2017-2018, Oceania is offering its largest assemblage of itineraries to date, a total of 172, with more than 370 ports of call.

A recent study from CLIA reports that ever-favored Alaska showed the most destination growth in the 2017 cruise scene, and that clients are showing increased interest in expedition sailings and “something new and out of the box,” from luxury to adventure.

And cruise wizards are on it. After an absence of more than two decades, Windstar will return to Alaska, premiering its Expedition Program, a first for the line. From May to Sept. 10, Star Legend will sail the Last Frontier, with a choice of Zodiac or kayak explorations embarking from Windstar’s watersports platform. Also on tap are new pre- and post-cruise Denali National Park land tours.

Aiming to be first in line, UnCruise Adventures will head to Alaska in April, remaining until early September. Notes Van Aken, “The early spring sailings will offer less crowds, drier weather, the chance of seeing wildlife, and shorter days that make potential sightings of the Aurora Borealis possible. They’ll also continue their Kids in Nature family-friendly itineraries to attract multi-generational travelers.”

Indeed, the multi-generational boom shows no signs of letting up. “Many lines are now offering select itineraries catering to families with special excursions and onboard activities,” says Lori Foster, independent vacation specialist with Cruises Inc.AmaWaterways and Adventures by Disney have been very successful with their family river cruise itineraries.”

Dr. Seuss-themed water park will debut on board the Carnival Horizon.
Dr. Seuss-themed water park will debut on board the Carnival Horizon.

Where to tuck in these generations? Carnival is one of the companies in the accommodations forefront with its Family Harbor, featuring suites for five with two bathrooms, plus a lounge for hanging out. Notes Adolfo Perez, the line’s v.p. of trade sales and marketing, “Our newest ship, Carnival Horizon, is set to debut April 2 in Europe. It will be a sister ship to Carnival Vista, with our first-ever Dr. Seuss water park and family favorites like the SkyRide aerial attraction. It will also have the popular Family Harbor with the extra-roomy cabins and dedicated family lounge.”

Aboard Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, scheduled to bow in April, look for what RCI calls “the world’s most adventurous and interactive family suite.” Which may well be the case, considering that the 2-level suite will encompass such eye-poppers as a slide from the kids’ bedroom to the living room below, a floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall, an air-hockey table, and hidden nooks for chilling.

Then there’s Celebrity’s new Celebrity Edge, to debut in the fall. “Families will appreciate the ship’s Iconic Suites,” says Winston Laltoo, CruiseOne franchise owner and vacation specialist. “They’re situated directly above the ‘wings’ of the bridge, hence their triangular layout. With wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows, these are the largest in the fleet, and they have a balcony outdoor space with a private hot tub. With all the innovations cruise lines have brought us in the last 20 years, we have to wonder what they will think of next. Well, I believe this ship has some answers, including Eden and the Magic Carpet.” Eden is a dramatic venue of three glass-wrapped decks that look out on the ocean, while the Magic Carpet is an aptly named traveling dining and entertainment venue designed to scale up and down the ship.

Nor have first-timers been forgotten. AmaWaterways, expanding its European fleet with AmaLea in spring 2018, will also offer, for the first time, 10- and 11-night cruises on the Rhine and Moselle rivers. “In 2018 we’re expanding our Wellness Program to six ships,” notes Kristin Karst, the line’s executive v.p. and co-owner. “The Wellness Program, combined with our complimentary hiking and biking shore excursions, is attracting a younger, active river cruise guest, many of which are first-time cruisers. Agents should keep their eyes open for Seminar on the River dates as it’s so important to experience the cruise in order to sell to the younger active traveler.”

Solo travelers will be welcomed by Uniworld, according to Ellen Bettridge, the line’s president and CEO. “In 2018 we’re making it easier for them with our new reduced or waived Single Supplements. This kicks off on our March 16 departure of the Enchanting Danube & Munich itinerary, and continues through summer for cruises across Europe.”

Still more stars are due to swim out of the gate in 2018. Among them: Crystal’s Crystal Debussy in April and Crystal Ravel in May; Seabourn’s Seabourn Ovation in May; Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen in August; Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam in November; and American Cruise Lines’ American Song in the fall.

Rendering of the spa plunge pools on board the Scenic Eclipse.
Rendering of the spa plunge pools on board the Scenic Eclipse.

Scenic, too, will be debuting the highly anticipated 114-suite Scenic Eclipse in August. “In addition to the destination experiences, the Eclipse is an experience to be on,” says Joelle Davis, v.p., brand management. Sailing around the world, including the Polar regions, it’s being
hailed as the “World’s First Discovery Yacht,” with a 5,920-sq.-ft. spa; twin-engine helicopters; a submarine; and a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks.

Azamara Pursuit: New Destinations, Exclusive Experiences
With Azamara Club Cruises, says Larry Pimentel, the cruise line’s president and CEO, “we set out to create a different kind of product, a no-cruise cruise—it’s all about destination immersion.” And with the new Azamara Pursuit debuting next year, the line will be able to explore even more destinations in its unique way. As Pimentel points out, “The third ship [in the fleet] gets us to about 40 percent more destinations. All in all, with the Pursuit joining the fleet, we’ll be going to 81 countries and all seven continents.”

In its first year, the Pursuit will offer 15 maiden calls including to Agadir, Morocco; Monemvasia, Greece; San Antonio, Chile; Fowey, UK; and Seyoifjorour, Iceland. There will be 61 more destinations on the lineup, with 48 late nights and 26 overnights. “Upwards of 22 percent of our guests,” notes Pimentel, “have never even been on a ship. They are coming simply because they want to see destinations in more depth, not for a few hours, but overnight or late night, where there are so many types of unique experiences that we can offer.”

These new voyages will offer the opportunity to go stargazing in Chile’s Atacama Desert; dine in the oldest inhabited house in all of the Americas in Peru; and take an elevator into the magna chamber of a dormant volcano in Iceland. “This is slow cruising,” says Pimentel, “exposing people to culture in every which way.”

— Paloma Villaverde de Rico

Ponant’s Navin Sawhney Talks Trends
“Whether it’s a Baby Boomer or the new demographics coming up in cruising purchases with the Millennials or Gen X,” says Navin Sawhney, Ponant’s CEO Americas, “the trend is towards authentic experiences, no matter one’s age.”

This mindset is ideally suited to small ship cruising, and Sawhney concurs, noting that “the consumer today is looking for luxury, and today, luxury travel is authentic and personalized, which small ships can facilitate. Ponant has focused on expedition cruising and we are able to deliver this personalized experience to the individual.”

Small ships can also deliver on another sweeping trend, he points out: The social aspect of cruising, which can undoubtedly be delivered on a small ship as passengers share experiences with like-minded people.

Sawhney also spoke about the multi-sensory experience of a small ship that
appeals to first-time cruisers, and how the expedition cruising experience is opening the market to people who might otherwise not have been interested in cruising. “With regard to nature, and authentic up-close and personal opportunities that small ship and luxury expedition offer, we are able to expand the market, particularly with a younger clientele.

“There is a building boom in small ships,” he says, “and in my view, we are a catalyst and leader in the expedition cruising boom.” — Laurel Herman