Cruise Trends for 2014
The cruise industry has faced it share of “challenges” recently, but fortunately, sometimes a challenge creates opportunity. And so it is time to examine these challenges, changes and other influences affecting the cruise trade with our New Year “Cruise Trends for 2014.”
The Domination of Experienced Cruisers
Cruising will always be enigmatic to the uninitiated, but the impact of recent negative events, as isolated as they may be, has morphed mystery to doubt about trying a cruise for most people. As a result, most cruise lines are seeing fewer first-time cruisers onboard. But there is a bright side to this; they are also seeing a higher percentage of experienced cruise passengers – people who will always be happy to snap up the bargains that comes from “hard times” in any given industry.
While having fewer first-time cruisers is bad for the industry’s bottom line, in my experience the impact on the cruise experience itself is surprisingly positive. On my latest cruise most people I met were very experienced; making the cruise experience unusually comfortable and efficient. I liken it to and frequent fliers in first class – everyone knew what to expect and what was expected – of them. I’m not suggesting that first time cruisers will feel out of place on cruise ships now. In fact, I think that when they return they will reap the benefits of this temporary change in demographic. Of the few freshmen I spotted I was impressed by how quickly they assimilated. By day two I couldn’t pick them out from the graduate class. Rarely did I see anyone use the elevator to ascend just one floor, and I was extremely impressed by the quality of dress on formal “suggested” night. It was almost like old times.
2014 Cruise Pricing Trends
These are still tough times for mainstream brands like Carnival, although the line’s last quarter surprised to the upside. Still, I expect to see continued bargain basement prices on “lead-in” accommodations like inside cabins because that strategy appears to be working. These rooms are currently priced at about half the fare for balcony staterooms (yet another sign that first-time cruisers are absent since experienced cruisers prefer balcony cabins), but people for anyone who wants to cruise inexpensively and doesn’t mind a smaller room, there are real bargains out there.
Another 2014 trend is more short cruises, from three to five days, even from premium brands like Princess and Holland America. Shorter cruises appeal to people who want to sample a cruise without risking too much money. Ironically, people tend to stay up to drink and gamble more; spending more per day than on average cruises. But as far as price per day, shorter cruises are bargains right now, just keep in mind that longer cruises make more sense if you have airfare and other related costs.
The Drinking and Dining Experience
1. The Return of Traditional Dining
The return of experienced cruisers has reversed a trend initially meant to attract new people to cruising – open-seating dining. Novices often viewed pre-set dining times and assigned tables as being too regimented, but on many cruise ships the traditional dining style is back and actually popular once again. A few years ago most ships set aside about two-thirds of available space for “anytime dining.” Today that ratio is reversed, with two-thirds of tables going back to traditional, pre-assigned dining. Of course, even though most people are assigned a table upon boarding, attendance is not mandatory, which leads to…
2. New Dining Alternatives
This is one of my favorite new trends. Alternative dining venues on ships are not new, but they are now offering “special” alternative dining experiences, often only once per cruise. One example is the night Holland America’s alternative Pinnacle Grill recreates menu items from New York’s iconic “Le Cirque” restaurant. The price is higher but the food is delicious. Even better are new “Chef’s Dinner” offerings on many cruise lines where each course (and there are usually six or seven) is paired with a wine or aperitif. The cost is about $100 per person, but with caviar, fois gras, truffles and other select delicacies, it’s more than a dinner – it’s an experience.
3. Higher Onboard Prices – Drinks and Spa
Spa prices have gone through the roof in many cases, even on mainstream cruise lines; as high as $180 in some cases, depending on the treatment. It is a good idea to shop for bargains, look for coupons and book ships that offer separate steam rooms and saunas in the fitness center.
The prices of drinks on cruise ships are now commensurate with urban nightclubs. A glass of wine at dinner starts at $7.50; domestic beer is $5.00. Of course, frozen drinks, imported beer and finer wines cost even more. This leads to…
4. Drink Packages
More cruise ships are starting to offer pre-paid “all you can drink” beverage packages on a “per person per day” basis. One example of prepaid package prices comes from Celebrity Cruises:
· Soda only: $7/day
· Soda, juices, special coffees, Red Bull, etc: $18/day
· Classic Package: add unlimited cocktails, wine and beer (regularly up to $8 serving): $44
· Premium Package: add unlimited drinks normally priced at up to $12 serving: $54
These packages must be purchased by both adults in one room for the entire cruise, and if they are pre-paid online before the cruise they are slightly cheaper. They do not include the mini-bar or room service.
5. Dinner Packages
A very recent development for people who really enjoy alternative restaurants is pre-paid specialty dining packages. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line offers the $47 “Signature Trio” package for meals at the Steakhouse, the French Bistro and the Italian trattoria. Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Princess all have their own packages.
Luxury Cruise Lines
Of course, with luxury cruise lines where drinks and special restaurants are included, drink and dining packages are mostly redundant. On those lines, the 2014 trend is to bring aboard more famous chefs for greater and better culinary variety.
Another luxury cruise line trend is including more shore excursions in the cruise fare, and more offers of Internet access included in the cruise fare. I expect to see even more of this in the coming year.
Entertainment and Activities
For adults, licensed Broadway productions aboard Royal Caribbean include Mamma Mia, Hairspray, Chicago – the Musical and Saturday Night Fever. Norwegian has Blue Man Group, Rock of Ages, Legally Blonde, Second City and more.
New for 2014, Holland America has signed up with BB Kings to install BB King’s Blues Bars on most of the line’s ships in 2014. The line continues has extended its “Dancing with the Stars” contest winners from the network television show.
For the Kids
Kid’s experiences are getting better throughout the industry. Parents are reporting that kids are better activities and improved supervision in the new kid’s programs. More ships are installing water slides and ropes courses – activities kids seem to enjoy forever.
Specifically, Disney continues to lead the pack with its own exclusive stage shows, movies and “character experiences.” But other cruise lines also feature popular characters for kids.
Very big news for Carnival in 2014 is its new affiliation with Dr. Suess – some of the most popular Kid’s characters with kids and parents. The “Dr. Suess at Sea” program will feature popular live kid’s entertainers onboard for the first time. Character breakfasts and promenade parades will feature Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Two and Sam (I Am). Late night movies will also feature Dr. Suess characters.
Norwegian already has Nickelodeon characters and Royal Caribbean has DreamWorks (Shrek, Kung Fu Panda). Royal Caribbean also offers full screen movies from DreamWorks in 3D on its ships.
Another new trend on cruise ships is telecasting daily “chat shows” on the stateroom televisions that are produced onboard in a “television studio.” Princess committed to this in a big way on its two newest ships, Royal and Regal Princess, with the “Princess Live!” theater venue where live entertainment is video recorded for in-cabin viewing. Additionally, Carnival and most other cruise lines are also now offering taped replays of their best live stage shows in the staterooms during the day.
The new Royal and Regal Princess are also especially nice with huge 36-inch televisions with free to view recent release movies in each stateroom. On other cruise lines you can expect to pay as much as $12 to $18 to watch a single pay-per-view movie - on a tiny 24-inch television.
Keeping in Touch
The final new trend for 2014 is even greater integration of smart phones and iPad technology for guests on ships. You can now carry your devices and access the ships Wi-Fi system to see the daily schedule, for example.
Even getting your email or phone calls is no longer prohibitively expensive onboard now that many cruise lines have teamed with satellite providers to offer lower prices for cell-network access at sea, however, it is still cheaper to pay for the ship’s Internet access service and bring your own laptop, however.
That sums up the cruise trends for 2014. In general there is one factor that will probably continue for years; the trend towards bigger and more crowded ships. When factoring in operational costs it only makes sense to put more people onboard each vessel, and so the “big” ships of 2000 (130,000-tons) are the medium-sized ships. Newer ships are coming in at closer to 160,000-tons. Of course the two 220,000-ton Oasis-class ships remain the largest in the world, but two more vessels of the same size are will be arriving before you know it.