“The level of personal service, especially for higher end and smaller ships, [delivers] experiences not unlike the concept of the ‘Cheers’ bar, where everybody knows your name,” says Mark Murphy, who is the president and CEO of TravAlliancemedia, which is a trade-publication company.
DIFFERENT VIEWS. Smaller ships give passengers a more-intimate experience, while larger ships provide more amenities.
Norwegian Cruise Line
AMENITIES WORLD. As you might suspect, more cruise lines provide different amenities to make their brand stand out. Dining is one area of differentiation, and the latest dining amenities revolve around choice. In addition to having different venues for dining, such as restaurants that spotlight Brazilian, Japanese and other specific types of cuisine, most cruise lines now provide a higher level dining experience that gets you seats at specialty restaurants—perhaps restaurants that are led by a celebrity chef. The upcharge for the latter experience runs an average of $20 per day, with an additional 18 percent gratuity. “By offering these new experiences, cruise lines are attracting more foodies who may have shied away from the dining experiences of yesterday,” Murphy says.
VIVA CRUISE VEGAS. Casinos still are a mainstay on most cruise lines.
A recent ultra-exclusive trend is a ship-within-a-ship model in which a block of rooms operates as a boutique hotel. The rooms are luxurious and have the best views. They also come with 24-hour concierge service, which essentially acts as a private-butler service. On certain Norwegian Cruise Line ships, for example, such an area is called The Haven by Norwegian; on MSC Cruises, it’s dubbed the MSC Yacht Club. Depending on their size, the cabins that are in these sections of a ship cost an additional $70–$1,000 per passenger per day.
Private islands constitute another cruise trend. According to CLIA, cruise lines in 2017 have ports on seven private islands. Castaway Cay, in the Bahamas, is reserved for Disney Cruise Line guests on Bahamian and Caribbean cruises. Half Moon Cay, which is a 2,400-acre Caribbean island, is for passengers on Holland America and Carnival Cruise Line cruises. MSC is expected to open its own private island, Ocean Cay, in the Bahamas in October 2018.
ENTER THE YOUNG. As the cruise customer’s average age increases, companies court younger travelers more than ever before.
CLIA indicates that 46 percent of cruise passengers travel with children, and many cruise lines now let children who are age 16 and under cruise for free. Such promotions look good on paper, but we encourage consumers to read the fine print. Even though children cruise for free, Mom and Dad still have to pay for a room that’s big enough for everyone to sleep in comfortably. Brown notes that, depending on the availability of rooms, this promotion can increase the cost of a cruise by hundreds of dollars per day.
Millennials are a target audience, too. Carnival has a microbrewery on Carnival Vista, and the company plans to replicate the model on other ships during the next few years. Uniworld’s U by Uniworld, which is a new brand of river cruise, provides onboard mixology classes, painting classes and yoga. Prices for those cruises are about half of the regular Uniworld prices.
Cruise lines also came up with new ways that they can leverage technology. Passengers on most ships can buy social-media-oriented connectivity packages for $5 per device per day. One cruise line—Carnival—even invested in wearable technology that you can use as a bracelet or a necklace pendant and is designed to act as a room key, a credit card and an ID. If you lose your pendant/bracelet and don’t report it, someone could make charges to your account, but your personal information is encrypted and protected, Carnival tells Consumers Digest.
Carnival christened this sensor-based technology the Ocean Medallion and unveiled it in January 2017. The company has been rolling it out to all of its brands since then. The devices are complimentary for passengers. They work much the same way that electronic toll-collection systems work on highways. We expect this technology to be available on all major cruise lines within a few years.
Matt Villano is a writer and editor who has written for CNN Travel, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Time.