Alaska seems to treat the cruise lines well. John Shallo, who is the founder of and content editor at Cruise Addicts, which is an online community for cruising fans, describes Alaska as a “destination like none other.” Between glaciers and whales and eagles and native cultures, “the experiences and sights of Alaska are just so unique and genuine.”
RIVER CRUISING. River ships must be long and narrow, so they fit underneath centuries-old stone bridges.
Our research indicates that prices of cruises to southeast Alaska increased by an average of 5 percent to 7 percent during 2017 over 2016. Experts anticipate that prices for cruises to this destination will continue to rise for the 2018 season.
Cuba, which was expected to become a major cruise destination after President Barack Obama initiated a détente with the island’s government, might have a murkier future under the Trump administration, which seems less interested in doing business there. As of press time, many of the new regulations regarding Cuba allow people-to-people programs, which cruise lines already run. Still, if the Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba changes, so, too, will the capability of cruise lines to dock there.
The current arrangement could work in a traveler’s favor if the cruise that he/she wants to take meets the regulations, Brown says. She adds that Cuba is a great place to visit by cruise ship, because cruise-ship accommodations far outshine the accommodations that travelers would find if they stayed at some of the island’s hotels. As of press time, at least six cruise ships are cleared to dock in Cuba in 2017, and two additional ships are cleared for trips there in 2018-2019.
RIVER RUNS. Experts agree that no niche within the cruise industry is growing more rapidly than is river cruising. Viking alone launched 52 ships on Europe’s rivers during the past 5 years. Statistics from CLIA indicate that member companies deployed 184 river cruise ships in 2015, and they expected to increase that by at least 13 by 2017.
Of course, river cruises are different from ocean cruises. Passengers board in a city and spend time sailing down narrow rivers. Ports of call generally are other cities. With this in mind, the cruise itself becomes a luxury transport, a haven for travelers as they wind their way through a foreign countryside.
Molly Morgan of cruise line Crystal Cruises says the advantage that a river cruise has over visiting numerous cities via other means of transportation is the convenience that you have to board a ship, unpack once and explore an entire region without having to repack and unpack again. “This allows the destinations to take center stage,” Morgan says.
Pricing is similar among most river cruises. Basic staterooms aboard Uniworld’s River Princess for a 15-day cruise from Budapest, Hungary, to Amsterdam start at $7,199 per person, or about $480 per day. Prices on the Crystal Mahler are comparable: A 16-day journey between Budapest and Amsterdam starts at $7,815 per person, or about $490 per day. Both are typical examples of itineraries in this luxury market.
It’s worth noting that river cruise ships are configured differently than are ocean-going ships. Obviously, river ships must be long and narrow, so they fit underneath centuries-old stone bridges and through tiny locks. Because the river ships are slender, they lack some of the options that are standard on the larger vessels. One example, Brown says, is that river ships typically don’t have as many restaurants as do open-water ships, and river ships have cabins that often are an average of 50–80 square feet smaller than are the average accommodations on an ocean-going ship.
SIZE MATTERS. Ocean-going cruise ships are bigger than ever before. Bigger ships mean more passengers per ship, which, in turn, maximizes profits for the cruise line. For consumers, more passengers (read: bigger crowds) can diminish their enjoyment.
Royal Caribbean International, which operates eight of the 10 largest cruise ships, has the industry’s largest ship in Harmony of the Seas, which boasts 18 decks and can hold up to 6,687 passengers. In 2018, the company will christen Symphony of the Seas, which will have the same number of decks and a similar passenger capacity.
At the other end of the spectrum, small-ship companies naturally emphasize that smaller is better, but, in general, the smaller that the ship is, the higher the price is that you have to pay. These companies say the setting allows you to have more-intimate experiences and travel to places that bigger ships can’t visit. Southeast Alaska cruises by UnCruise Adventures, for instance, sail into fjords where passengers can see bears, whales and forests up close.