January 16, 2013

January 16, 2013
Top 13 Cruise Trends for 2013

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Wednesday and we have almost made it through the middle of another work week. I hope you are having a beary safe and great week so far. It is another busy week for Dab the AIDS Bear and me.

One of my favorite ways to take a vacation is to go on a cruise. You get to see several places, some one does all the "driving" and you only have to unpack and pack once. (Not to mention I don't have to cook for up to two weeks!)

But what the top top trends for cruising in 2013? Well I started blogging on this issue yesterday and will conclude the subject matter today.

The cruise industry's theme for 2013 might just be "what's new is old."

Cruise Ships Turn Inside Out
royal-princess-pool-nightMajor cruise lines are making the move to reconnect with the great outdoors -- or at least the outside decks. What began with outdoor movies and deck parties has morphed into indoor-outdoor entertainment venues, such as The Waterfront, a quarter-mile-long outdoor "boardwalk" with eight alfresco dining venues and lounges, on Norwegian's new Breakaway. Also of note are outdoor fitness complexes that include ropes courses, climbing walls and cages, as well as alfresco fitness equipment on Breakaway and Carnival Sunshine. While Celebrity offers jazz in its Solstice Class Lawn Clubs, Princess' new Royal Princess, debuting in June, will feature a between-pools "tropical island" that will transform into a dance club at night, complete with a light show, as well as a cantilevered, glass-enclosed SeaWalk that extends 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship and 128 feet over the water. Lines are also expanding adults-only serenity decks and water-play areas, and adding additional and bigger outdoor movie screens.

The Decline of the Main Dining Room
There's been a monumental shift in the mega-ship main dining room experience, once a structured nightly event with waiters who became family, exotic menu options like rabbit and a sea of sartorial sophistication. That quintessential cruise event has been replaced by more hurried pacing, cheaper seafood and steaks, and flex-dining programs that link passengers with different waiters every night. The changes have been a long time coming, but a renewed emphasis on for-fee, alternative restaurants without equal love going to the MDR will continue to hasten the transformation. Not all are opposed. Fans of the new normal love the ever-increasing gastronomic options and intimacy of smaller venues -- even for a fee. Traditionalists see one of their most revered cruise institutions vanishing, like the large, succulent lobsters that once defined formal night. Some lines, including Royal Caribbean, have taken note. But while Royal insists it's rededicating itself to the MDR with new menus and tableware, it continues to add slews of up-charge restaurants to ships during refurbishments.

Telecommunications Are Finally Improving wifi-onboard-cruise-shipIn 2012, MTN Satellite Communications, the main provider of telecommunications solutions for cruise ships, began updating and enhancing its land-based and satellite communications hardware. Through 2013 and into 2014 as the upgrade continues, cruise passengers will begin to see faster, less-expensive Internet (including Wi-Fi), as well as more mobile options on several cruise lines. At the same time, hardware changes on ships also are speeding up communications. Last year, Carnival began testing new technology aboard Carnival Magic in an effort to increase connection speeds. If the test is successful, you can be sure the line will roll out the changes to other ships, too. Royal Caribbean also began testing new technology on Oasis of the Seas, which it says will bring "fiber optic-like" Internet speeds to the ship.

Cruise Lines Are Changing Menus to Accommodate Dietary Restrictions
Passengers with dietary restrictions -- vegan, gluten-free, etc. -- used to have to jump through hoops to alert the kitchen staff to their food needs and make sure their ships were loaded with the necessary supplies. But cruise lines are recognizing we're not all carb-eating carnivores and have been expanding onboard menus accordingly. Royal Caribbean is marking menu items that are low-calorie, gluten-free, lactose-free and/or vegetarian, as well as providing gluten-free foods in all restaurants. Holland America introduced a vegetarian menu in 2012, and SeaDream has added a supplementary raw food menu, offering items that are organic, vegan and heated to more than 118 degrees F. As cruise lines offer healthier choices and smaller portions, look out for more lifestyle-accommodating dishes in 2013.

Extreme Weather Will Increasingly Affect Your Cruise
It's clear that weather patterns are changing, bringing more large, destructive storms. Of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history, eight have occurred in the past 10 years. This year's Superstorm Sandy affected some 50 cruise sailings over 10 days, prompting the cancellation of two cruises and creating serious delays to several others. Meteorologists have said we can expect such storms more frequently in the years to come.

Safety Protocols Become Standardized
When Costa Concordia capsized in January 2012, the industry's focus turned to safety onboard ships. To that end, changes in regulations trickled out, starting in early spring and continuing through the year. With the one-year anniversary of the tragedy coming on January 13, "Is cruising safe?" will be the question on everyone's mind once again. Expect new announcements on safety to come from Cruise Lines International Association, CLIA U.K. and CLIA Europe in 2013. While most of the changes probably won't be earth-shattering -- passengers might not even notice them -- they will aim to standardize safety across all ships and lines. CLIA has vowed to continue to review safety policies, focusing on processes that will minimize human error.

U.S.-Based Cruise Lines Are Going Global
In an attempt to attract more new passengers and ride the ebb and flow of economic booms and busts, U.S.-based cruise lines are reaching out to an international audience. Not only will you find a greater mix of nationalities onboard, but the cruise lines will alter the onboard experience to appeal to the local population in exotic destinations. Want to cruise Royal Caribbean in Brazil? You'll find dining and entertainment options geared to South Americans. Carnival and Celebrity have introduced new ships to the Australia/New Zealand cruise market for winter 2012-13. Not only are these lines courting Aussies, but they're also tweaking the onboard experience. While Celebrity has added local beer and altered menus to Australian tastes, Carnival went all out, adding pokies (local gambling machines) and a no-tipping policy. As you cruise in 2013, look for more Russians, Asians, South and Latin Americans, as well as Europeans onboard your floating outpost of the U.S.

U.K. Lines Embrace Short-Break Cruises
Short-break cruises -- particularly ones with themes and/or celebrities onboard -- will continue to grow in popularity in 2013. Ever mindful of the need to attract new cruisers, many U.K. lines are offering short-break or "taster" cruises as a way for people to sample a cruise -- and hopefully book a longer one later in the year. The appeal for cruisers? Short-break cruises are keenly priced, with fares starting as low as 69 per person. They're a lot cheaper than flying and booking a hotel, and they're fairly hassle-free, as they all leave from U.K. ports. P&O Cruises has 25 two- to four-night cruises scheduled for 2013, all leaving from Southampton, while Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has 12 "mini-cruises" this year, ranging from two to five nights. Silversea has eight cruises of four- to seven days this year in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe starting at 1,040 per person. Cruise & Maritime Voyages has 34 short-break cruises (one to five nights) from a number of U.K. ports, and Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Hebridean Island Cruises will also offer a limited number of short cruises. Popular destinations for these quick getaways include ports around the British Isles, France, Belgium and Holland. Special guests include "Britain's Got Talent" winners and tenor Russell Watson.

Hope these tips help you plan your next (or possibly your first) cruise.

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab