The Top Three Luxury Cruise Trends for 2018

Havana Cuba
Blue World Voyages, a new upscale, small-ship line designed with a wellness focus, has a seven-day Cuba itinerary. (Photo by Getty Images/iStock)

As luxury cruising continues to expand, new upscale products are emerging and travelers are discovering the ease of both ocean and river cruising. Luxury Travel Advisor has identified three top trends for 2018.

Top Trend 1: Wellness, Fitness and “Personal Healing”

Wellness and fitness at sea remain “hot” but a new component to luxury cruise programming is rejuvenation or “personal healing.” Certainly, voyages of 10 to 14 days, extended itineraries and longer World Cruises offer the luxury of time for guests not only to workout but to recharge both physically and mentally, however even a short cruise break can be beneficial for rejuvenation. These cruises appeal to those seeking “the next level,” best described as a sense of personal Nirvana. 

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New customer threads? Cruises with wellness, fitness and “personal healing” appeal to travelers recovering from a long or serious illness and those dealing with personal grief. Not uncommon too is “the divorce” cruise, as luxury customers look to the sea to celebrate their rebirth or, alternatively, find comfort and personal rediscovery after a difficult split. It’s all about shifting into life’s next chapter and luxury lines have responded with a slew of new options. This year, for example, Regent Seven Seas Cruises introduced a new holistic wellness program on Seven Seas Voyager; it combines low-impact activities in 10 Mediterranean destinations with revitalizing treatments in the onboard Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Next summer, the program will both return on that ship and expand to Seven Seas Explorer for those specific destinations. 

Looking ahead, those travelers seeking to recharge on a short cruise can tap into Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic’s new three- and four-night “Exploration, Transformation, Mindfulness” voyages with December and January departures. Designed as an antidote to holiday season freneticism, these mini-voyages are conducted in partnership with the Exhale Spa brand. As they sail to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez on the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird, guests will wipe away winter stress with such activities as morning power yoga on deck, paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, afternoon guided hikes, on-deck shoulder massages and guided meditation classes. For high-intensity fitness buffs, the line will offer a “Core Fusion Beach Boot Camp” designed to strengthen the body’s core with jump-backs, “mountain climbers,” twists, athletic yoga sequences and core exercises. 

Highly anticipated is the spring launch of ultra-luxury Seabourn’s new 604-passenger Seabourn Ovation. To refresh one’s spirit, we’d head for The Retreat, a tranquil relaxation enclave with a central whirlpool, sun loungers for up to 30 guests and a flower-shaped canopy for those desiring shade. Guests can socialize at both bar seating and tables with champagne, cocktails and “bites” from a special menu. Retreat amenities include fresh fruit baskets, premium sun lotions, Evian mist spray, plush towels, bathrobes and a dedicated Retreat Concierge to handle guest requests. 

For the ultimate in pampering, 15 private cabanas ring The Retreat; they’re individual luxury living rooms with a large HD flat-screen TV and a stocked refrigerator filled with the guest’s favorite beverages. Another cabana will offer sspa treatments. On Seabourn, guests seeking personal healing also can tap into a new holistic wellness program created by Dr. Andrew Weil and introduced across the Seabourn fleet this year; it will be added on Seabourn Ovation at launch. On each ship, new “Wellness Guides,” certified yoga and meditation practitioners, will conduct complimentary “Mindful Meditation” and yoga classes and offer holistic gatherings. Dr. Weil himself is sailing on select voyages to deliver an hour-long lecture and host informal small group discussions. 

Lindblad Expeditions kayak in Sea of Cortez

Lindblad Expeditions’ guests kayak at Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez.

Guests planning sizable spa time should consider staying in a Deck 11 Penthouse Spa Suite with up to 677 square feet of interior space, a veranda of up to 288 square feet and a convenient location directly above the spa. Suite perks include in-suite spa amenities, a second, in-suite bar stocked with waters, juices and healthy snacks, as well as complimentary full-day access to the spa’s serene area and spa concierge services. To rejuvenate, Penthouse Spa Suite guests can tap into these complimentary perks — a “Sound Bath” group class, guided group meditation and “foot prints” to help understand walking dynamics.  

Newly launched is the 930-passenger Viking Sun, the fourth of six ships planned for Viking Ocean Cruises. It’s elegant, comfortable and has a relaxed cruise style and pampering LivNordic Spa. One plus is the Nordic thermal suite, which is open to all guests. Why not take a dip in the soothing thalassotherapy pool (open to all guests), and then head to another serene spot onboard, the Wintergarden, for a hot cup of tea. This ship has easy access for North American guests, starting this month, when it operates several Cuba cruises roundtrip from Miami. Then, in mid-December, Viking Sun sets on a 141-day World Cruise, Viking’s first. 

The fifth ship with similar spa facilities, Viking Orion, will launch in 2018.

Also new this year is Silversea Cruises’ 596-passenger Silver Muse. The big draw for wellness buffs is the Zagara Beauty Spa, a new concept that encourages guests to create their own wellness experience. In the spa’s Mood Room, music, video and lighting are personalized and the spa offers a selection of infused treatment oils and teas. Guests can opt for a BIOTIC facial or an Amethyst Crystal Sound Bath Healing Treatment. We’d suggest the ELEMIS Thousand Flower Detox Wrap. A barber shop provides men’s facial and shaving services, plus cardiovascular classes and relaxation time feature “moving art” that’s streamed. Cruisers can work out in a Technogym fitness center. 

Showing the depth of the demand for wellness, fitness and “personal healing” is the future launch of Blue World Voyages, a new upscale, small-ship line designed totally with a wellness and active lifestyle focus. Gene Meehan, the line’s chairman and founder, is a health, fitness and spa entrepreneur as well as a competitive rower, climber and golfer. Blue World’s co-founder and CEO is John Richards, a former executive with Starbucks, Four Seasons Hotels, The Red Door by Elizabeth Arden, and early in his career, Royal Viking Line. Look for this new line to launch with one 350-passenger chartered ocean-going vessel as early as the third quarter of 2018, although specifics weren’t yet available at press time. Two other ships are expected to follow in a few years.

Blue World’s fitness- and health-focused global itineraries will focus on small ports and destinations that feature hiking, cycling, water sports and world-class golf options, plus one-of-a-kind cultural and educational opportunities. Look for an immersive, luxury experience with sports-themed activities, an extensive spa and health center and wellness excursions. On the line’s website, one itinerary example is a seven-day Cuba itinerary, roundtrip from Miami with calls at Havana, Cienfuegos, Maria La Gorda and the Island of Youth. It also says: “Coming Soon, Costa Rica.” In addition, the line has said publicly it would like to sail in the Mediterranean. 

Silversea Silver Muse Zagara Spa

The Zagara Beauty Spa onboard Silver Muse has a selection of infused treatment oils and teas. In the spa’s Mood Room, music, video and lighting are personalized. (Photo courtesy of Silversea Cruises)

As for the ship itself, it will have plenty of fitness and active options, including a retractable seawater pool; water sports platform offering paddleboards, kayaks and jet skis; high-definition golf simulators; baseball batting cages and an indoor basketball court. Blue World’s executive chef is Tim Andriola, chef-owner of Basil Park and Timo restaurants, who specializes in sustainable, farm-to-table cuisine.

Product inclusion tidbits? On every cruise, the line will offer two or three complimentary special events. Fares will also include an onboard credit based on cabin category; gratuities; house beer and wine free of charge at lunch and dinner; and complimentary hiking excursions and some free biking tours too; other excursions will carry a charge. A new Blue World Concierge App will help guests “translate,” find a taxi, or discover a lunch / dinner spot with authentic local food.

Top Trend 2: The Rise of Adventure & “Expedition Luxurification”

In the past, if cruisers desired to sail to Borneo, Siberia or the Galapagos Islands, cruise choices were minimal, and many expedition ships lacked creature comforts. Today, adventure travel is on the rise and expedition cruising has “gone luxury.” This year, Virtuoso calls adventure travel a “dominant trend,” while MMGY Global’s “2017 Portrait of American Travelers” survey found that more than half of Millennials, nearly half of Generation Xers and about one-third of Boomers see adventure travel as a highly desirable form of vacation. A recent Travel Experts survey revealed that “adventure” is the top vacation choice for its upscale Millennial customers. 

Highly anticipated this month is the launch of the “expeditionized” Silver Cloud, Silversea Cruises’ first classic fleet vessel that’s emerging as an ice-class ship following a multimillion-dollar drydock update. It will carry 200 adventurous guests when sailing in polar regions and 260 guests when exploring elsewhere. Silver Cloud is now the largest expeditionary ship within the Silversea Expeditions fleet, which also consists of the 100-passenger Silver Galapagos, 144-passenger Silver Explorer and 120-passenger Silver Discoverer.

This winter, Silver Cloud will sail to Antarctica, with an expedition team of up to 19 experts onboard. Guests can attend expert lectures and presentations daily in the ship’s theater or watch those “live” in their suite. During the drydock update, Silver Cloud gained a new Observation Lounge, important for an expeditionary product as guests wish to “ooh” and “aah” at glaciers, volcanoes, tropical isles and marine life from the comfort of a luxury ship. La Terrazza also received new teak flooring, upholstery and lighting, while The Restaurant was updated with new carpet and upholstery. Fitness buffs also can work out with new Technogym equipment.

Also adding expedition capacity is small-ship Ponant, which next summer will launch Le Laperouse and Le Champlain, two new Ponant Explorer-class vessels, with two others coming in 2019. They’ll be able to drop anchor in the most inaccessible places, including Papua New Guinea, South America’s Orinoco and Amazon rivers, remote areas of Costa Rica, the Maldives and the Bissagos Islands off the West African coastline, to name a few. Several other lines are adding new expedition ships, among them is Quark Expeditions, which just added the 176-passenger World Explorer

Seeking expeditionary travel in the lap of luxury with plenty of “toys”? Then check out plans for the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, launching next August. As Crystal Cruises’ first purpose-built, expedition-style, mega-yacht, the vessel will carry a PC6 Polar Class designation, allowing it to cruise safely and easily in polar regions. In addition, its offshore dynamic positioning technology will allow it to float in an eco-friendly manner atop coral reefs without use of an anchor. Beginning with Arctic cruising, the ship will then follow the route of migrating whales along the Americas and Europe before arriving at Antarctica. Along the way, it will call at remote islands that cruise ships can’t, or rarely, access.

Silversea zodiac observing seal in Paradise bay Antarctica

Silversea Expeditions’ guests observe a seal from a Zodiac in Paradise Bay, Antarctica. (Photo by Denis Elterman / Silversea Cruises)

For a small ship, Crystal Endeavor will be spacious. Standard suites will have at least 400 square feet of space (including the balcony). Two Owner’s Suites will each span 1,615 square feet inside with a 1,507-square-foot balcony, providing travelers with a master bedroom and two guest bedrooms, indoor and outdoor living areas, private conservatory, garden and outdoor whirlpool, as well as a private spa and gym outfitted with sauna, steam room and treatment room. The Owner Suite can also be connected to a penthouse suite, if desired.

Frankly, we can’t wait to see the mega-yacht’s impressive toys, including a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) to be used for excursions to sunken galleons, warships and passenger ships. Crystal Endeavor will also have two helicopters and two landing pads for flightseeing expeditions; SEABOBs or powerful high-tech underwater scooters; two seven-person submarines; eight electric amphibious Zodiacs; as well as jet skis, wave runners, kayaks, paddleboards, snorkeling and scuba equipment, a recompression chamber, dive support tender and a multi-person ATV.

Top Trend 3: Younger Generations Slide into Luxury

Over the decades, luxury cruising has attracted older affluent travelers who often acquired their wealth over a lifetime or a span of career achievements. But today, younger luxury travelers in their 20s or 30s are surfacing, and the latest research by Cruise Lines International Association conducted by J.D. Power reveals that most Millennials and Generation Xers are more interested in cruising as a vacation choice than they were a year ago. Interestingly, not all are starting out in cruising by sailing on a contemporary product. Fizziology, a global audience insights firm, found in its latest Twitter research that premium Celebrity Cruises is now winning over college-age travelers. 

When cruising, these younger travelers seek “just for me” cruise vacation experiences, exclusivity, wine or culinary experiences and, most of all, the desire “to come back changed.” The hot cruise ticket for many is the cruise industry’s largest growth segment — river cruising. Millennials and Generation Xers are drawn to the intimacy of the experience; the wine-and-cuisine focus; active options ashore (like hiking, biking, climbing and soaring); access to authentic, local experiences; and ease of access to city centers for independent touring, dining and nightlife. A plus for some Generation X travelers is a portfolio of dedicated family river departures by Tauck and others. 

Most notable? Launching next spring, U by Uniworld, designed specifically for those ages 21 to 45, will set sail on the Seine, Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Two 120-passenger ships, The A and The B, formerly the River Ambassador and River Baroness, are being renovated and reconfigured prior to their relaunch. Young travelers can expect contemporary styling inside and a new black hull for a striking appearance outside. New product features include communal dining tables, local food and street-inspired cuisine, mixologists and international DJs. Experiential itineraries will focus on longer port stays so Millennials and Generation Xers can indulge in hands-on local experiences and the destinations’ vibrant nightlife. 

Orinoquia Bridge on Orinoco River Venezuela

Cruisers on the new Ponant ships will be able explore the Orinoco River. Seen here is the Orinoquia Bridge over the river in Venezuela. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images / iStock)

We’ve gleaned a few tidbits about optional U Time excursions and the VizEat partnership that show why Millennials and Generation Xers should appreciate having this river cruise option. In Paris, U by Uniworld will offer a “Parisian Rooftop” experience that will put young cruisers among the iconic gray rooftops of the City of Light with views of 19th-century Haussmann-style apartment buildings and 17th-century townhouses. They’ll feel as though they’re in the opening scene of the movie “Ratatouille.” On another U Time outing in Budapest, young travelers visiting during August 8-15 can head for the Sziget Festival, one of Europe’s largest, most frenetic and colorful music / entertainment festivals, with the action unfolding on Obuda Island in the middle of the Danube. 

And through the new brand’s VizEat partnership, cruisers will share meals ashore in the homes of U Hosts, where they’ll immerse themselves in local lifestyle and cuisine. In Paris, for example, cruisers can dine in the private home of “Jean-Yves” (only first names are provided by Uniworld), an architect by day, a master chef at night; he’ll serve up such dishes as duck tournedos rossini, fried foie gras and sweet potato mousseline cream.  

More Upscale Trends

Layering on More Perks, More Options: Guest expectations for upscale cruising are off the chart, so expect cruise lines to keep layering on the perks and more service and culinary options. One good example? Upscale Oceania Cruises just introduced even more Concierge Level Stateroom amenities. Now guests will receive free laundry and in-stateroom dining service from The Grand Dining Room during lunch and dinner, plus other perks, including priority noon embarkation and an iPad upon request for use onboard. 

Vino, Vino, Vino: The wine keeps on flowing on luxury products. For example, SeaDream Yacht Club will partner with Schug Carneros Estate Winery of the Sonoma Valley on an added wine-themed cruise roundtrip from St. Thomas, USVI on November 17, 2018; the winery’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals will be showcased. River lines too are focused on wine. In 2018, AmaWaterways will offer 50-plus European wine-focused cruises hosted by North American winemakers, winery owners and expert oenologists. Among them are Martin and Megan Clubb, co-owners of L’Ecole N° 41 in Walla Walla Valley, WA and Amelia Ceja, president of Ceja Vineyards in Napa, CA.

Fast-Paced Global Expansion: Upmarket Azamara Club Cruises, which has a hefty destination focus, will add P&O Cruises’ former Adonia to its fleet next March, giving the line a trio of former R-class ships. After a significant refurbishment, it will launch next March as Azamara Pursuit. Look for more global destinations to be added. Separately, Cunard Line is building a new, 3,000-passenger ship that will launch in 2022, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ next new ship launches early 2020 and others too are adding new ships. In addition, a new luxury line, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, will launch in 2019. 

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