The Top Trends in Luxury Cruising for 2019

The Blue Eye on Ponant’s Le Champlain is an underwater, multi-sensorial lounge, which has been designed by oceanographer Jacques Rougerie. // Photography: Ponant

As the year draws to a close, Luxury Travel Advisor looks ahead to 2019 and beyond for the hottest trends in luxury cruising. Based on feedback from luxury travel advisors, the latest research, supplier developments and our own perceptions of the luxury cruise seascape, here are top trends expected for the new year.  

Premium Cruisers Seek Luxury

As consumers age, their lives evolve. As travelers, they don’t necessarily seek the same type of cruise vacation they took in the past. Increasingly, contemporary and premium travelers are “stepping up” to luxury. Some start with a boutique luxury experience, such as those by Azamara Club Cruises, which debuted its third ship, Azamara Pursuit, this year and has a hefty destination focus; Oceania Cruises, known for its culinary excellence, destination-focused itineraries and now-updated Owner’s Suites on Marina and Riviera with design by Ralph Lauren; or Viking Cruises, which introduced its newest vessel, Viking Orion, this past summer, and features Scandinavian interior design.


Ponant’s newest expedition yacht, Le Champlain has 92 staterooms and suites. // Photography: Susan J Young

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These lines offer touches of luxury, a mid-sized ship experience, high-end suites and itineraries that sail across the globe. That said, luxury travel advisors also say they’re seeing many more hard-core premium travelers than in the past who are “stepping up” to pure luxury cruises — such as Seabourn, Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Crystal Cruises, or small-ship luxury products, including Windstar Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club, Ponant and others.  

Increasingly, luxury advisors say, premium guests also are seeking longer cruises. They’re looking for suites with butler service. And often they’re buying business-class air seats, rather than the economy ones they typically have booked in the past.

Expedition Cruising Demand Continues Unabated

Nothing is as hot as expedition cruising, multiple luxury advisors tell us emphatically. Simply put, travelers are clamoring for adventure experiences, more active, in-depth exploration and more voyages to such far-flung destinations as the Northeast Passage, Antarctica, remote islands in the South Pacific, The Kimberley in Australia, the Indian Ocean region, exotic African or lesser known Latin American ports, or the Galapagos Islands. And it’s a trend that shows no signs of abating.

The Club World Owner’s Suite on the recently upgraded Azamara Pursuit has contemporary décor. // Photography: Susan J Young

Evidence of this strong demand is seen in the cruise industry’s response. Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises is launching its new Crystal Endeavor, which will debut in August 2020 and sail such itineraries as the 22-day “Antarctica & The Ross Sea Expedition,” between Hobart, Tasmania and Christchurch, New Zealand on January 6, 2021, and the 16-day “Island Explorations of Japan” from Tokyo to Taipei on September 13, 2020.

Silversea Expeditions just celebrated its 10th anniversary and recently Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. took a 67 percent majority stake in parent Silversea Cruises. With greater financial clout, the line just ordered more new ships including a new expedition ship, Silver Origin, to replace Silver Galapagos in the Galapagos Islands in March 2020. 

Scenic Eclipse sets sail in January 2019 and Scenic’s guests will explore by Zodiac, helicopter and submarine.

The recently upgraded Azamara Pursuit has contemporary décor. // Photography: Susan J Young

Agents say the amenities and services provided by expedition ships are a far cry from a decade or two ago. Roughing it isn’t in the nature of today’s range of expedition products. Many ships offer every creature comfort. For example, Luxury Travel Advisor experienced the expeditionary trend first-hand in a recent sailing on Ponant’s newest expedition yacht, Le Champlain, the second of six Explorer-class vessels. Sister ship Le Laperouse debuted early in the summer. These ships offer luxury services, fine French cuisine, a full-service spa and elegant, yet comfortable interior décor and appointments, much as a fine yacht would. At the same time, though, the ship offers water toys and active expeditionary adventures.

Most innovative? Ponant’s new Blue Eye underwater, multi-sensorial lounge was designed by oceanographer Jacques Rougerie, a specialist in underwater habitats, and it shows. Bathed in dark blue lighting, guests view the outside underwater world via several whale-eye-shaped glass windows. Simultaneously, mood music features vibrations that filter into flooring and furniture; screens show underwater camera action; and hydrophonic microphones allow cruisers to hear everything from krill sounds to large whales.  

Other expedition lines including Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, whose polar-class National Geographic Endurance launches in 2020, and more traditional luxury lines, including Seabourn with its new Ventures by Seabourn shoreside adventures, are also creating differentiation for guests seeking expeditionary experiences of various levels. Expect more of this type of expeditionary differentiation in the coming year and beyond.

Millennials Are Navigating to Luxury

Millennials are seeking out luxury cruises at a record pace with almost a quarter surveyed (24 percent) having sailed on a luxury cruise line within the past three years, according to Cruise Lines International Association’s 2018 Cruise Travel Report. In addition, Cruise Planners, the nation’s largest home-based franchise company, is among the many travel companies with soaring sales, thanks in part to Millennials; it’s posted an increase of 46 percent in luxury sales and a 61 percent increase in river cruise sales over last year.

So, looking forward, luxury cruising isn’t just for Boomers and Mature travelers. Generation Xers and Millennials have discovered the value, ability to personalize “just for me” cruise experiences, and the opportunity to venture to far-flung points across the globe in the lap of luxury.

Burgeoning Suite Demand

Veteran luxury cruisers, new-to-cruise guests and cruisers stepping up to a luxury cruise from a premium product often seek out spacious suites or, sometimes, the top-of-the-line suite. Most luxury cruise ships have a limited number of those, usually not enough to accommodate all travelers who desire them. In fact, luxury advisors have told us that it’s already a challenge to find a suite on many 2019 luxury ocean cruises, given soaring demand.

Booking early helps, certainly, but ultra-luxury, luxury and upper-premium lines are also adding more options. Azamara took 40 or so regular staterooms on its recently acquired and revitalized Azamara Pursuit and upgraded those to Club Continent Suites; plus, it added more high-end suites of other types, such as Club World Owner’s Suites and Club Spa Suites. The line says the suites go quickly and if that high demand continues, it may add more, depending on results in the coming weeks and month.

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s 635-square-foot Grand Suite has a 108-square-foot veranda.

Cruise lines are also becoming increasingly innovative and adding flexibility to suite options. During a recent visit to Spain’s Barreras Shipyard, Luxury Travel Advisor toured mock-ups of the new Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s (RCYC) Grand Suite and Terrace Suite. Both had all the bells and whistles luxury travelers expect in the way of fine finishes, rich furnishings and appointments, along with a clean design look, fine bedding, comfortable living spaces and creature comforts such as large flat-screen TVs. But they’re not the biggest suites RCYC plans, as those are two 1,098-square-foot Owner’s Suites, each with a 592-square-foot terrace.

But what if those two suites are sold out and a traveler wants a top suite? One good option is to combine RCYC’s 635-square-foot Grand Suite (14 of those on the ship) with an adjacent, 312-square-foot Terrace Suite; plus, the two verandas are 108 square feet and 67 square feet, respectively. What’s innovative, though? Well, RCYC has smartly created a large moveable wall between these two types of suites — avoiding the need for a connecting door.

When this extremely wide moveable wall (more than seven feet in both width and height) is pulled aside and pushed into another wall pocket, the two suites are seamlessly joined together. What’s unique is that guests feel as though they’re in an open-concept luxury condominium. When the Terrace Suite’s bedroom isn’t being used, that suite’s bed also can be pushed up into the wall and the unit has a hidden storage unit in the closet for extra chairs and a table that can be pulled out and set up in the space where the bed was previously positioned. Presto: The line has created additional entertaining space.

It’s expected that suite demand will continue to be robust in 2019. Fortunately, many new ships are being designed flexibly to tap into guest demand for more space to spread out.  

The rendering of The Outdoor Grill on the ship.

Sustainable Cruising

Increasingly luxury cruise guests are asking about how the ships are environmentally responsible: Whether they recycle, whether they still use plastic straws, and what do the lines give back to save the seas and the destinations visited. This movement may increase as more travelers spend more time traveling and not just kicking off the boxes of what they wish to see. Rather, travelers are becoming more interested in responsible, sustainable cruising once they have a genuine experience, meet the locals, get to know the culture and then savor the journey.

Tom Baker in Egypt, on the Nile

Trend Tidbits from Tom Baker 

Egypt River Cruising is Back: “The big shock is that demand for Egypt river cruises and land programs returned with a vengeance overnight,” says Tom Baker, president, CruiseCenter, a Signature Travel Network member agency in Houston, TX. “I will attest to the boom having just returned from an Abercrombie & Kent tour and Nile cruise.”

Earlier this fall, he and his mother sailed the Nile, toured storied ancient sites and immersed themselves in the local culture; Baker is shown in the attached photo readying for a felucca sailing. From personal experience, “the historic sites are all open, Nile vessels are back in service and I never felt safer having operated programs here for over a decade,” says Baker. “Egypt is the comeback destination of this decade.”

Looking Farther into the Cruise Future: Smaller ships, expedition-style cruises, longer exotic cruise itineraries and more back-to-back cruises — all travel options that entice luxury cruisers looking for experiential or bucket-list travel — are booming. Cruise enthusiasts are thinking about travel much farther in advance, looking into 2021 and even requesting options for 2022.

“This is a trend we have not seen in years — that travelers desire to book so far in advance,” Baker says. He cites contributing factors as the strong economy and that 401K and market investments are doing so well. Baby Boomers, now retired or about to enter retirement, have these expanding resources. Plus, consumers are set to receive “more inheritance money than we have ever seen in U.S. history,” according to Baker. That leaves these consumers the opportunities to travel well with significant disposable income.

Ruth Turpin characterizes river cruise growth as “an explosion” of demand by luxury travelers.

Trends from Ruth Turpin

Explosion of Luxury River Cruising: River cruising continues to boom, says Ruth Turpin, owner, Cruises Etc., a member of Virtuoso in Fort Worth, TX. She’s a top seller of luxury cruises, a member of the Crystal Platinum Alliance, Seabourn Pinnacle Club and Regent Council. She characterizes river cruise growth as “an explosion” of demand by luxury travelers.

“Ships such as AmaWaterways’ new AmaMagna, Crystal’s four new-builds and Uniworld’s Joie de Vivre are setting new highs for passengers,” she believes. “They are fulfilling client’s request for true luxury while enjoying the comfort of cruising in areas they can’t see by ocean cruising.”

The pampering AmaMagna is twice the width of most European river vessels and will sail on the Danube starting in 2019. Crystal, which just entered the European river market a few years back, now has five luxurious European river vessels, including four new-builds delivered within a two-year span. Joie de Vivre’s “Le Cave des Vins” offers an exclusive, hands-on dining experience; Uniworld’s guests select fresh ingredients and prepare a seven-course meal with the ship’s onboard chefs while enjoying French wine pairings from the sommelier.

In addition to the lines mentioned above, Tauck, Scenic and others also have luxury-focused river experiences. Tauck will increase small-ship cruising by 40 percent in 2019. While water levels on European rivers were challenging this year, at times, that simply didn’t seem to impact future reservations.  

Other trends? The Douro continues to draw river cruisers who’ve sailed other European itineraries or are port wine lovers, and even more exotic options on the Mekong, Irawaddy or Amazon also draw adventurous travelers. Look for 2019 to be a booming year on global rivers, according to Turpin.

Continuing Luxury Cruise Trends

A Revolution in Culinary Options: More onboard choices, more food-and-wine pairings, more alternative dining, hands-on cooking lessons and more shoreside dining.

More Active and Wellness Programming: New spa treatments, acupuncture, Pilates and wellness classes, wellness and health lecturers, new small group active adventures ashore, plus biking, hiking, surfing, kayaking and scuba diving opportunities.

A Growing Focus on Customized/Personalized Arrangements: Growth in onboard and shoreside experiences designed “just for me” or “just for us”

Greater Multigenerational Family Travel: “Skip Generation” travel with grandma and grandpa taking their grandchildren, more multiple generations traveling together, more adult siblings traveling on luxury ships and more special occasion or celebratory family travel.

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