The experts on holidays afloat at the influential cruise news and reviews web site Cruise Critic, have been taking a look at their crystal ball and compiled a list of what is—and what isn’t—likely to make waves in the next twelve months.
“We’re expecting to see changes—such as new smoking policies, which will extend the smoke-free areas of the ship, and increased onboard fees—which could have a profound effect on the cruise experience,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, Cruise Critic editor in chief. “In terms of destinations, the Caribbean will remain a firm favourite for cruisers, and cruise lines continue to increase capacity in the region. However, we’re also seeing lines add new itineraries that include visits to less-frequented ports of call and regions suited to more adventurous travellers.”
Making Waves in 2012
The Ka-ching Factor: Knowing that price hikes are unlikely to be viable in the current economy and without new berths to sell, cruise lines need to bring in new cash through any other means they can, from increased tips to restaurant cover charges. The trend towards more for-fee options and upgrades is likely to continue as the cruise lines attempt to squeeze every last penny out of consumers.
Smoking is Being Stubbed Out: New policies to cut back smoking onboard cruise ships go into effect in January on several lines. Based on feedback from the Cruise Critic community, whose members are becoming increasingly upset by smoke-filled vessels, lines are clearly responding to pressure from their customers, and the winds of change are clearly blowing in favour of non smokers. It’s good news if you don’t smoke, great news if you want to quit, but bad news for dedicated puffers.
Cruising’s Worst Moment, Celebrated: The 100th anniversary of the Titanic tragedy will be observed in April 2012, Memorial cruises on Fred. Olsen’s Balmoral and Azamara Journey will mark the occasion and the spectacular Titanic visitor centre will open in Belfast in the spring. Although most agree that it’s an event that should be remembered, debate continues as to whether events commemorating the sinking of the “unsinkable” are in good taste or not.
Ship Launches Come With a Sense of Deja Vu: For the most part, cruise lines launching new ships in 2012 will not be offering anything entirely new. All the large new ships coming out in 2012 are siblings to existing vessels with some design tweaks, including those from Disney, Oceania, Costa, AIDA, MSC Cruises, Carnival and Celebrity.
Refurbs, Not New-builds: The pace of cruise-ship orders has slowed, but cruise lines continue to pour millions into upgrading older ships in lieu of building new ones. To see which ships will get a facelift in 2012, check out Cruise Critic’s Refurbishment Chart (http://www.cruisecritic.co.uk/articles.cfm?ID=521).
Steady Stream of River Ships: In contrast to their oceangoing counterparts, the river cruise lines continue to float out new ships, and Viking, which will launch six new-builds in 2012, is leading the way. River vessels have long been spartan and basic, but the more astute cruise lines—especially Uniworld—are redefining the concept so ships are as much a part of the experience as the ports.
Tighter Quarters: With refurbishments and new-builds alike, cruise lines are adding extra cabins—and either taking space away from public areas or not expanding them to meet the extra capacity. This puts a lot of pressure on public facilities and dining venues, in particular.
Destinations to Watch, From the Canaries to Cambodia: Hot destinations, in more than one sense of the word, will be the Canary Islands, still on a roll after acquiring business from poor Tunisia, Syria and Lebanon last winter. Watch out for bargains in the Arabian Gulf as competition heats up there this winter among Royal Caribbean, Costa and newcomer MSC. Ex-UK and round-Britain cruises will still be huge. On a smaller scale, Vietnam and Cambodia are flavour of the moment in river cruising, with Mekong cruises already sold out for most of the year.