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Cruises Your Way are Trending

Cruise lines are always debuting innovative options and immersive experiences to bring passengers aboard and keep them coming back. Emerald Waterways is using active outings to lure younger guests, Holland America Line is introducing new TV-branded onboard entertainment, and Avalon Waterways focuses its excursions on people.

By the time cruise ship passengers pay for drinks, dining, excursions, gratuities and internet access, they often feel penny-pecked when they disembark. That’s why more cruise lines are moving toward all-inclusive pricing structures. One example is Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion. On the other end of the spectrum, in the luxury cruising industry, price is no object. Aboard Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new Seven Seas Explorer, the Regent Suite runs $10,000 a night.

Here’s a look at some of the most exciting trends in the cruise industry.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Last year, Norwegian Cruise Line made its first foray into all-inclusive packaging with its Freestyle Choice program, which became Free at Sea this year. The pricing structure is fairly simple: Depending on which stateroom passengers book, they can choose from one, two or all five of the free onboard offers. The offers are unlimited open bar, specialty dining package, prepaid service charges for the first and second guest in the stateroom, a 250-minute Wi-Fi package, and Norwegian’s Friends and Family Sail Free offer, which allows third and fourth guests to sail for free on select dates.

“It’s shifting the focus from price to value,” said Alex Pinelo, vice president of key accounts.

For passengers, paying a little more to upgrade their cabin means they get not only a better room but also amenities for which they would otherwise have to pay. And “agents love the fact that we’ve had a consistent promotion in place,” Pinelo said. Now, agents can promote with confidence, without having to change their marketing materials every other week.

With the transformation to Free at Sea, the company decided to make it combinable for groups. The spec market program allows travel partners to block rooms and sell them with Free at Sea offers. For the affinity market, Norwegian allows travel partners to block an affinity group with only seven cabins. Tour conductors can then choose from a list of 10 perks, such as a group cocktail party, a complimentary photo package or Wi-Fi for each stateroom.

The program has been successful not only because it offers guests more value, but also because Norwegian can pay its travel partners higher commissions.

“We’re allowing travel partners to do a better job selling our project, selling our brand and selling up the ship,” he said.

Emerald Waterways

The group travel industry hasn’t quite figured out how — or whether — to market to millennials. In the meantime, Emerald Waterways is working to woo younger guests, “but it’s really more like the Gen Xers,” said Lisa Norton, vice president of brand management for Emerald Waterways.

“In recent years, you’re definitely starting to see an aging down of the cruising population,” she said.

Emerald Waterways itself is fairly young. The company, a division of Scenic, launched its own ships in the summer of 2014, although it had already been chartering. Emerald is building three new ships that will debut in 2017, bringing its fleet to seven.

The ships themselves are a big part of how Emerald appeals to younger passengers. Each features an indoor-outdoor pool that can be converted into a cinema. Crews can drain the water into a receptacle beneath the pool, bring up the floor, bring in reclining chairs and play movies. Inside, standard balcony rooms feature an indoor seating area that, with the push of a button, becomes a balcony when a glass window slides down.

Emerald also works to appeal to active travelers, both on and off the ship. On board, passengers will find a fitness center, a walking track and a rooftop putting green. New this year, Emerald Active tours allow guests to opt for faster-paced walking tours that get them off the motorcoach. Emerald also recently added guided bike excursions; the longest is about 20 miles, although most are shorter. Every ship has bikes on board.

“We’re targeting the younger, more active crowd; they want to go and see Europe, but they don’t want to be sedentary the entire time they’re there,” she said.