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No End in Sight for Cruising

Cruising continues to grow in popularity with groups, and for good reason. Recent innovations range from cutting-edge ships with the latest amenities to new itineraries with distinctive ports. And creative onboard programming and excursions with local flavor have upped the culture quotient on many lines.

The advantages of choosing a cruise for your group are numerous. Besides ease of planning and group rates, cruises are purchased in U.S. dollars, so there’s no worry of currency fluctuations — whatever the destination. Higher staff-to-guest ratios than most resorts ensure first-rate service. Activities cater to many interests and physical abilities, both on sea and on land. Dining options accommodate every palate and dietary need. Best of all, your travelers can experience multiple destinations but only have to unpack once.

According to the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), demand for cruising has grown by 62 percent in the past 10 years. Growth is expected to climb to nearly 25 million passengers this year. Whether it’s exploring Europe’s cities and charming villages on a river cruise, escaping winter in the Caribbean’s turquoise waters or getting close to glaciers and wildlife in Alaska, the cruise possibilities are almost endless.

If your group loves to cruise , or if you’re considering adding a cruise to your travel offerings,  check out these new industry developments to add excitement to your 2018 adventures.

River Cruising

Exploring the world’s great rivers has never been more accessible than on a well-appointed river cruise. Magnificent scenery around every bend, from castles in Europe to temples beside the Mekong, make each itinerary a visual feast. And since many towns were built along the water, passengers can conveniently walk right off the ship for sightseeing.

Emerald Waterways has steadily added vessels since 2014. It has added several four-star ships this year: the Emerald Liberte on the Rhone; the Emerald Destiny on the Rhine, the Danube and the Main; and the Emerald Radiance on the Douro. In 2018, the chartered Emerald MS Rossia will sail the Volga River. In southern France and Bordeaux, sister company Scenic Cruises touts five-star ships that have undergone major renovations and added the Scenic Culinaire program, plus fitness and wellness centers.

“Next year, we’re adding 28 new Emerald Active options, including yoga on the deck, biking, hiking and walking tours with varied difficulty levels,” said Lisa Norton, vice president of brand management for Emerald Waterways groups and charters. “For groups with full charters on either Emerald or Scenic, we can modify the Douro, Rhine/Main/Danube and France itineraries.”

Viking River Cruises is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with two additional Viking Longships in Europe. In March, the Viking Ra will sail the Nile River with 48 guests on a new 12-day cruise tour, Pharaohs and Pyramids; every tour will be led by Egyptologists sharing archaeological and historical significance.

This year, Uniworld rolled out its Jewish Heritage program, and in 2018, the Remarkable Rhine itinerary will explore Jewish heritage and will feature a new biking tour. The bike tour embodies Uniworld’s ongoing partnership with adventure travel tour operator Butterfield and Robinson and is like its current itineraries along the Danube and Rhone. Also notable, Uniworld’s SS Joie de Vivre was the first Super Ship to sail the Seine River and dock in the heart of Paris.

Another new development, U by Uniworld will be the first river cruise line designed exclusively for travelers ages 21 to 45. Beginning in April, the program’s two ships will feature communal dining tables, street-food-inspired cuisine, creative mixologists and international DJs. 

Ocean Cruising

With state-of-the-art ships and multimillion-dollar refurbishments, ocean cruising attracts both experienced and first-time cruisers. The industry’s inventive programming and itineraries are creating abundant stellar options for travelers into 2018 and beyond.

In 2018, Scenic Waterways will launch the six-star Eclipse ocean cruise liner. As the world’s first discovery yacht, it will accommodate 220 guests and offer nine dining venues. Two helicopters and a submarine will also be onboard.

Viking Ocean Cruises introduced the Viking Sky this past February and will debut the Viking Sun in October. Viking’s fifth ocean ship, the Viking Spirit, will join the fleet in 2018 and will sail to Australia, Asia and Alaska. Starting in January 2019, sailings between London and Bergen, Norway, on a northern lights cruise will establish Viking as the first U.S. line to offer a full-length winter itinerary in the Arctic Circle. Recently introduced, the Viking Resident Historian program features knowledgeable historians specific to each journey.

Cunard, the luxury ocean-liner company that made the first trans-Atlantic crossings, spent $40 million to refurbish the iconic Queen Victoria. New itineraries debuting in March include the 12-night Canary Islands and Madeira, the17-night Venice and the Adriatic, and the seven-night The Fjords. Themed 2018 voyages on the Queen Mary 2 feature Transatlantic Fashion Week and A Journey of Genealogy, on which, for the first time, Cunard has collaborated with to offer guests the opportunity to trace their family trees.

This November, Princess Cruises will introduce Ocean Medallion on the Regal Princess. This wearable device is powered by first-of-its-kind interactive technology. Ocean Medallion personalizes and streamlines embarkation and disembarkation, stateroom access, onboard purchases and even locating family and friends around the ship.

The Caribbean Princess underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation that added interconnecting staterooms, new dining and luxury beds. After a four-year hiatus, the ship will offer 2018 summer Caribbean cruises, including Panama Canal transits. The Princess is hosting its largest Canada/New England season to-date in 2018, plus round-trip sailings from Los Angeles to Alaska in 2018/2019, which few lines offer.

Boutique Azamara Club Cruises offers unique itineraries that don’t repeat during a calendar year, making it easy to book back-to-back voyages. In 2018, 30 of Azamara’s 228 ports will be new, bringing guests to smaller destinations that big ships can’t access, such as Dundee, Scotland and Geraldton, Australia. Voyage highlights will include visiting Churchill’s British War Cabinet Rooms in June 2018 and ringing in the New Year with Sydney Harbor fireworks. Azamara’s latest Country Intensive Voyages sail to multiple ports within one country, such as Japan or New Zealand. Its Cruise Global, Connect Local program is rolling out 13 different activity categories for authentic, local land experiences.

Royal Caribbean’s 25th ship, the Symphony of the Seas, will spend its inaugural 2018 summer season sailing the Mediterranean before heading to Miami for seven-night Caribbean itineraries. It will claim the title of the world’s largest ship, touting new features and amenities, as well as all the groundbreaking innovations and experiences found on the Harmony of the Seas. Among them are the seven-neighborhood concept, Bionic Bar robot bartenders and the iconic AquaTheater.

Creative programming headlines Holland America Line’s new offerings. Wine-focused shore excursions have been developed with Food and Wine magazine, and America’s Test Kitchen adds shipboard cooking demonstrations and hands-on workshops. A new shipboard program, Rijksmuseum at Sea, was first installed on the Westerdam and showcases reproductions of famous artwork and opportunities to learn about individual pieces. Partnering with O, The Oprah Magazine, specific sailings focus on personal growth. And the line’s Alaska cruises will feature a special Alaska BBC Earth presentation and a program that showcases the state’s culinary offerings.

Crystal Cruises offers 113 itineraries. This year, the line sailed its first New Guinea voyage and was among the first to visit Qatar. At year’s end, Crystal will offer its first African holiday cruise, round-trip from Cape Town. In 2018, luxury African safaris are on an itinerary that visits Madagascar and Mauritius. Boutique itineraries explore the Amazon, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises debuted its Seven Seas Wellness program this summer, inviting travelers to experience the Mediterranean in a renewed way. The program will be offered again starting in May 2018. A first for the industry, the program pairs a collection of wellness-themed shore excursions in 10 ports with five signature Canyon Ranch SpaClub treatments onboard.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s 16th ship, the Norwegian Bliss, will make its inaugural debut in Alaska in summer 2018 and sail to the Caribbean the following winter. The ship’s new connecting-staterooms options will span all room categories and be ideal for groups. The 2,376-passenger Norwegian Jewel will be redeployed to Alaska in summer 2018 and will offer 16 dining options and some of the largest suites at sea.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.