As 2015 draws to a close, the cruise industry looks back on a year of some tragedy (Tunisia and Paris) but mostly excitement for new opportunities (China and Cuba) and a promise of a bright future (Crystal Cruises and Virgin Cruises).
There’s no denying that this year saw its share of travel tragedy. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have had an affect on European cruises, and cruise passengers were among the victims of the museum shooting in Tunisia. Also, the guilty captain of the ill-fated Costa Concordia was sentenced to prison for his gross negligence and crimes, resulting in a capsized ship that killed dozens.
But I don’t want to focus on those stories. With any such news, I’m reminded of the importance of staying calm and cruising on. The world is a volatile place. It always has been and always will be, but that should’t stop us from traveling. It should keep us mindful of our surroundings, certainly, but as a precaution because the world is still a beautiful place full of beautiful people. Travel, whether it be by cruise or another conveyance, is a blessed opportunity to perceive our existence with widened eyes and a chance to positively represent our own cultures and ideals.
Speaking of other cultures, Cuba is finally on the radar for cruise travel after years of ships skirting the island nation to reach other Caribbean destinations. As U.S. government travel restrictions are loosened, the outlook for cultural immersion trips (outright tourism is still off limits) has brightened, and cruise lines are flocking towards new Cuban itineraries.
As an international line not under the embargo, MSC Cruises is the first mainstream line to base a ship roundtrip from Havana. Of the American players, Carnival Corporation is preparing to send its latest brand Fathom to the country as part of its “impact travel” program that also includes voyages to the Dominican Republic starting in April 2016. Cruises aboard the Adonia, repurposed from P&O Cruises, will sail roundtrip from Miami, Florida.
It’s definitely enticing to see access to the once forbidden fruit open up. The setting filled with vivid colors and vintage American cars passing by scenic beaches has always intrigued me and surely plenty of other potential travelers. And with Fathom, cruisers can give back to the global community in the Dominican Republic and discover the culture of Cuba on a back-to-back sailing if alternating itineraries allow. That’s what I’d love to do.
While less of a destination for Americans and more of an entirely new source market, China was big ticket news this year as rising numbers of Chinese wish to take a cruise. Just like Cuba has whet the lines’ appetites, so have Asian waters to an even larger degree.
Royal Caribbean International has already deployed one of its newest ships, the Quantum of the Seas, to be based year-round in Shanghai, and the third Quantum-class ship, the forthcoming Ovation of the Seas, is scheduled to be based near Beijing. Norwegian Cruise Line has also announced that its second Breakaway Plus-class ship, following the new Norwegian Escape, will be customized for the Chinese market.
Carnival Corporation in particular has heeded the call, sending AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises to the region, including the forthcoming Majestic Princess, sister ship to Royal Princess and Regal Princess, in 2017. The biggest jaw dropper is the corporation’s intentions to develop an entirely new cruise brand, in addition to the aforementioned, for the Chinese market.
The year ahead is full of new ship launches, but no existing line announced more expansion plans in 2015 than Crystal Cruises. Shortly after NYK sold the lauded luxury line to Genting Hong Kong, the company announced not just new ships, but entirely new brands.
The line, which for years has had a two-strong luxury fleet, is set to receive three additional new Crystal Exclusive-class ice-rated vessels, featuring for the first time Crystal Residences, 48 onboard private homes complete with exclusive ship venues. On top of that comes two new cruise brands, Crystal River Cruises with five riverboats and Crystal Yacht Cruises with the Crystal Esprit. The amenities on these ships, some including submarines, sound more like the dreams of James Bond, but they are indeed set to become a reality soon.
Oh, and did I mention Crystal Luxury Air? That’s right. Crystal is branching into luxury flights with a Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 outfitted exclusively with first-class seats and traveling to exotic destinations. Sign me up for the whole gamut!
There have been a number of new cruise lines to enter the scene over the years, Viking Ocean Cruises being the most recent, and next is Virgin Cruises, announced in 2015 and headed for the mainstream market beginning in 2020. That’s a long way out, and a lot of other new ships are scheduled for launch between now and then in an ever-changing industry, but Richard Branson has proven in the past that he has several tricks up his sleeve. What remains to be seen is just what those are for cruising.
Considering the new company will be going head to head with the likes of Royal Caribbean International and its behemoths of the seas, the trio of relatively small median-sized 110,000-ton ships comes as a bit of a surprise. This just goes to show that perhaps size doesn’t matter after all, and the best thing going for the line at this point is a web site that is asking travelers what they want to be able to see and do on their sailings, putting customer service above all else from the very start. That sounds like a winning formula to me.