Cruise Travel, Once Thought Dead In The Water, Rebounds

Cruise travel was riding high before the grounding of Costa Cruises ill-fated Costa Concordia last January. Multiple cruise lines had delivered a record number of ships, offering more travel options than ever before. But the tragic Concordia grounding caused first-time cruise passengers to re-think their travel plans as cruise lines redeployed ships to seemingly safer waters. Now, just months after the worst maritime disaster since the sinking of the Titanic, passengers are booking, cruise ships are filling up and new vessels are on order for what looks to be a bright future.

“The steady drumbeat of negative news emanating out of Europe is certainly having an impact,” Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive of Royal Caribbean International, said in a statement reported by the Los Angeles Times. “As a result, we are seeing pluses and minuses in the different geographic markets. North America is holding up reasonably well. Asia is a big plus but Europe is a pretty consistent minus.”

On the plus side, cruise lines have resumed going semi-full speed ahead with existing plans for new ships and have announced plans for more. Gadling recently reported the addition of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Breakaway, a new ship themed for the New York market, complete with a hull design featuring the New York skyline and, as Godmothers of the new ship, the New York City Rockettes.Even Costa Cruises, who one might think would be taking a step back, is going forward by building the largest-ever, Italian-flagged cruise ship, the 132,500-ton Costa Diadema, said to be the future flagship of the line. The €550 million ship will carry 4,947 passengers, safely, due to a comprehensive industry-wide safety review that addressed issues brought up by the Costa Concordia event. Then they went further to add new safety precautions and standards.

Still concerned about sailing European waters? Viking River Cruises seem to be comfortable with the idea, announcing this week an order of 10 more Longships to launch in 2013, followed by eight more entering service in 2014. In an unprecedented growth spurt, Viking River Cruises will have introduced a total of 24 new ships in the last three years.

Still think cruise travel is for the ‘newly wed or nearly dead’? Think again. Today’s cruise travel experience, both on and off ships, is offering an entirely new array of choices, all based on the mantra that made cruise travel successful in the first place, the idea that ‘there is something for everyone.’

Rebounding cruise lines have a clear focus on destination-specific activities, leaving the idea of a tour bus shore excursion behind them. Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal Cruises and others plan intense off-ship experiences that result in destination immersion exclusive to travel via cruise ship. How about an adrenaline-filled flight in a fighter trainer jet as an expert pilot teaches combat aerobatics? You can do that on a cruise. A puppet show for the kids at the Villa Borghese in Rome? Yes, that too.

Cruise lines have squarely locked in to dazzling passengers with memorable, lifetime experiences ashore, offering more than ever before including overnight stays in port. On ships today, current and relevant on-board programming runs the gambit from learning and enrichment activities like training in an Apple Store at sea to destination-specific lectures from locals before visiting a port of call.

Sure, they still do have casinos, buffets, shuffleboard and other features on board that might turn off casual adventure travelers. But for the price paid, cruise travel is offering more than ever before, with some of the best travel values available. Visiting more unique ports around the world, some only accessible by cruise ship, cruise travel is steaming towards a bright future, with a more diverse manifest of passengers on board than ever before.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user Rick Collier]