It’s an ever-changing panoply: Every year, cruise lines tinker with ship itineraries. They find new ports to visit, adjust cruise durations, stay longer in interesting destinations, conceive new experiences onboard and ashore.
It’s all designed to retain repeat passengers and attract new ones in a time when more cruise ships than ever are plying the world’s waters.
“Where people go matters more these days,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic. “The cruise traveler is driving changes.”
That’s especially true with experienced cruisers, said Dwain Wall, senior vice president of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., online cruise agencies. “They want to see different places.”
“Costa is always looking to expand our itinerary offerings to entice first-time and repeat guests to explore new destinations,’’ says Scott Knutson, the line’s vice president of sales and marketing for Costa Cruises North America. Costa, a large cruise line with 15 ships, is adding new sailings from the Canary Islands, Guadeloupe and South America.
But small cruise lines also share that design.
“In recent years, guests have begun requesting new ports and harbors,” said Pamela Conover, CEO of Sea Dream Yacht Club. “In response, we will be sailing to Costa Rica, Northern Europe and Asia and even offering an expedition voyage to Papua New Guinea.”
This broadening of itinerary options is a boon for prospective passengers. If cruise line A doesn’t touch at a particular port of call a guest would like to visit, perhaps cruise line B does. If cruise line A doesn’t offer the length of cruise a passenger is looking for, perhaps cruise B does.
“Guests today want ‘bragging rights’ when they go on a cruise,” says Brad Ball of Silversea Cruises. “They want to have experiences and access to places and people they wouldn’t be able to secure or even know about on their own. We’re constantly looking for new ports to visit.”
Because of that, Silversea’s schedules this year call at 32 new ports, 21 of them on its expedition ship, the Silver Explorer. Seabourn, too, is greatly expanding its reach. Twenty-nine new ports of call are on the line’s 2014 itineraries, including stops in Cape Verde Islands, Indonesia, Australia, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and Trois Rivieres, Canada, as well as cities in Scotland, France, Wales, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Italy, Germany and Spain.
However, not all itinerary changes are driven by customer desires. “Consumers often ‘ask’ for new ports or destinations,” said Vicky Garcia, chief operating office of Cruise Planners-American Express Travel, “but it’s not a driver. … The cruise lines definitely drive it based on research in popularity of overall land destinations.”
Smaller ships especially trumpet their ability to visit ports that the bigger ships cannot access. In fact, that is one of their main selling points.
For big ships, some of the more exotic stops are made on repositioning cruises. These might include such destinations as Iceland, Greenland and the Azores in the Atlantic.
Cruise ships are now overnighting in many more ports, giving passengers more time to enjoy the destination. “It’s an interesting trend, mostly on the premium lines, [fueled] by demands of customers,” said CruiseOne’s Wall. “They want more time off the ship, to get the real flavor of the port.”