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.”
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“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.”
That’s quite a change from just a few years ago, when cruise ships rarely spent more than the daytime hours in any port. Azamara has been promoting late-evening and overnight special events in port cities for some time, and now ships from its sister company, Celebrity, will make overnight stays next year in 11 cities — Buenos Aires, Panama, Copenhagen, Iceland, St. Petersburg (Russia), Liverpool, Glasgow, Dublin, Le Havre (for Paris), Bordeaux and Bilbao.
For passengers who may not have the time or desire for a long cruise, more lines are now offering shorter sailings. Princess, for example, is debuting its first-ever series of shorter cruises this fall. Sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, the Ruby Princess will make four- and five-night cruises to Caribbean, and on the West Coast the Golden Princess will start three-and four-night trips out of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
More cruise lines also are deploying ships to new ports, not only to serve natives of those regions, but to others who might want to cruise in locales far from home.
Several lines are basing ships in Australia. Carnival, whose Carnival Spirit has been based in Sydney, will station a second vessel, the Carnival Legend, there next year. Royal Caribbean has three ships based in Australia. Princess, which has two ships based in Australia, homeported a ship seasonally in Japan this year and plans to return there again next year. Costa, which long has had a ship based in China, added a second one this year. Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas splits homeports between China and Singapore.
Here in the United States, MSC will base a ship year-round in Miami for the first time starting Nov. 20. The MSC Divina, one of the line’s newest and largest ships, entered service in 2013 and carries more than 3,500 passengers.
Also this year, Princess will base a ship year-round in San Francisco for the first time, and Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas will begin year-round sailings from Galveston.
All in all, if you’re thinking of a cruise, you’ve got more choices today than ever before.
Here are some of the other itinerary changes the cruise lines are making.
Because nearly every Azamara cruise is a unique itinerary, the line visits many ports of calls for the first time every year. In 2014, Azamara ships will make maiden calls at 45 destinations on four continents.
The line is spending $65 million to build a new cruise port on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Scheduled to open in 2014, the Amber Cove Cruise Center is designed to open the Dominican north coast as a popular cruise destination. The last cruise ship to call at Puerto Plata was nearly 30 years go.
The line is introducing a new series of special land adventures for small parties. These will include such experiences as hiking beneath a volcano in Iceland, touring the hills of Rome in a Ferrari and attending the British Open golf tourney on a VIP package.
New itineraries include sailings to the Canary Islands and Morocco with overnight calls in Casablanca and Funchal, Portugal, and cruises from Dubai with overnight calls at Muscat and Khasah, Oman, and Abu Dhabi, UAE. New this winter are sailings from Guadeloupe and cruises from South America.
In 2014, the Disney Magic will sail from Venice on a new Greek islands cruise, calling at five isles and overnighting in Venice. The line also is deploying to a new homeport, San Juan, in 2014 and is adding a new port of call, Sitka, on its Alaska itineraries.
In 2014, Holland America ships will make cruises from seven European ports, traveling on six new itineraries, making seven maiden calls and 17 overnight calls. New ports include Antalya, Turkey; Burgas, Bulgaria; Amsterdam, Holland; Itea and Kavala, Greece; La Palais and Nantes, France. The line will position its Volendam and Rotterdam in Singapore for the 2013-2014 season, making visits to Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, India and Indonesia.
MSC is replacing its Red Sea itineraries with new roundtrip sailings from the Canary Islands. Ports of call will include Madeira and Morocco as well as Canary destinations.
In 2013 and 2014, Norwegian ships are returning to ports they haven’t visited in some years, among them Casablanca, Sardinia and Monte Carlo in Europe, Houston and San Diego in the United States. Completely new ports to the line in 2013 are Valencia, Palermo and Carthage in Europe, and in 2013, Guadeloupe. The line also is going to develop a new cruise port called Harvest Caye in Belize, for completion in 2015.
Oceania is broadening its reach in Europe with 93 new itineraries in 2014 and new ports of call including Tirana, Albania; Antibes, France; Hamburg, Germany; Chania, Crete; Kos and Syros, Greece; Ullapool, Scotland; Lysekil, Sweden; and Milford Haven, Wales. Also next year, Oceania will introduce seven new new England/Canada cruises. Going worldwide, Oceania’s Insignia will make the line’s first around-the-world voyage in 2015, a 180-night journey during which the ship will visit 89 ports, 13 of which are new to the line.
In 2014, the line will have four ships sailing on 14 different itineraries from west coast ports, including visits to two new ports — Loreto and La Paz in Mexico.
•Regent Seven Seas:
Regent has scheduled seven new itineraries for its Mariner, three for Voyager. The latter will call at three new ports in Europe next year — Kristiansand, Norway; Murmansk, Russia; and Helsingborg, Sweden. The line also will operate new embarkations from Oslo and Amsterdam. The Mariner will call at several new ports on an extended sailing from Rome to Miami, among them Antibes, France; Argostoli and Syros, Greece; Santa Cruz de la Palma, Canary Islands; and Dakar, Senegal.
In 2013, the line is making maiden visits to ports in Brazil, Greece, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Japan (Tokyo), the Phllippines and Norway. In 2014, the new ports are in the Faroe islands, Denmark, Lithuania, New Caledonia and Holland (Rotterdam). Also ahead in 2014: The first of a new class of ship, Quantum of the Seas.
The line will make its first cruises to Antarctica and Patagonia in the 2013-2014 season. On one of the sailings, the Seabourn Quest will make a rare call to South Georgia island. The line also plans overnight stays in many cities, among them Honolulu, Sydney, Hong Kong and Mumbai.
•Sea Dream Yacht Club:
In Asia, new destinations will include three ports in Myanmar, two in Malaysia and five in Thailand. Sea Dream will make several overnight port stays, including St. Petersburg, Russia; Tallinn, Estonia; and Yangon, Myanmar.
The line is adding a second expedition ship, the Silversea Galapagos, which will sail in those storied equatorial islands. Its first expedition ship, the Silver Explorer, is regularly deployed in the polar regions.