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.”
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.Azamara: Carnival: Celebrity: Costa: Disney: Holland America: MSC Cruises: Norwegian: Oceania: Princess: Regent Seven Seas: Royal Caribbean: Seabourn: Sea Dream Yacht Club: Silversea: