Slow cruising, aka hotel barging, is showing double-digit growth rates according to one industry source. That’s not surprising since cruising in general continues to grow rapidly, with cruise repeaters seeking new and more immersive experiences.
One estimate puts the number of barges currently operating at about 70. While most cruise the canals of France, they also can be found on the waterways of Holland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Scotland, England and Ireland. Barge season starts in late March and runs through the end of October.
For clients who want to dip a toe into the Mediterranean, cruise lines offer scores of ships sailing scores of itineraries.
The first choice, of course, is: Western Med or Eastern Med.
For me, the Western Med has a slight edge because I favor the cultural attractions in Spain, France and Italy, as well as the shopping and dining. However, if a client favors pristine beaches, ancient ruins and perhaps a religious pilgrimage to Israel, then the Eastern Med is the obvious choice.
With each new bumper crop of ships there are innovations, usually in shipboard attractions, accommodations and activities, but also in technology. The year 2019 will see the industry’s first ship powered by clean-burning liquefied natural gas (LNG). Others are coming.
The 3,954-passenger Carnival Panorama, a Vista-class ship, debuts December 2019 in Long Beach, CA and will sail seven-day itineraries to the Mexican Riviera, departing every Saturday. This will be the first Carnival ship home ported here in two decades.
Notable features: Spacious rooms and suites in the Family Harbor area; a huge WaterWorks aqua park, SkyRide, the open-air SportSquare, a Cloud 9 Spa-and a Cuban-themed Havana section with a dedicated bar and pool.
Expedition cruising is one of the most rapidly growing segments of the industry, with four new builds this year (two from Ponant, one from Scenic and one from Hurtigruten), 11 next year and more than a dozen in the following few years.
Today, younger travelers, active travelers, and those seeking richer experiences than those offered on conventional cruises are choosing adventure on expedition ships. The kind of ships that have no Vegas-style entertainment, no casinos, no Bingo - in short, none of the familiar onboard experiences.
With Asia traffic increasing on both ocean and rivers, the river lines continue to add and enhance itineraries to take passengers deeper into what were once exotic and unreachable areas.
Clients who have tried ocean and river cruising and are looking for something different, coastal cruising might combine the best of both.
A coastal cruise can be a fairly luxurious experience aboard a new vessel with amenities, a no-frills, soft-adventure aboard a tall ship, sleeping in a bunk and sharing a bathroom.
Both types of vessels are small and can cruise where big ships can’t. They dock in ports that are rich in attractions--cities like Baltimore, Chicago and Seattle--and passengers can disembark much more quickly than those on big ships carrying thousands of guests.
This year, the story about U.S. river cruising remains the same: steady growth. This has meant new boats, new luxuries, new itineraries. The growth is due partly to the 66% of Americans who don’t hold a passport and want to experience cruise travel; Americans who, due to unsettled conditions abroad, prefer to travel within the U.S. - and to the growing interest among English-speaking international travelers who are interested in American history, especially the cultural richness associated with America’s great rivers.
River cruising is still the fastest growing sector of the cruise industry. In addition to the new ships being launched each year, there are new itineraries, more and new theme cruises. Wine cruises are especially popular, and here, AMA Waterways has gone all in, with more than 50 wine-themed offerings this year. With ports, tours and tastings at some of the world’s most famous wine producing areas, as well as onboard tastings and lectures, these itineraries provide wine lovers with a richness of experience that could not be duplicated during an ocean cruise.
The appetite for cruise travel is ever growing, both in the United States and worldwide -and the industry keeps building ships to feed that demand with a record number of vessels on order over the next ten years. There will be bigger ships-the biggest ever-new technology, new toys, new luxuries and new dining experiences.
Despite hurricanes and Department of State restrictions, cruises to Cuba continue to grow in popularity, with new sailings, new itineraries and the addition of more overnights.
With a strong commitment to the destination, Azamara has added new 2018 and 2019 Cuban itineraries that range from four to fourteen nights. A variety of getaway options includes two new ports of call. Cienfuegos, known as La Perla del Sur (Pearl of the South), is located on Cuba’s south coast, with an Urban Historic Center that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second largest city, located southeast of Havana was founded by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The city is home to the citadel of San Pedro de la Roca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is also where Bacardi Rum was founded.