About 32 million vacationers will sail in 2020, according to Cruise Lines International Assn., a trade group.
If you’re one of them, here’s what you’ll find: a new ship with a tattoo parlor and another offering hand-rolled cigars; a roller coaster at sea; and a themed cruise inspired by “The Golden Girls.”
And that’s just the beginning. Here’s what’s trending this year.
Virgin Voyages’ 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, emblazoned with a naked mermaid on its hull, is for travelers 18 and older. The ship, debuting in the Caribbean in March, has a tattoo parlor, drag brunches and plenty of opportunity for yoga, meditation and pumping iron, plus a lively club scene you would expect from music mogul and proud business disrupter Richard Branson.
Virtual reality and gaming attractions are all the rage at sea. On the Sky Princess and Enchanted Princess, a family-friendly escape room uses digital gaming technology with 700 possible outcomes. On Royal Caribbean’s 4,246-passenger Odyssey of the Seas, debuting in the Caribbean in November, the largest indoor activity space at sea will include VR games and augmented reality walls.
A pioneering agreement between the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and the Cruise Line International Assn. goes into effect this year, seeking to better control cruise ship arrivals to reduce crowds in the historic Old City. The cruise lines are working with other destinations to stagger arrivals and create farther-afield shore excursions to better disperse throngs of cruise passengers.
Carnival’s Mardi Gras
Carnival’s Mardi Gras, to debut in November in the Caribbean, is not only fueled by liquefied natural gas but also features a roller coaster that circles the top deck delivering drops, dips and hairpin turns at speeds up to 40 mph. The ship also is home to Emeril Lagasse’s first seagoing bistro (for an additional fee) and an outlet of former L.A. Laker Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken restaurant (no extra fee).
To save money and time, some lines are adding capacity and amenities by cutting their ships in half and inserting a new middle section. Windstar is updating three 212-passenger ships this year, each getting 50 new cabins (for 100 more guests) and bigger pools on each ship in the process. The first, Star Breeze, returns to sea in May.
Going for gold
Princess Cruises’ Sun Princess is slated to serve as a floating hotel for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Royal Caribbean will have two ships with itineraries overnighting in the city so cruisers with tickets can catch events. Hoping to capitalize on attention from TV coverage, other lines will visit post-Games, including Windstar, with its Star Breeze exploring coastal Japan.
Cruise passengers are showing interest in vegan and globally inspired cuisine. In response, open-air Street Eats kiosks on the Mardi Gras will feature falafel and empanadas. Scarlet Lady will have Korean barbecue and a vegetable-forward restaurant. Oceania Cruises has added 200 vegan dishes, and Royal Caribbean now has such choices as vegan spaghetti “Bolognese.”
Ten expedition ships will debut this year, most equipped to sail in warm and icy seas. Luxury line Crystal Cruises’ first expedition ship, the polar-class 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, debuts with butler-serviced suites, helicopters and a submarine, as well as a casino run by Resorts World. Silversea launches the 100-passenger Galapagos-centric Silver Origin, with butlers and Champagne for all.
By the end of the year, Princess Cruises will have 11 MedallionClass ships on which guests can pay for drinks and open cabin doors by using a wearable device. On the 2,195-passenger Celebrity Edge and its soon-to-debut sister ship Celebrity Apex — innovative ships with open-air dining on a movable exterior Magic Carpet platform — a smartphone app lets you adjust your cabin’s lights, blinds and air conditioning.
Crazy suite amenities
On the new 3,660-passenger Sky Princess and its soon-to-debut sister ship Enchanted Princess, a pair of mega-suites have patio-sized balconies, the largest balconies at sea. On the soon-to-debut 750-passenger luxury ship Seven Seas Splendor, the house-size Regent Suite has a $200,000 bed. Guests in Mega RockStar Suites on Virgin’s Scarlet Lady get a music room with guitars, amp, and on-call hair and makeup crew.
New ships from L.A.-based Uniworld and Tauck are debuting on Portugal’s Douro River. L.A.-based Viking River Cruises and Uniworld are launching ships on the Nile. Viking also is expanding on the Seine with four contemporary new-build vessels sailing from Paris. The world’s largest river ship, Victoria Cruises’ 690-passenger Victoria Sabrina, will debut on China’s Yangtze.
Cruise lines are fond of TV show tie-ins: “The Voice” (Princess Cruises), “Lip Sync Battle” (Carnival) and “Top Chef” (Celebrity Cruises). The newest contest at sea is “Family Feud” live on Carnival’s Mardi Gras. On each sailing, families or put-together groups of five will compete for prizes on an authentic “Feud” set, with shows emceed by the cruise director.
When a five-night themed cruise based on the ’80s sitcom was announced, it sold out fast. A second sailing was added; it sold out too (although you can add your name to a waitlist). Both are out of Miami on the 2,170-passenger Celebrity Infinity. The cruises feature a caftan sail-away party and performances by Golden Girls Live: A Drag Parody and the Golden Gays NYC.
The rush to see cold parts of the world before they melt has cruise lines beefing up itineraries in Antarctica, the Arctic, Iceland, Greenland and the Russian Far East. With its glaciers as a key attraction, Alaska is expected to attract more than 1.3 million cruise passengers this year.
Besides the launch of the LNG-fueled Mardi Gras, increased use of exhaust gas cleaning systems, more connecting to shoreside power (so diesel engines don’t pollute in port) and new expedition ships partly powered by batteries, cruise lines are busy eliminating single-use plastics. Norwegian Cruise Line is the first major line to eliminate plastic water bottles.
Private island expansion
In the Bahamas, Royal Caribbean’s $250-million Perfect Day at CocoCay is opening the islands’ first over-water cabanas. MSC Cruises is showing off Ocean Cay, its new private eco-island resort, with a center for coral research forthcoming. Virgin soon will open its beach club in Bimini, where DJ-led flotillas and nighttime bonfires will be part of the fun.
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is expected to launch the 298-passenger Evrima in November in the Caribbean. The all-inclusive luxury ship has a Michelin chef dining experience (for an additional fee), fancy suites, an infinity pool and hand-rolled cigars in the Humidor Lounge. A Ritz Kids program will keep youngsters occupied.
Wellness and mindfulness
A keen interest in healthy and mindful living has led to cruises helmed by Oprah Winfrey (on Holland America Line) and wellness guru Dr. Andrew Weil (on Seabourn). In August, Goop and its founder, Gwyneth Paltrow, get on board an 11-night Goop- and wellness-themed sailing in the Mediterranean on Celebrity Apex.
Cruise ships left Turkey after the 2016 coup attempt. Although some inched back last year, 2020 marks the return of Istanbul as a cruise destination. Seabourn will sail between Istanbul and Athens; Holland America Line has three ships doing overnights in the city.
Virgin has recognized that not everyone wants a week at sea and is doing four- and five-night sailings for its Caribbean season. Closer to home, soft adventure line Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic does a five-night trip to mingle with gray whales in Baja’s Magdalena Bay and a four-night exploration of the Channel Islands.