NEW YORK — A demand for more in-depth experiences — from learning how to scuba dive to dining in a private home in port — are shaping what’s new in the cruise industry this year. Other cruise news: a boom in Alaska trips, a few precious sailings to Cuba and potentially game-changing new technology.
HIGH SEAS, HIGH TECH
Princess Cruises will debut a coin-sized medallion in November aboard the Regal Princess that could dramatically change guest experiences. Passengers will carry or wear the medallion, which will direct them to their cabins, unlock their doors as they approach and alert crew members to their schedules and preferences, whether it’s a class they’ve signed up for or a favorite cocktail. It will also streamline getting on and off the ship.
ALASKA Alaska expects 1.06 million cruise passengers this year, likely breaking its 2008 record of 1.03 million visits. The Alaska Travel Industry Association says larger ships are bringing more visitors, and destinations like Sitka, Juneau and Icy Strait Point have built out piers to accommodate bigger vessels. Smaller ships are simultaneously expanding service, specializing in more remote destinations the bigger ships can’t reach.
Holland America Line marks its 70th year of exploring Alaska with the redeployment of its Oosterdam ship from Europe to Alaska. Seabourn, a small-ship line, returns to Alaska in June for the first time in 15 years. Lindblad launches a new ship, National Geographic Quest, whose itineraries will include Alaska. Carnival Miracle will do a 14-day round-trip to Alaska from Long Beach, California, that will include Carnival Cruise Line’s first-ever call at Icy Strait Point. Crystal Cruises, which last summer sailed the largest luxury passenger vessel ever through the Northwest Passage, offers a repeat trip from Anchorage on Aug. 15.
In 2018, Norwegian Cruise Line will launch Norwegian Bliss, a ship custom-built for Alaska trips.
CUBA Long-term prospects for travel from the U.S. to Cuba remain uncertain under the new presidential administration. But for now, a number of cruises are scheduled through spring. Havana is on the itinerary for sailings from Florida in April and May aboard Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas, and in May on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sky. The Fathom brand continues seven-night sailings to Cuba every other week through May.