Cruise buffs will endlessly debate their favorite ships,
lines and onboard amenities. But this year, there seems to be consensus about
one thing: The class of 2020 is pretty exceptional.
About 24 ships are slated to debut this year, a possible
record depending on how you count them (ships vs. berths) and on whether every
vessel launches on time.
But what sets this year apart is not the number but the
ships themselves. They include new-to-cruise brands, an unprecedented number of
expedition vessels and some of the most environmentally advanced ships at sea.
The new brands are sparking the most attention because they
are global: Virgin Voyages, debuting the Scarlet Lady in March, and
Ritz-Carlton’s Evrima coming in June.
“What’s really new about 2020 is that there are two new
brands launching,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, chief content officer at Cruise
Media. “And what’s exciting about them is that they are both based on other
travel niches that people have heard of. It’s bringing cruise into a whole new space.”
2020's exceptional roster of new ships
Spencer Brown added that the Virgin and Ritz-Carlton brands
have the potential to expand the new-to-cruise market.
“It’s a comforting thing if you’re a Ritz-Carlton style of
traveler and you know the brand will be consistent and it will have people like
you,” she said.
Gene Sloan, senior reporter covering cruise for the Points
Guy, agreed that these names will generate industry buzz.
“Virgin is known worldwide,” he said. “It’s a major brand
getting into cruise and doing advertising around it. It’s going to get a lot of
play with non-cruisers and new-to-cruisers. It’s a big story.”
However, Sloan also pointed to Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi
Gras as this year’s game changer: “That’s the biggest ship of the year. It’s a
real milestone for Carnival.”
Over the past 20 years, Sloan said, Carnival hasn’t gone big
like Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises. As
those lines created large resorts at sea, with Royal’s Oasis-class ships topping
the rest at more than 220,000 gross tons, Carnival’s largest vessel, last year’s
133,800-gross-ton Carnival Panorama, ranks as the industry’s 44th-largest ship.
The 180,000-gross-ton Mardi Gras is a significant jump,
Sloan said, adding that it’s “Carnival saying, ‘We’re going to go big, too.’ It’s
a pivot point for the brand and for Carnival Corp.”
The Mardi Gras will have the industry’s first onboard
“The consumer media is going to eat that up,” Sloan
predicted. “It will create a huge amount of interest.”
The Mardi Gras is also significant for being the first ship
for the U.S. market powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). Carnival’s European
sister brands Costa and Aida recently debuted the first two LNG-powered ships,
and P&O will launch one this year, as well.
What remains to be seen is how this will impact Carnival’s
Monty Mathisen, managing editor at Cruise Industry News,
said, “Carnival is really out in front of everyone here. LNG is cleaner and
emits less air emissions, which is great, but since they are still a little
ahead of the curve, they are still putting in place the fuel supply chain. You
may not be able to get LNG at every port in the world right now. Carnival has
been busy putting all that infrastructure in place. It’s been a big process.”
This year sets a record for the number of expedition ships
slated to debut, currently at 10.
“That’s unprecedented,” said Cruise Media’s Spencer Brown,
recalling when expedition was a “sleepy little genre that nobody cared about.
You’d have a cabin with two beds bolted to the floor and a shower over your
toilet,” she said.
Fueling the expedition surge, she said, are the younger baby
boomers who drove the experiential travel craze but are older now and are
finding cruise ships to be easy and comfortable.
“Young baby boomers want to be as comfortable as they are at
home when they’re on the ship,” she said. “And when they’re off the ship, they
want to be on the edge.”
Other upscale-cruise fans won’t veer far from the familiar,
said Sharon Fake of Travel Experts. With a line like Crystal debuting its first
expedition ship this year and Silversea expanding its expedition fleet, Fake
said she has an opportunity to move them to expedition cruising.
“If you have a Crystal customer, they will be happy to try
the Endeavor,” she said. “If you have a Silversea customer, they will do the
Silver Origin. I’m not so sure that those people are ready to jump and leave
those brands behind to try something new.”
Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, agreed, asserting that
Celebrity Cruises “opened the world of the Galapagos” more than any other
“It gives us that extra story to tell to a cruiser who
typically sails on Celebrity,” Fee said. “They can get the same experience but
on an expedition ship.”
Sloan said Silversea’s Origin, built for the Galapagos, is a
“big deal” for the archipelago, where the off-ship experience often contrasted
sharply with older cruise ships. With the Celebrity Flora debut there last
year, and this year the Origin, the Galapagos offers a much-improved luxury
Sloan said the same was true of expedition vessels in places
like Antarctica: The hardware finally matches the off-ship experience.
“It’s always been expensive,” he said. “But you were paying
a ton of money to go to Antarctica and the Galapagos on 30-year-old, run-down
vessels. Now you pay that money and get a great product in addition to a great
Opportunities for advisors
The plethora of new ships offers opportunities and
challenges for advisors.
Some of the ships are coming from brands that are not well
known in the U.S. market, and agents can’t possibly get on each one to qualify
“We focus heavily on education, because you can’t be
everywhere,” Fee said. “We make sure this information is in front of our agents
so they have an understanding and awareness of it. That’s 90% of selling.”
Virgin, Fee said, has been proactive in educating advisors
about its product, which is important because it’s so different.
“They are showing [agents] what the food and drink will be,
how they’ll treat people, that the shows will be drag queens,” she said. “And
it will be a little over the top: It’s a Richard Branson product. You don’t
want to put someone who isn’t open to that type of lifestyle on the ship.”
Overall, Fee said, this is a great year to sell cruises.
“I always say we need new stories to tell,” Fee said. “When
you put marketing that tells a good story into the hands of a traveler, they
might not go on that product, but it’s getting them engaged with our agents and
talking about travel.”