The growth of cruising over the past 10 to 15 years has brought more uniformity in the mass market but also a variety of niche lines with specialized products.
That's a boon for repeat passengers tired of the same-old same-old. But to cruise with a niche line, passengers must feel relatively sure they're going to be happy.
That's where a good cruise agent can really make a difference, according to a panel at last week's CruiseOne/Cruises Inc. conference in Orlando.
Four niche lines made the case that if you want a really different cruise, it is out there.
Voyages to Antiquity, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Compagnie du Ponant and Windstar Cruises each have a different USP, or unique selling point.
For Voyages to Antiquity, it is an enrichment program second to none with a niche-within-a-niche focus on not just history but ancient history.
Paul Gauguin, a one-ship line, recently bought the 90-passenger Tere Moana to offer a second option to its traditional cruise in Tahiti.
Marseille, France-based Compagnie du Ponant says labels like unique, boutique and casual luxury describe its destination-oriented adventure cruises.
And Windstar Cruises has sail-aided ships that go to Greece in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter.
Terri Haas, chief commercial officer at Compagnie du Ponant, said up to 25% of its passengers consider themselves "anti-cruisers," a description that is probably apt for fans of other niche cruise lines.
For cruise agents, this sizable group is worth thinking about, either as a supplement to traditional business or as a full-time proposition.
"If you're really going to make serious money in this business you've got to specialize," said Windstar Vice President of Sales Dan Chappelle, a former travel agent who previously ran Expedia CruiseShip Centers in Seattle.
Niche lines have unique cabin layouts, itineraries and amenity packages.
Haas said knowledgeable agents who take time to qualify customers and ask what they like can have the field to themselves.
"I can guarantee you the OTAs aren't doing that," she said.
So next time you sense some cruise fatigue, see if the client wants something truly different out of their experience at sea. Gently challenge them, and you might both be pleased with the outcome.