Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

 Virtuoso recently provided a very useful summary of 2020 trends in cruising. In reflecting on the list, I found that I had experienced almost all of these trends on the cruises I took over the past year.

Of course, as an organization that focuses on luxury travelers and agents, Virtuoso didn't focus on some of trends on contemporary lines. There was nothing about the increasing number of roller coasters, go cart tracks and laser-tag playgrounds, for example.  Likewise, elaborate escape rooms weren't featured.

But for premium, upper premium and luxury ships, the first trend on the list is well chosen: distance. More and more travelers are going far from home and headed to far-flung destinations. The more obscure the better.

On a Silversea Cruises trip last February, I visited Sandakan in Malaysia, and Romblon Island in the Philippines.

In both places, we made culinary stops that put us in touch with the local cuisine and how it is created. That's another trend that resonated with Virtuoso. "Passengers want to enjoy the essence of these places through interactions with local people and culture," said Virtuoso vice president of cruise sales Beth Butzlaff.

More nights in port is another evolving trend.  The line that attached itself to this concept early on was Azamara. I experienced it on a Baltic cruise last summer aboard the Seabourn Ovation, which spent two nights in St. Petersburg, Russia. Having three full days in port really helped me get a feel for this historic city, which would have felt like a drive-by on a six-hour excursion.    

Cold is hot -- that's how Virtuoso summed up the trend towards polar excursion voyages. There's no question that there are an expanding number of cruise lines, ships and itineraries devoted to the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Once a traveler feels like they've been everywhere, it is a logical next step. In December, I was able to take an Antarctic cruise with Abercrombie & Kent/Ponant, and it was certainly different in multiple ways from any other cruise I had tried.

That cruise also showcased another trend spotted by Virtuoso: the increase in what it calls "conscious travel."  That implies a certain concern for the environmental, cultural and crowd-level impact of cruises on the destinations they visit. In Antarctica, members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators abide by rules that limit landings to 100 passengers at a time. When ashore, we were guided to not approach wildlife, such as penguins, any closer than 15 feet, although curious penguins were free to approach us as much as they desired.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a two-night cruise to Freeport (before Hurricane Dorian) on Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line from the Port of Palm Beach illustrated Virtuoso's "microcruising," trend. On that cruise, I talked to one passenger, a shop owner who was too time-starved to take a longer trip. The Bahamas Paradise cruise was the perfect solution.

Virtuoso defines Americana as a trend: "Cruise lines featuring U.S. sailings are flourishing, with American Queen's Mississippi River cruises in particularly high demand," it said. My foray into Americana was on the Great Lakes, which might be a trend within a trend. American Queen's sister line Victory Cruise Lines took me from Detroit to Toronto, passing that quintessential American honeymoon destination, Niagara Falls, along the way.

About the only trend Virtuoso identified for 2020 that I missed out on was the increasing demand for suites. Since I travel at the invitation of the lines, I don't get assigned to suites very often.  A big exception was more than a few years ago when I traveled in suite style on the Viking ship Viking Star. The accommodation was way too big for one person, but I could see getting used to the category.

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