A pair of ship introductions will bracket 2017 for the cruise industry: the Jan. 7 christening in Singapore of the 600-passenger Seabourn Encore and the naming of the 4,140-passenger MSC Seaside in Miami in December.

In between, success will depend largely on two regions outside of North America: China and Europe.

Several of the big ships that will be delivered in 2017, including ones for Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, have been custom-designed to appeal to the Chinese source market.

The additional capacity comes after a year in which yields have declined in China and doubts have been cast about the headlong growth forecasts for cruise demand there.

Meanwhile, many cruise sellers and suppliers are keeping their fingers crossed that a nascent rebound in demand for Mediterranean cruises by North American travelers will continue to unfold in the 2017 Wave season.

In a mid-November conference call with analysts, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said bookings for Mediterranean itineraries had been up "strong double digits" in the previous eight to 10 weeks. Because the yields on European cruises exceed those for other itineraries, Del Rio said a swing from 2016's depressed demand will be pivotal. "In a nutshell, 2017 depends on the Med," Del Rio said.

Elsewhere in Europe, demand seems to be holding up. Norwegian is confident enough in the Baltic to move the Norwegian Getaway there next summer from Miami, where operating the Getaway year-round in tandem with the Norwegian Escape led to disappointing pricing for some of Norwegian's best ships.

Some travel agents are looking forward to a rebound in business in Europe in 2017.

"I can tell you, there's a lot of pent-up demand, based on the bookings that have been coming the past 60 to 90 days," Brad Anderson, co-president of Avoya Travel said in an interview at the end of October. "We're having record booking months on Europe. So I am very optimistic, and I think we're going to be crushing it in the next few months."

In year-over-year comparisons, many agencies have nowhere to go but up from last year, when European business nose-dived after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

"It was chaotic for travel agents who had a lot of business on the books," Anderson said. "They spent a lot of time doing customer services as opposed to selling new cruises."

While some destinations, such as Turkey, remain off-limits, others, such as Cuba, could provide new business chances in 2017. "I'm hopeful that the defrosting of relations will continue," Del Rio said. "If it does, I'm confident that soon enough we will see more vacation opportunities to visit Cuba, both by land and sea."

Luxury rising

Luxury capacity will continue to increase in 2017, building on the 2016 debut of the Seven Seas Explorer, the first new Regent Seven Seas Cruises vessel in more than a decade. In addition to the Seabourn Encore, the luxury market will get a new Silversea Cruises ship, the Silver Muse, scheduled for arrival in April.

The 600-passenger Seabourn Encore will be christened in Singapore Jan. 7, the day it departs for its inaugural 10-day cruise.
The 600-passenger Seabourn Encore will be christened in Singapore Jan. 7, the day it departs for its inaugural 10-day cruise.

Crystal Cruises will spend more than $20 million upgrading the Crystal Symphony in 2017, possibly by reducing capacity and adding more large suites. The result of the upgrade will be "true, full open-seating dining," Crystal CEO Edie Rodriguez said.

Beth Butzlaff, vice president of cruise sales at the luxury consortium Virtuoso, said she sees three trends picking up speed in 2017.

One is the increasing size and lavishness of suites on ships.

"There are some emerging suites on some of these lines that are really stepping up and are comparable to land products," Butzlaff said.

A second trend is a focus on wellness that, she said, "transcends the spas and creates that mind-body-spirit experience." A third trend in luxury is toward expedition-style cruising, such as the Crystal Cruises Anchorage-to-New York Northwest Passage cruise, which will be offered for the second consecutive year in August.

"That's so hot right now  adventure travel being incorporated into cruising," Butzlaff said.

Beyond luxury

In the nonluxury market, most of the newbuild focus in 2017 will be on China. The 3,850-passenger Norwegian Joy and the 3,560-passenger Majestic Princess will vie for the distinction of being the first ship custom-built for the Chinese market.

Outside of China, the big additions in 2017 will come from MSC Cruises, which will debut two ship classes. The MSC Meraviglia, scheduled to sail in Europe beginning in May, will be the first cruise ship with a theater built to showcase Cirque du Soleil. In November comes the Miami debut of the MSC Seaside, a new design with a wide, low promenade deck created to maximize proximity to the ocean.

MSC has delayed the opening of its private island near Bimini, scheduled for December 2017, but Norwegian Cruise Line expects to open a vastly enhanced version of its Great Stirrup Cay sometime in the spring.

The additions at Great Stirrup include a LandShark Bar & Grill, a boardwalk, a zipline, a Mandara Spa and a luxury development around the island's lagoon that will feature a swim-up bar, a party room for up to 75 guests, a fine dining restaurant and 22 deluxe air-conditioned luxury beach villas that can be rented for the day.

As for ports, 2017 will bring several cruise-terminal expansions. In May, the Port of Montreal is scheduled to open its renovated terminal in Old Montreal, designed to make boarding much easier.

And by December, an expansion of Carnival Cruise Line's domed passenger terminal in Long Beach, Calif., should be complete, tripling the size of the reception area. The expansion will make Long Beach one of Carnival's largest homeports.

Tom Stieghorst is a senior editor at Travel Weekly. covering cruise.

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