The spending patterns and expectations of luxury consumers are changing but the cruise industry is ready and waiting with a raft of innovative new ships, experiential itineraries and exotic new ports of call which will satisfy a rapidly diversifying audience.

“Over the last few years there has been a significant increase in the number of new luxury ships being launched. These new additions have raised the profile of the luxury cruise sector, and of the vast array of innovative enhancements available onboard, meaning there has never been more choice for agents selling luxury cruises”


Rich experiences

The thirst for luxury ‘experiences’ is now outpacing demand for high-end goods, and the cruise sector is well-geared to meet the changed trend, according to Carolyn Childs, co-founder of travel and tourism research consultancy

While many High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) still prefer the privacy offered by taking holidays on their own mega-yachts or private islands, others are engaging with more socially-responsible holiday options like eco-friendly, sustainable resorts and helping local communities through `voluntourism’.

“People, the planet and self-improvement are now as important to upscale travellers as indulgence and conspicuous consumption,” says Childs, who says increasingly savvy luxury travellers are also signing up for more ‘wellbeing’ and ‘learning’ experiences – which the cruise industry is able to deliver in spades.

Childs divides HNWIs into a range of luxury travel `types’ with different aspirations.

At one end of the scale, ‘Hedonists’ and ‘Lotus Eaters’ want fun, pampering, bling and non-stop indulgence, while at the other end ‘Replenishers’, ‘Dynasts’, ‘Enrichment Seekers’ and ‘Philanthropists’ with established wealth are starting to focus more on personal growth and connection with the world about them.

Somewhere in the middle come ‘Pioneers’ and ‘Jet Setters’, who want to be the first to try new and offbeat experiences. “Pioneers want to test themselves, even on holiday, so they’ll be the ones to pilot their own balloon or join a space mission.”

Hedonists, meanwhile, seek style and exclusivity. “They’ll want personal tours of haute couture shops or a private box at top sporting events, with access to the contestants,” Childs says.

Voluntourism programmes appeal to Philanthropists and Dynasts keen to `put something back’, while health retreats and luxury ships’ spas attract Replenishers keen on holistic wellbeing, and Enrichment Seekers who want to learn new skills and will sign up for cookery schools and other special interest programmes – provided they’re sufficiently exclusive.

The cruise industry already does well out of Dynasts, who are key instigators of multi-generational travel and its latest manifestation, skip-gen travel, which sees grandparents taking the grandkids on holiday without their parents.

The ‘right’ cruise in 2018

As 2018 gets underway and the luxury travel market sets out its stall for another year, what’s new and which categories of luxury travellers will be best served?

There are goodies in store for Hedonists and Lotus Eaters, in the shape of the new, 600-passenger Seabourn Ovation, which launches this spring. Sister to Seabourn’s 2017 launch Seabourn Encore, the new ship will also please Replenishers as it comes with a ‘Mindful Living’ programme designed by U.S. wellness guru Dr Andrew Weil. The programme – being rolled out fleet-wide – will offer ‘holistic experiences integrating physical, social, environmental and spiritual well-being’, including free Yoga and Mindful Meditation sessions led by ‘Wellness Guides’.

Also doffing its cap at Replenishers is river cruise company AmaWaterways, which has the new 152-passenger AmaLea launching this spring and is extending its wellness-themed cruises from one to six vessels this year. Wellness sailings will offer healthy food options, active excursions and onboard fitness classes.

More outward-looking Enrichment Seekers, meanwhile, should enjoy two new sister ships being introduced by Ponant Cruises  this year. The 184-passenger Le Lapérouse (out in June) – and Le Champlain (September) will each have a ‘Blue Eye’ underwater lounge with whale’s eye-shaped portholes and digital screens on which guests can watch – and hear - live footage of the underwater world in many different seascapes as Le Lapérouse spends winter 2018/19 in Asia and the Pacific while Le Champlain explores South America, the Caribbean, Greenland and Canada.

Crystal River Cruises completes its five-ship fleet this spring when the 106-passenger Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel enter service on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Also new from Crystal’s river programme – and ideal for Hedonists – are shore tours limited to 15 participants, and an exclusive ‘Signature Event’ on each cruise.

While Crystal adapts its brand of luxury to river cruising, river specialist Scenic Cruises is going the other way by launching the first of five new ocean-going ships, the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, in August.

With 10 dining areas, a lavish spa and each of its 114 suites boasting a veranda, lounge area and butler service, Eclipse looks set to be a big hit with Hedonists, and should be equally popular with Pioneers and Jet Setters as it will carry a ‘discovery fleet’ of Zodiacs, kayaks and e-bikes as well as a helicopter and a submarine! And its small size - 16,500 tons – will allow it to dock in more remote ports, locking into a trend for more ‘expedition’-style cruises to the world’s wilder shores.


Exotic itineraries

Scenic is not the only river operator following the lead of Viking Cruises and developing ocean-going vessels alongside river cruise fleets. Asia river cruise specialist Pandaw is on a similar tack with its 10-cabin motor yacht Andaman Explorer, which will offer new itineraries this year exploring the Mergui island archipelago which lies off the south coast of Myanmar.

And CroisiEurope, though staying with rivers rather than venturing into ocean cruising, is expanding its exotic itineraries this year by introducing a second boat – the new 16-passenger African Dream II - onto its Africa programme cruising the Zambezi and Chobe rivers, and launching 10-day cruises along the St Lawrence River, from Quebec to Toronto. Eight sailings – aboard the MS Jacques Cartier – will depart between August and October.

Riviera Travel is one of several cruise lines showing its confidence in Egypt again with its new 2018 tour Wonders of the Nile, from Cairo to Luxor, incorporating 10 nights aboard MS Darakum.

Adventure cruising

Growing demand for upmarket adventure cruising is also being met with new launches from Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions, linked with National Geographic, and Quark Expeditions, while Hurtigruten is launching the new 530-passenger Roal Amundsen this year to offer more ‘affordable’ Antarctica cruises.

Lindblad-National Geographic last year launched the first of two 100-passenger expedition ships, National Geographic Quest; a second – NG Venture – enters service in Alaska this year. The first new builds in Lindblad’s 37-year history, the ships carry kayaks, paddle boards, Zodiacs and – more unusually - remotely operated vehicles, hydrophones and bow-cams designed to get close up to the wildlife.

Also setting its cap at high-end Pioneers and Jet Setters is Quark Expeditions, which introduces the all-balconied 176-passenger polar expedition ship World Explorer in October. Highlights will include a glass-domed observation lounge and opportunities to camp onshore.

But as World Explorer gets underway, new rivals will already be en-route, in the shape of two new 230-passenger expedition ships from Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. Hanseatic Inspiration offers Anglo-German cruises from October (the other ship is German-speaking only). Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ CEO Karl Pojer predicts a boom in luxury expedition ships and believes the potential demand for such vessels is “more than three times higher than supply”.

But traditional luxury ships will not be left behind in the race to offer amazing experiences. Silversea Cruises, which is stretching Silver Spirit and refurbishing Silver Wind and Silver Whisper, introduces a new ‘Couture Collection’ of nine pre- and post-cruise luxury land programmes for 2018, offering “authentic, immersive travel experiences in the most remote and untouched regions of the earth”.

The five- to 11- day tours – which cost an average £27,500, and £62,000pp for an 11-day South Pole adventure –include offbeat options like private helicopters in Mongolia, vintage train journeys in India and Gulfstream jet flights in Antarctica, as well as luxury accommodation in renowned boutique hotels, lodges or private tents – some of which will be specifically built for Silversea.

All these bespoke experiences will be fully escorted with numbers strictly limited for a really exclusive experience. Hedonists and Lotus Eaters should be in seventh heaven!

What the experts say

Key trends at the top end of the cruise market include huge growth in the luxury expedition sector, driven by lines such as Ponant and Silversea, plus new ships built for cruising the Galapagos. This has been driven by demand for cruise holidays which take guests to destinations for authentic, in-depth experiences – that is ‘sight-do’ rather than ‘sight-see’. It illustrates how the luxury customer is looking for experiences that they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to enjoy.

“This growth is driving interest in unusual destinations such as Asian and African river cruising and trips to the Arctic and Antarctica.

“Luxury is opening up to new customers and new generations. The changing on-board product, new destinations, lifestyle, dining, itineraries and ship designs are making luxury cruising appealing to a whole new generation of first-time cruisers. Developments such as partnerships with celebrity chefs, chic and sleek ship design and small boutique hotel-esque river ships are coupled with the very best in amenities and service.