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Top 10 Cruise Trends for 2010

If 2009 was the year of the deal, then 2010 is the year of the tweak. With a bunch of carbon-copy ships debuting (the exceptions are the revolutionary Norwegian Epic and, to some extent, P&O Cruises‘ new Azura), we’re not going to be blown away by many new ship designs and unheard-of onboard amenities. Yet as lines aim to capture the attention of first-time cruisers and work hard to bring prices back up to pre-2009 levels, they will focus on improving the existing onboard experience and changing the way the public views cruising.

What should you expect? Look for policy changes (with regard to tipping and levels of luxury), upgraded enrichment and entertainment programs, itineraries revamped to reflect the hottest destinations, big-name theme cruises, and continued ship refurbishments. You’ll also notice passenger demographics changing, as cruisers get younger and hail from a wider variety of countries.

Intrigued? Here are Cruise Critic’s top 10 cruise trends for 2010:

Pricing is Rising

What We’ve Seen: No question, 2009 was the year of the deal. With plenty of new ships debuting and a worldwide economic recession, cruise lines had to scramble to fill cabins. We saw Wave Season extra-value deals extend into the spring, some of the lowest prices we’ve ever seen for Alaska and Mexico itineraries, and lots of freebies (including free airfare from luxury lines and even free kids’ fares from family-friendly Disney Cruise Line).

In 2010: So far, cruise lines are optimistic about 2010 sales—and that means they’re bringing prices back up. We don’t expect last-minute or shoulder-season deals to disappear, but the record low fares for peak-season sailings will most likely disappear. Plus, exciting new ships like Carnival‘s Carnival Dream, Royal Caribbean‘s Oasis of the Sea, and Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Norwegian Epic should command premium pricing that’s higher than average. One fire-sale holdover: Luxury cruise lines are keeping some of the free airfare, two-for-one pricing, onboard credit, and free shore excursions policies that they introduced in 2009.

Innovative Onboard Attractions

What We’ve Seen: In previous years, cruise line innovation was focused on new-builds, as shipyards pumped out new ships at a record pace. A new class of ship would herald the launch of a new onboard amenity (like Royal Caribbean’s Central Park or NCL’s bowling), cabin category (like Costa‘s spa cabin concept on Costa Concordia), or programming (like Celebrity Cruises‘ new Celebrity Life entertainment and enrichment program launched on Celebrity Equinox). If the concepts were popular, the cruise lines would often retrofit older ships with the new amenities, such as Princess Cruises‘ Sanctuary sun deck and Movies Under the Stars.

In 2010: You’ll still see some exciting new additions to existing cruise ships, but they likely won’t be as innovative as features introduced on all-new ship designs. Azamara, for instance, has no plans just now to build new ships—but it is retooling its name and concept, to promote its new destination focus and more inclusive nature. At Windstar, where ships were built in the late 1980’s, its Degrees of Difference program enters its newest phase—which includes the introduction of new spa-focused suites onboard. Carnival continues to revamp its oldest ships with the “Evolutions of Fun” upgrades, which include a new aqua park with waterslide, an adults-only sun deck, and redesigned main pool areas. And Celebrity is finally embracing freestyle dining by rolling out an alternative, flexible dining program fleet-wide.

Bottom line: Look for a continued emphasis on ship refurbishments and new entertainment, enrichment, and culinary programs onboard.

Lots of Sister Ships

What We’ve Seen: 2009 was a great year for innovative and new ship designs, many of them the biggest ever for their respective lines. Thrilling new debuts included Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, Seabourn‘s Seabourn Odyssey, Carnival’s Carnival Dream, Silversea‘s Silver Spirit, and Viking River CruisesViking Legend. Highlights included Seabourn’s splashy, two-deck spa; advanced engine technology on Viking Legend to ensure a quiet ride and use less fuel; and an indoor/outdoor piazza on Carnival Dream. And pretty much everything on Oasis of the Seas was revolutionary, from its split-hull design to its zipline, loft cabins, and onboard park with real trees and plants.

In 2010: With the notable exception of NCL’s Norwegian Epic, most of the ships debuting this year are sisters of previous ships. Costa’s Costa Deliziosa, Celebrity’s Celebrity Eclipse, Holland America‘s Nieuw Amsterdam, Seabourn’s Seabourn Sojourn, and Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas are all near twins of existing ships (namely, Costa Luminosa, Celebrity Solstice, Eurodam, Seabourn Odyssey, and Oasis of the Seas). P&O’s Azura, too, is built on the same general platform as Ventura—though it will be a departure from the family-focused Ventura, geared instead to adults and couples with single cabins, new dining options, and an adults-only sun deck.

So the christenings will be a little ho hum—unless the cruise lines pull out all the stops with new programming or big-name godmothers. Again, the one bright spot is Norwegian Epic, the largest-ever NCL ship featuring an aqua park, an array of restaurants (but no main dining room), a circus- and acrobatics-themed dinner show, dueling piano bar, ice bar, and New Wave cabins with curved walls and split baths. It’s definitely the ship to watch in 2010.

European River Cruising Enters Luxury Niche

What We’ve Seen: In the past, river cruise lines haven’t been able to rise above their ships’ size constraints. In order to fit through narrow locks or channels, riverboats must be lean, with no extra space for the “wow” amenities found on their ocean-going sisters. Generally, cabins are tight, dining is limited to one venue, and onboard amenities are kept to a bare minimum. That’s changing, though: Uniworld’s new River Beatrice, which cruises the Danube, was introduced in 2009 with lavish decor, plenty of suite accommodations, and an alternative dining venue.

In 2010: Taking some inspiration from their bigger ship brethren, some river operators are now figuring that even if you can’t make riverboats enormous, why not take the space you have and make it as nice as possible? For the first time, a river cruise can be a luxury cruise experience. AMAWATERWAYS‘ Amabella will have an elevator, free wine and beer at meals, free Wi-Fi, a spa-type shower in all cabins, and a small spa. Avalon Waterways‘ 2010 new-builds, Avalon Felicity and Luminary, will have 258-square-foot junior suites, cabins with French balconies and high-quality linens, and a fitness center.

Other luxury touches to look for include Nintendo Wii systems and marble bathrooms on Tauck‘s newest ships, museum-quality art collections and swimming pools on Uniworld’s new-builds, and all-balcony cabins and a private restaurant for suite guests on Victoria Cruises‘ most modern riverboats.

Snagging Virgin Cruisers

What We’ve Seen: Passionate cruise travelers are the bread and butter of the industry, but cruise lines are also keen to entice virgin cruisers to the niche. In response, cruise lines have started modeling their onboard experiences on land-based vacation programs in an effort to entice non-cruisers to book their first cruises. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a rise in extensive children’s areas to attract families, upgraded bedding and linens to mimic trends in the hotel industry, and more active pursuits, both onboard and in shore excursions, to satisfy a younger and more health-conscious traveler.

In 2010: This year, we’ll see cruise lines continue their push to attract the first-time cruiser, whether that be families and young adults, international travelers, or just anyone who never thought they’d go on a cruise vacation. New ships like Norwegian Epic and Oasis and Allure of the Seas are mimicking South Beach and Vegas-style attractions with themed nightlife, exclusive sun decks, onboard beach parties, more athletic options, kids’ clubs with the latest video games and Internet consoles, and brand-name shops. Even luxury lines are going after a younger demographic with larger ships, bigger spas, a greater focus on the destination, and more inclusive pricing.

It’s a Small (International) World

What We’ve Seen: For many, the appeal of cruising has been traveling onboard an outpost of the U.S. while visiting foreign destinations. Passengers may have to navigate foreign languages, unfamiliar foods, and new cultures in port, but in the evening, they return to a safe haven where English is spoken, the meals are reminiscent of nice restaurants at home, and the people you meet are likely from a neighboring state.

In 2010: Just as cruise travel has exploded in popularity among Americans, Canadians, and Brits, it’s also increasingly sought after for travelers from disparate places such as Brazil, China, and Europe. While there are country-centric cruise lines that market to particular regions or languages (such as the German AIDA, Costa in the Middle East, Royal Caribbean in China, and MSC in Brazil), many mainstream lines, like Princess and Holland America, are reaching out to travelers all over the world, so your fellow passengers onboard could observe different customs and speak varying languages.

Costa Deliziosa will be christened in Dubai before doing a maiden season of Middle East cruises, Celebrity Eclipse will offer a maiden season out of Southampton, and HAL’s Nieuw Amsterdam will take its inaugural cruises in the Mediterranean. Plus, the onboard atmosphere is changing with the need for announcements in more languages, food and activities to reflect more European tastes, and gratuities policies that account for nationalities not accustomed to tipping.

Innovative Cabins Are On the Rise

What We’ve Seen: For a long time, cruise ship cabins were relegated to inside, outside, balcony, and suite. But over the years, cruise lines have started experimenting with newer types of cabins. Costa introduced the world to the spa cabin—a special class of cabin with easy access to the spa and amenities like special bath products and yoga mats. Other lines, such as Celebrity, Windstar, Holland America, and Carnival are jumping on that bandwagon. In 2009, Holland America gave us lanai cabins with back doors leading out to the Promenade Deck, and Royal Caribbean invented interior-facing promenade cabins and Presidential Suites that can sleep a family of 14. It went even further with Oasis of the Seas, which has two-deck loft cabins, not to mention staterooms facing the outdoor Boardwalk and Central Park neighborhoods.

In 2010: Norwegian Epic is launching the New Wave cabin concept, featuring curved walls and a new bathroom concept with the shower stall, toilet area, and vanity split up into three different entities. New 100-square-foot studios will offer mood lighting and access to an exclusive two-floor lounge, while eight of its spa-oriented accommodations will have in-room whirlpools. P&O’s Azura will have 18 single cabins (a first for the line) and a pair of large suites, ideal for families or friend groups. And looking ahead to 2011, the three owners suites on Oceania‘s new Marina, with fabulous Ralph Lauren-decorated schemes and lavish bathrooms, will take onboard indulgence to new heights.

Theme Cruise Options Explode

What We’ve Seen: Theme cruises have been gaining popularity, and now you can find a cruise geared to any possible interest or hobby. We’ve seen scrapbooking, rock music, Elvis, yoga, Star Trek, motorcycle, running, and Christian singles cruises—to name just a few.

In 2010: Theme cruises will continue to get bigger and better. Look for theme cruises being hosted by more big-name stars—like previous headliners John Mayer, the Barenaked Ladies, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They will focus on the hottest trends, like the Twilight Cruise in August 2010 that capitalizes on teens’ obsession with the popular vampire series of books and movies. Finally, be prepared to book early, as the hottest theme cruises are guaranteed to sell out far in advance, if not instantly—the 2009 New Kids on the Block cruise sold out in minutes.

The End of Tips?

What We’ve Seen: The biggest change to date in onboard tipping was the move from handing envelopes of cash to waiters and cabin stewards on the last night of the cruise to having gratuities automatically added to onboard accounts. Each line sets its own suggested amounts for tipping the cabin steward, waiter, assistant waiter, and head waiter—which passengers can adjust based on service. While this has suited most Americans just fine, the process was often confusing and frustrating to Brits and Europeans who are not used to such regular tipping. Note: Several lines—most noticeably luxury ones—simply include service fees in the cruise fare and do not require additional tipping onboard.

In 2010: We predict that 2010 will be the year when outdated tipping policies join the 21st century and the global community. Already, Royal Caribbean is reviewing its gratuities procedures due to pressure from its British and European past passengers. P&O Cruises Australia recently announced that starting with the line’s October 2010 departures, gratuities will no longer be automatically added to passengers’ onboard bill, leaving guests to tip—or not—at their own discretion. On the luxury side, Azamara is abolishing gratuities for housekeeping and dining as part of its more-inclusive policy.

Caribbean’s In, Alaska’s Out, Middle East’s Hot—Suez Canal is Not

What We’ve Seen: The Caribbean has always been the number one cruise destination, but its popularity ebbs and flows due to passenger malaise over the same old ports, the severity of the previous year’s hurricane season, and the need for cheap, close-to-home vacation options. A few years back, Alaska and Europe cruises seemed to be gaining ground on the Caribbean’s number one ranking, but the worldwide recession has made these more expensive destinations less desirable.

In 2010: Alaska will continue to be on the outs for 2010. Cruise line executives have been complaining about the state’s $50 head tax and have made good on their promises to pull ships from a region that was frankly oversaturated to begin with. Cruise West, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Holland America are all cutting back (though, interestingly, Disney will make its first ever foray to Alaska in 2011).

Beyond offering cheaper cruises, the Caribbean’s a hot spot because it’s getting all the neat new ships. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas (as well as sibling Allure of the Seas) will homeport there year-round. Carnival Dream and Norwegian Epic, two of the other most innovative new ships, will also spend their first years in the region.

With Costa’s Luminosa and Deliziosa, its two newest ships, and Royal Caribbean’s contemporary Brilliance of the Seas spending the winter season in Dubai, offering Persian Gulf itineraries, that region—despite the global recession—is seeing a rise in status and popularity. And at the same time, lingering concerns (from all sides, from cruise executives to travelers) over pirates plaguing waterways between the coast of Africa and Yemen, and affecting Suez Canal transits, more ships are actually finding other ways to cross between Europe and Asia.

What trends have you noticed in cruising? What changes or improvements do you hope to see with cruises in 2010? Share your thoughts and experiences by submitting a comment below!

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