Cruise highlights of 2018: The year in review

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We take a look back over another memorable 12 months for the industry, which have seen the launch of the largest ship in the world and the rise of the rivers


What a year it has been for cruise, an industry that continues to grow at an incredible pace. We’ve seen new ship launches across the year, and in every sector: from the small-expedition ship Ventus Australis in January to Symphony of the Seas, the largest ship in the world, in March; Seabourn Ovation, one of the most luxurious ships on the market, in May; right the way through to Celebrity Edge, the game-changer from Celebrity Cruises (see our cover feature, p38) at the end of November.

Then, there was new capacity on the rivers, from the Avalon Saigon on the Mekong to Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel in Europe, to Viking Ra on the Nile, a river that – although still nowhere near its 2012 high – is growing steadily. It’s been one of the success stories of the year.

The industry made a concerted effort to be more green as many operators announced plans to ban single-use plastic, and Hurtigruten turned (fish) heads by promising to use “dead fish and waste” to power ships. The luxury sector also continued to grow – Ritz-Carlton rolled out its first mega yacht (due
for launch next year), and MSC Cruises announced plans for its own moves into the market.

It was a big year for Clia, which held its first Asia Conference, first Luxury Showcase, its first round-tables and moved its River Conference to Paris (see our report on p18).

The industry continued to grow and grow: 2018 numbers aren’t out yet, but all signs point towards another good year in what are difficult conditions. Brexit has loomed large over the travel industry and the weak pound it has created, which, coupled with a hot summer (and World Cup), has meant fewer people have been taking holidays. That said, the cruise industry is resilient – particularly when it comes to currency changes, given so much is included.

One positive was cruise lines’ continued commitment to the trade: Royal Caribbean’s Club Royal continued to grow, Cunard announced it would be joining the Shine Rewards Club and Regent announced the Regentrade Hub, giving agents more opportunities to enjoy their success.

Here’s hoping that 2019 brings more of the same.

Anthony Pearce, Cruise Adviser, co-publisher
With bigger, better and more luxurious ships being launched all the time, it’s no surprise that new-builds grab the headlines. But innovation in the cruise industry isn’t just about brand-new hardware – it’s also about charting new routes, adding new technology and building upon what’s already out there. Two of my highlights of 2018 were joining ships already well known to the UK market: Royal Caribbean’s new-look Independence of the Seas and Azamara Pursuit, which previously sailed as Adonia under P&O Cruises. Both of these ships – despite being first launched in 2008 and 2001 respectively – have brought something completely new to UK customers.

As Larry Pimentel revealed during Pursuit’s christening ceremony in Southampton in August, the ship is being embraced enthusiastically by Brits, who at one point made up more than half of all bookings. Although the vessel’s redesign was more evolution than revolution, Azamara Club Cruises is a very different product to what P&O Cruises offers with its ‘destination immersion’ mantra and understated luxury. Similarly, Independence of the Seas, although not as shiny as the Oasis or Quantum-class ships, is unlike anything else sailing regularly from Southampton. The addition of the Sky Pad simulator, Battle for Planet Z laser tag and Escape Room to a ship that already has a climbing wall, surf simulators and robotic barmen makes for an incredibly fun experience. It’s easy to be snobby about the large mass-market ships, but I defy anyone not to enjoy themselves on a sailing on Indie.

Another highlight of the year was the recent Clia River Conference, which was in Paris, having moved from Amsterdam. The Dutch capital may have charm in abundance, but the change in location was a welcome one: especially as we sailed past a glittering Eiffel Tower on CroisiEurope’s tiny Raymonde barge. The vessel, which holds just 18 guests, served as a reminder – as did the conference as a whole – to the diversity on offer on European waterways, one of the big growth areas in the UK cruise market. It’s no wonder that the number of Brits taking river cruises on the continent has more than doubled since 2012.

Sam Ballard, Cruise Adviser, co-publisher
The last 12 months have been a whirlwind for the world of cruise as the sector has continued to pioneer and reinforce its position as the most exciting part of the travel industry. Nowhere is this more tangible than in the new hardware being brought to market.

The year has seen plenty of highlights but two of the biggest for me are undoubtedly getting on board two ships that epitomise innovation: Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Bliss.

Symphony of the Seas, which launched in the spring, is a big deal by anyone’s standards. For one, it’s the biggest cruise ship in the world. At 228,081 gross tons – compare that to the 154,407 gross tons of Independence of the Seas and you can get an idea of the size – it has made a real splash. Anyone who has been on an Oasis-class ship will know that there is little that can compare to it. From the Royal Promenade, with its classic carousel surrounded by burger joints and sports bars, to the Ultimate Abyss – a 10-storey-high slide that is not for the faint of heart, you can’t help but be amazed by the sheer scale of the whole operation.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Bliss was another thrill – particularly the free-falling water slide Ocean Loops, which uses nature’s force and your own body weight to see you round a 360-degree loop. Add to this the Waterfront restaurants, Cavern Club (with a Beatles cover band) and the largest race track at sea and it’s no wonder why the ship has been the most successful in Norwegian Cruise Line’s history. The tie up with Frank del Rio (owner of luxury lines Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises) is evident throughout the ship, too – particularly in the opulent Observation Lounge, which is the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the ship’s Alaskan itineraries.

In an industry moving so quickly, it’s hard to pick just a couple of highlights. However, what’s clear is that there are bigger things coming
in 2019. And I can’t wait for them!

Read the latest issue of Cruise Adviser

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Read the December 2018 issue of Cruise Adviser, featuring the ship everyone is talking about on the cover: Celebrity Edge. You can read Sue Bryant’s excellent feature here. Elsewhere, we take in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, in our Ports of Call feature, while Sara Macefield joins Cruise & Maritime Voyages on a cricket-themed cruise to Amsterdam. What’s more, we’ve got 50 places to give away on MSC Bellissima – click here to enter.

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Cruise Adviser

Cruise Adviser is the leading cruise publication for the travel trade. The magazine contains insightful comment, features, cruise news and advice for those looking to sell cruise holidays. Uniquely aimed at front-line travel agents, two thirds of readers say the magazine has helped them make a sale.

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