As you plan your meetings & incentive travel programs for the coming years, hotel trends are top of mind. But are you prepared if your stakeholders ask you about using a cruise ship? Have you ever considered a cruise ship venue? Perhaps you’ve read about the latest cruise line developments, but WIIFY (what’s in it for you)?  

Based on decades of experience, discussions with clients and cruise lines, and the latest MICE research, we’ve identified the Top 10 Cruise Event Trends for Meeting & Incentive Planners to Watch in 2018-2020…and why.

Get Up to Date with these 10 Cruise Event Trends

1.The Booming Cruse Industry Diversifies Ship Choices

New Viking Star Explorers Lounge - Cruise Event Trends

Viking Star Explorers Lounge

The growing demand for new ships is evidenced by 26 new ocean, river and specialty ships scheduled for delivery in 2017. The industry is expected to introduce a total of 97 new ships between 2017 – 2025, totaling an estimated investment of $53 billion!

WIIFY:  Choice! These new ships run the gamut: from mega-yachts, small luxury ships, sailing ships and expedition vessels; to ultra-premium mid-sized ships, and mega ships boasting high-tech, first-at-sea features & venues. And…as more ships enter the market, we predict more competitive pricing and extra amenities.

2.Millennials Want to Meet at Sea

SeaDream Yacht Marina with complimentary water toys

SeaDream Yacht Marina with complimentary water toys

A recent study from CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) found that younger generations—including Millennials –  are embracing cruise travel more than ever, rating it better than land-based vacations or all-inclusive resorts.

Ocean and river-going ships are being built or refit to cater to younger and multigenerational groups, adding a greater variety of onboard activities and entertainment, plus more active and immersive destination adventures.

WIIFY: Millennials are set to comprise half of the global workforce by 2020, so motivating across generational lines makes smart business sense. Millennials desire the authentic, active and unique travel experiences that only cruise ships offer. Learn more: Cruise Ships Motivate Millennials.

Rollin’ on the River: New Ships, More Destinations

Crystal River Yacht suite (rendering) - cruise event trends

Crystal River Yacht suite (rendering)

River cruising continues to grow and evolve, with increasingly luxurious ships, more inclusions, and authentic destination experiences. Due to demand, 13 new river cruise ships – from classic replica paddlewheelers to all-suite luxury yachts –  are on order for 2017.

River cruise lines are also appealing to younger, more active groups, offering bikes that guests can use in port and hiking and kayaking excursions. For example, Crystal River Cruises offers active excursions such as a hike to the top of Linz’s Postlingberg, a bike ride through the Wachau Valley or a trek through Vienna’s vineyards – all complimentary, and accompanied by the ship’s fitness instructor.

WIIFY: River cruises offer planners a unique travel venue with all-inclusive value (most include free WiFi and excursions), and these smaller ships are ideal for private cruise charter. Incentive groups love the immersive, destination-rich experience of river cruising with longer stays and overnights in port – especially on a new, deluxe ship.

4.More US Ship Departures for Cruise Events & Meetings

New ships on American rivers - American Cruise Line's new river ship

American Cruise Line’s new all-balcony river ship

As US cruise ports expand capacity, cruise lines are moving ships to over 2 dozen gateway ports for 4 to 7-night cruises to Alaska, Caribbean, Mexico, and New England/Canada.

American river cruising is also gaining in popularity as premium ships take to historic American rivers and waterways – no passport required!

WIIFY: Attendees now have access to a greater number of higher-end cruise ships sailing from domestic ports – and many are conveniently located within driving distance of major cities. New American-built ships offer more complimentary amenities, unique experiences, and are tax-deductible for meetings or incentives- up to $2,000 per participant. Learn more about Close to home cruises for incentives.

5.New Culinary Experiences Aboard and Ashore

Chefs onboard an Azamara Club Cruises cruise ship

Chefs onboard an Azamara Club Cruises cruise ship

Cruise lines are adding more specialty dining concepts to their ships, hands-on culinary centers with state-of-the-art kitchens, expanded options for restricted diets, and epicurean adventures ashore. Examples include:

  • New, 596-passenger luxury ship Silver Muse will feature 26 different food concepts in eight different dining venues.
  • Windstar’s new partnership with the James Beard Foundation offers signature recipes from a James Beard chef, cooking demos and tastings, and James Beard guest chefs brought onboard to interact with passengers.
  • Passengers sailing with Regent Seven Seas Cruises can custom-design their dinner entrees in the main restaurant.
  • Crystal River Cruises’ new river yachts offer complimentary culinary experiences at Michelin-starred or highly renowned local restaurants on many voyages.
  • Oceania guests can delve deeply into the local cuisine by exploring local food markets, vineyards, restaurants, and farms accompanied by chefs from the ship. 

WIIFY: Meeting planners know that limited choices and boring buffets don’t cut it – attendees crave top-notch culinary experiences and expanded options for restricted diets. Like most innovative hotels, cruise lines are catering to foodies in a big way – both onboard and ashore. Learn more: Best New Cruise Food Experiences

6.Trending Incentive Cruise Destinations

National Geographic Quest zodiac excursion in Alaska

National Geographic Quest zodiac excursion in Alaska

Alaska is Hot:  A record number of ships – from contemporary to premium & luxury – will be heading toThe Last Frontier” in 2017, sailing roundtrip from Seattle, Vancouver, or Alaska ports.

Two new ships, Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Quest and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Bliss, are “purpose-built” for Alaska cruises, featuring expansive windows and viewing areas.

Demand for Expedition Cruises: Cruise lines are launching more premium and luxury expedition ships to explore the world’s most intriguing destinations, including Galápagos Islands, remote Polar regions, and closer-to-home destinations like Baja and Pacific Northwest. Adventure-focused voyages include expedition gear, active adventures and in-depth discovery of nature, wildlife and cultures. Learn more: Expedition Cruises for Incentive Travel

Cuba: U.S.-based cruise lines are adding Cuba to their 4, 5 and 7-night Caribbean itineraries sailing from South Florida. Contemporary lines like Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival; ultra-premium Oceania Cruises; and luxury Regent Seven Seas have ships calling on the island – many featuring overnight stays in Havana.  All offer “people-to-people cultural exchange” excursions that comply with regulations while offering an authentic Cuban experience. Learn more about ships sailing to Cuba: Incentive Cruises to Cuba

WIIFY:  From exotic off-the-beaten path places to close-to-home treasures, trending cruise destinations offer precisely what meeting planners and their attendees covet: bucket-list destinations, more adventures, plus more immersive and unique travel experiences.

7.Purpose-Built Cruise Ports with VIP Experiences

Harvest Caye in Belize - boardwalk rendering

Harvest Caye in Belize – boardwalk rendering

In 2017, cruise itineraries will include visits to 7 unique private islands. As purpose-built “private island” ports grow in popularity, cruise lines will develop new tropical destinations, upgrade their existing private island experiences, and add more VIP amenities like private luxury villas and spa services. Here are a few highlights:

Harvest Caye: Harvest Caye, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Caribbean destination experience in Southern Belize, offers an authentic Belizean experience that highlights the country’s beauty and nature. Resort-style amenities include a sprawling pool and private luxury beach villas; a variety of eco-activities and interactive wildlife programs; and a zip line that crosses the island.

Great Stirrup Cay: Norwegian Cruise Line is investing more than $1 million in landscaping, new adventure activities, expanded dining options, and an exclusive “Lagoon Retreat” area for an upgraded luxury private island experience on Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. More about Great Stirrup Cay: New Short Cruises to Private Island Paradise

Ocean Cay Marine Reserve: MSC Cruises is investing $200 million in creating Ocean Cay, a 95-acre marine reserve island experience. Plans include six different beaches, a tranquil inland lagoon, a zip line adventure, bars & restaurants, and a 2,000-seat amphitheater to host live music. Guests booked in the exclusive MSC Yacht Club suite enclave (available for group buyout) will have access to a spa and wellness sanctuary with private bungalows and massage cabanas.

WIIFY: New destinations in the Bahamas and Caribbean offer something for everyone – exhilarating sports, eco-adventures, dining & entertainment, pristine beaches, and VIP amenities. Catering to cruise line guests only, these ports are perfect for private group events.

8.Extraordinary Entertainment at Sea

Cirque Aerial Dinner Show on Norwegian Breakaway

Cirque Aerial Dinner Show on Norwegian Breakaway

Cruise lines will continue to raise the bar in 2017 with high-tech and interactive entertainment venues and world-class performances. For example:

  • The World Stage on Holland America’s Koningsdam has high-definition, two-story LED screens. Enhanced by state-of-the-art lighting, projection and sound systems, the theater can showcase a variety of performances and productions as well as your business presentations.
  • From high-flying aerial stunts to sensational swimming and diving, “The Fine Line” on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas offers all the elements of astonishing entertainment in the ship’s unique AquaTheater.
  • MSC Meraviglia will offer the first purpose-built venue for Cirque du Soleil performances, while Norwegian is adding new “Cirque Dreams & Dinner” experiences to their newest ships.
  • On Celebrity ships, quirky performances pop up around guests as they savor cocktails and dishes created to enhance the interactive experience.
  • Regent ‘s new luxury ship, 748-passenger Seven Seas Explorer, features an ornate, two-tiered performance venue with 694-seats. Floor-to-ceiling digital screens provide interactive backdrops to immerse guests into a variety of entertainment options.

WIIFY: No need to cut back on entertainment; with more exciting options for onboard entertainment, meeting or incentive participants can customize their cruise experience. With no transfers to arrange and nearly all entertainment included in your cruise, your planning and budget are simplified.

9.Luxury Cruising Redefined for Meetings & Incentives

"Royal Genie" Butler serves group in Royal Caribbean Royal Loft Suite

“Royal Genie” Butler serves group in Royal Caribbean Royal Loft Suite

As luxury returns to meetings & incentives, cruise ships deliver enriching travel experiences and more personalized, unique cruise elements. Open-air dining venues, outdoor lounges, world-class entertainment, suite butlers, and exclusive “behind the scenes” excursions are becoming the norm on premium and luxury ships.

New luxury ships setting sail in 2017 include Silversea’s Silver Muse, featuring all-suite accommodations (each with a private butler) and 8 unique dining venues for 596 guests. The 600-passenger Seabourn Encore will also feature private balconies in every stateroom and suite, with design elements by Adam D. Tihany.

Contemporary cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises are adding more perks, exclusive facilities, and upscale experiences for suite guests for a “ship within a ship” luxury experience.

WIIFY: Smaller luxury ships are just the right size for private charter – giving planners the ultimate freedom to customize. With the addition of exclusive suite enclaves on large ships, planners can offer top-tier attendees an intimate luxury cruise experience with big-ship features and choices.

Learn more about Suite Perks: Cruise Ship Suite Life Sweeter Than Ever

10.Authentic Destination Experiences

Bicycling along the Danube with AmaWaterways

Bicycling along the Danube with AmaWaterways

With stronger demand for authentic, experiential destination experiences, cruise lines are planning itineraries that feature longer days and/or overnight in port for in-depth – yet relaxed – cultural exploration. For example:

  • Azamara Club Cruises’ Insider Access program features behind-the-scenes excursions to private homes, family farms and shops to meet residents and experience local culture during port visits.
  • Crystal River Cruises offers authentic experiences in Europe such as a full-day tour to Munich, with visits to the Olympic grounds and a BMW factory, and an evening concert with VIP access to art exhibits at Vienna’s Belvedere Palace.
  • Windstar’s Destination Discovery events are onshore events that give guests an in-depth and original local experience that is both exclusive and complimentary.

WIIFY: Longer stays and overnights in port, custom-crafted shore events and “behind the scenes” excursions will reward and excite your attendees by providing the “up-close” travel experiences & memorable moments they want to share on social media.