After two years of setbacks, the cruise industry appears poised for a turn around
Today is the beginning of “Wave Season,” the yearly event that marks the heaviest cruise booking period of the year. I expect this year's wave season to be exceptionally good for obvious reasons. Winter cruising is largely driven by people from the Midwest and East Coast looking to escape the cold weather. In a normal year, only the savviest cruisers start looking for cruise bargains early, because they know they will be overly weary of the bad weather and ready for a change of pace by April.
But this year many people in those frozen regions are ready for a cruise now with the record cold temperatures that have already been hitting them since November. There is a very good chance major cities will be completely iced in for a long time, like in 1993 when I returned to New York City from working on a Holland America cruise ship in the Caribbean in January. One bad snowfall left all of the cars on our block frozen in blocks of ice for literally over a month.
CruiseMates recommends that you subscribe to a number of newsletters from different cruise lines and travel agents. If you do, expect to see a full batch of new announcements for wave season bargains beginning today, Monday, January 6. But this year we also recommend that you definitely book early.
The Busiest Wave Season in Years
According to an article in the Wichita Eagle, the home city for the national call center for Celebrity Cruises, this year the cruise line expects the phones to be ringing nonstop for the next three months at a minimum. This call center opened a decade ago as Royal Caribbean's main call center until it became dedicated to Celebrity only in 2008.
Typically, no Wave Season bargain offers are revealed until the day Wave Season actually starts. After all, it is never a good practice to reveal an upcoming price drop or special offer before it's time. But if the wave season bargains this year follow what we have seen in previous years here is what you can expect to see: package offers where a cruise booking at a discounted price will also include shipboard credit, a free upgrade to a higher category stateroom, dinner in an alternative dining venue and very low deposit requirements to make a cruise reservation.
Once again, this is the first wave season in years where we really highly recommend that you book early. The extreme cold weather, along with more positive societal perceptions of cruising as a vacation alternative, means that not only will the best staterooms be taken early, but also the expectation that last-minute bargains will continue is no longer a certainty.
What do I mean by changing societal perceptions? An article from Sunday's web site for the Guardian U.K., was entitled "Cruises get cool as young people take to the seas to get away from it all." The article cites research that one in five people under 25 said they are considering a cruise this year, indicating that for the first time cruises are considered far more youth-oriented, more fun and a far better value than flying to a beach resort and sleeping in a hotel.
The article points out the growing popularity of music themed cruises as just one reason why younger people are taking to cruises. We have known about music cruises for a long time, but in many ways they are just beginning to pierce the consciousness of the generation that enjoys rock music the most. 10 years ago most music cruises had themes like the blues, smooth jazz, or "Malt Shop Memories."
Today's music cruise is more likely to be heavy metal or classic rock. One pivotal event was when the popular California rock festival known as "Coachella" decided to take the same event to the sea on a Carnival cruise ship dubbing it the "SS Coachella Cruise.” The cruise and the festival both feature bands from the 90s and this year will be the second annual cruise.
The other unmistakable sign that cruises are leaning towards the younger generation actually quietly occurred two years ago when Norwegian Cruise Line acquired the most successful music cruise production company in America – Sixthman Productions of Atlanta, Georgia. Sixthman has a history of creating special theme cruises that do not appeal to the typical cruise demographic. Some of their cruise events include the Kiss Cruise, featuring the popular band from the 70s, now in its fourth year. Another annual Sixthman event is the Kid Rock "Chilling the Most Cruise,” now in its fifth year. Then they also have recurring music cruises like "The Rock Boat" which has been going for 14 years already, and more.
Resurgence of the Caribbean Cruise
While cruising in Europe slowed down for a few years, especially after the Concordia tragedy and the economic chaos in Greece and Spain, Europe now appears poised for turnaround. Ironically, and this happens in the cruise industry often, there will be fewer ships in Europe to fill that demand this year than in previous years, which means increased buying competition between cruise customers and cruises selling out earlier than usual.
Fortunately, because of the bad weather in the United States, this is the perfect year to have more tonnage in the Caribbean. Benefiting the most will be southern Florida, where the best and newest ships sail to warm weather Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral will be "the hot spots" for boarding cruises in 2014 with exciting new ships like the Oasis of the Seas, Norwegian Getaway, Royal Princess and Carnival Breeze.
But this year the Caribbean will have another new hotspot for cruise originations; New York City, soon to be the new home to the only all new cruise ship for 2014, the Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas. This ship will generate far more new positive headlines for the cruise industry than any ship since Oasis of the Seas in 2010 due to its array of "first time ever on a cruise ship" attractions such as bumper cars, the freefall skydive experience, and "The Pod," which is a flying room on the end of a crane extending hundreds of feet from the top of the cruise ship. Quantum will appear in the early autumn months of 2014.
Notably, we are also already seeing bargain offers on early bookings for summer cruises in Europe this year from Norwegian Cruise line, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises. Those offers also include shipboard credit and free upgrades to balcony staterooms. As the Guardian article states, when cruise lines are "offering a week’s summer cruise for £399 with much more included in the price, it's cheaper than a week in Mallorca." Mallorca is a resort island south of Spain typically filled with 20-year-old vacationers throughout the summer months.