What’s new in cruising for 2018? As usual, there’s lots of razzle-dazzle – laser tag, water slides, zip lines and massive LED screens – along with a continued emphasis on healthy lifestyle options, from dining to fitness.

But there are also changes underway in ship design, itineraries and who’s cruising.

Design, demographics and destinations

New ships are offering more outdoor spaces and views of the sea, with promenades, boardwalk-style decks, glass walls, transparent walkways and see-through slides.

Small ships, river ships and expedition cruises are booming, with more itineraries in cold-water destinations like Iceland, Greenland and the polar regions. Alaska cruises are as popular as ever, for big and small vessels.

There’s a new focus on marketing to millennials, many of whom cruised as kids. Royal Caribbean says its shorter cruises – like three- and four-night Miami-Bahamas trips on the Mariner Of The Seas next summer – appeal to younger travellers who may prefer shorter vacations over week-long trips.

The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents most of the world’s major cruise brands, noticed another new phenomenon: “Skip-gen” cruising. Grandparents are cruising with grandkids, but sometimes skipping a generation by sailing without mum and dad. Most cruises provide a range of children’s programming so grandparents aren’t baby-sitting all day, while also offering activities, excursions, meals and shows that all ages can enjoy together.

cruise trends

An image rendering of the Magic Carpet on Celebrity Edge. This cantilevered moveable deck will serve as a walkway, a place to enjoy ocean views and a space for live music and themed dining. Photo: AP/CELEBRITY CRUISES

Industry growth

The cruise industry continues to grow, with 27 million cruisers expected in 2018, a million more than last year and up from 18 million in 1979. There are also 27 new ships coming out in 2018, according to CLIA: 10 for river cruising, 17 for ocean.

“We’re in our golden age,” said CLIA chairman Arnold Donald, who is also CEO of Carnival Corp, at a recent meeting in New York. “Cruising has never been more popular.”

New ships

Royal Caribbean’s Symphony Of The Seas will be the world’s largest cruise ship when it launches in Barcelona, Spain this spring. Its inaugural season will be in Europe, with sailings from Miami, Florida, beginning in November. Features include a laser tag arena, Bionic Bar where robots make drinks, a 10-storey racing slide called Ultimate Abyss, rock climbing and ice skating. The ship will host a production of the Broadway hit Hairspray and its sports bar will feature 30 big-screen TVs.

A luxury family suite for eight includes a two-storey slide, private movie theatre, Lego wall and secret crawl space. But it’s not for budget cruising: It’s priced in the tens of thousands of dollars.

cruise trends

The Ultimate Family Suite on Symphony of the Seas. The suite for eight includes a two-storey slide, private movie theatre, Lego wall and secret crawl space. Photo: AP/ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Celebrity Edge begins sailing in November. Its futuristic design concepts include the Magic Carpet, a cantilevered movable deck that will serve as a walkway as well as a place to enjoy ocean views and a space for live music and themed dining.

The new ship also features a venue called Eden with a three-level window on the ocean, al fresco seating, walkways and an “Eve at Eden” experience that will blend performance art and unique culinary offerings.

In December, MSC Seaside of MSC Cruises was launched and was named best new ship of 2017 by CruiseCritic.com. It features an interactive aqua-park, open-air promenade with glass-floor catwalks, two zip lines, a four-deck atrium, Aurea spa with a snow room and beachlike condo suites. You can even see the sea from glass elevators. Meanwhile, MSC Seaview launches in June with Mediterranean cruises for its inaugural season. – AP