For the last few years, there’s been what amounts to an arms race among the world’s biggest cruise lines to unveil enormous ships with a wide variety of technological advances.
But with each major line having rolled out new vessels, the focus is once again on what happens off the ship on shore excursions and during port calls at private islands.
With MSC Cruises announcing this week that it will open a private island in Abu Dhabi this year, replete with access to a nature preserve and villas along the shore, a new rush is on for cruise lines to innovate on the ground.
“Our biggest [challenge] is someone who hasn’t taken a cruise, someone who needs to jump the fence and take a cruise,” said Rick Sasso, CEO and president of MSC Cruises USA, at the Cruise3sixty conference this week. “That dynamic requires us to be evolving, but that kind of piece attracts those familiar with cruising and entices those who havent made that choice yet.”
Sasso told Skift earlier in the day that MSC Cruises’ Sir Bani Yas islands represents a new way to reach vacationers who aren’t sold on taking a cruise, since most cruise lines only offer private islands in the Caribbean.
Norwegian Cruise Line, as well, unveiled details about its second private island Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas.
The new island will feature private air-conditioned villas on a lagoon along with an enormous family area including a beach boardwalk and courts for physical recreation among family members
“We’re so used to having private islands, we forget how sexy it is,” said Andy Stuart, president of Norwegian Cruise Line. “It’s a big deal. Who gets to go to an island when nobody lives there?”
More time in port is also a way for cruise lines to generate more revenue from passengers spending on excursions, dining, and souvenirs without having to pay to operate their ships.
Earlier this year Carnival Cruise Line extended the time its ships will spend in port in Cozumel, Mexico, in order to offer a wider variety of experiences to its cruisers.
“We can create an environment that is much more customized to what our customers want to see,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “There are things you can do with eight or nine hours in port that you cant do with four or five hours.”
This customization is also reflected in an influx of staterooms for solo travelers onboard the new vessels entering service.
“We’ve had a huge hit with single staterooms,” said Stuart. “We really focus on how solo travelers can cruise in a very comfortable way. We’re not trying to hook people up, it’s not a dating game. It’s about solo travel in a safe way.”