By Dori Saltzman, News Editor, CruiseCritic.com
Between faster Internet, more options for cruisers traveling alone and pick-your-own deals, 2015 is shaping up to be a great year for cruisers. Whether you've set sail numerous times or are contemplating taking your first cruise, this year promises to be a memorable one for those hitting the high seas.
More Affordable High-Speed Internet
In 2014, the cruise industry saw two of its biggest players (Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp.) go head to head in the battle for the fastest Internet at sea. Though the battlefield so far has been limited to just a few ships in the Royal Caribbean International fleet and a handful in the Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises fleets, we expect to see faster, more affordable Internet unveiled on many more ships.
Cruise Chefs Cater to Dietary Restrictions
While cruise lines have long offered a limited menu for passengers on special diets -- whether due to food allergies or intolerances, weight loss or simply healthy lifestyle choices - they are going much further in 2015. Royal Caribbean's Devinly Decadence on Quantum of the Seas, which debuted late last year, is an eatery in which all dishes have fewer than 500 calories. SeaDream Yacht Club didn't want to leave anyone out when it enhanced its tea service with gluten-free cookies so all can partake. In 2015, we expect to see cruise lines continue to make more (and tastier) food options for travelers with dietary restrictions, beyond the confines of the main dining room and without having to preorder.
More Options for Solo Travelers
Most cruise ships don't offer cabins for solo cruisers and they charge hefty fees (called single supplements) for one person staying in a cabin built for two or more. While we don't expect these fees to disappear, we do anticipate more cruise lines adding solo cabins to new ships to appeal to cruisers sailing alone. We've already seen solo cabins from Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, P&O Cruises and Fred. Olsen Cruises. In 2015, Norwegian will expand its solo-oriented Studio area on Norwegian Escape to 82 cabins.
Year-Round Deals & Packaging
As the booking patterns of travelers continue to change, with people planning cruises throughout the year, cruise lines are adjusting their sales tactics accordingly. The result is that cruise deals are no longer reserved for holidays or the January to March sales race known as "wave season." Cruise lines are now offering more sales promotions on a rolling basis throughout the year, and look for even more year-round promotions in 2015.
Additionally, several cruise lines (most notably Norwegian and Celebrity) experimented with package deals in 2014 - think bundled airfare and hotel stays or all-inclusive dining, beverage and Internet packages. Like to eat in an extra-fee alternative restaurant every night of your cruise? An all-inclusive dining package can save you loads. Same with a beverage package for cruisers who enjoy cocktails, beer or wine or an Internet package for someone who needs to stay connected 24/7. We expect this style of bundling will take off in 2015 with more cruise lines testing a variety of package deals.
Small-Ship Cruising Makes a Comeback
While mainstream cruise lines have made it clear that big ships are the name of the game for them over the past several years, luxury and niche lines are expanding their small-ship offerings. Viking Cruises, which this year will launch a brand-new Viking Oceans division, will debut its 928-passenger Viking Star in 2015. French luxury line Ponant will also launch Le Lyrial, its latest 264-passenger ship. Because these ships can visit smaller, less trafficked ports, you'll see a few off-the-beaten path stops on their itineraries. Le Lyrial, for example, will sail a "Best of Croatia" itinerary that visits Pula, Hvar and Sibenik.
For Cruise Critic's complete list of 2015 predictions, check out Cruise Trends for 2015.
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