Happy new year! Cruisers are in for another big one, with 30 million travellers globally expected to take an ocean voyage and 25 ocean-going cruise ships set to launch in 2019, 18 of them belonging to CLIA's (Cruise Lines International Association) member cruise lines. Here's a look at a few of CLIA's forecasts for the coming year.
Where will we go? The majority of ships by a long chalk will be sailing in the Caribbean (34.4 per cent), followed by the Mediterranean (17.3 per cent) and Europe (11.1 per cent). China accounts for 4.9 per cent, with 4.8 per cent being deployed in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific; 4.7 per cent in Alaska; and 4.3 per cent in Asia.
CLIA anticipates there will be 272 ships owned by member lines cruising in 2019; for those who worry there are too many cruise ships already, it's helpful to note that according to 2017 figures supplied by equasis.org, there are 90,000 ships of all types and sizes sailing around the world.
When will we go? Summer, whether in the southern or northern hemispheres, continues to be the most popular time to take a cruise, but cold-climate and off-peak cruising is gaining considerable traction. River cruises visiting Europe's Christmas Markets in November and December are generally booked at least 12 months in advance, so now's the time to check out availability for this year.
You can cruise the Mediterranean year-round on MSC Cruises, while others such as Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), Royal Caribbean, Viking and P&O UK operate a few off-season sailings there; apart from fares being cheaper, there are fewer crowds at the region's most sought-after attractions.
Late autumn and winter is the best time to see the Northern Lights and several cruise lines visit Iceland in October, including Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), NCL and Silversea. Hurtigruten (not a CLIA member) sails around the Norwegian coastline year-round and even promises sightings of the Aurora Borealis on its voyages between October and March. Viking has introduced a new "In Search of the Northern Lights" itinerary, offering six 13-day departures between London and Bergen from January to March.
World travel trends that CLIA forecasts will be seen across cruising include "total restoration", with cruise ships providing more "wellness" and fitness programs, rejuvenating spa experiences and healthy menu choices; giant leaps forward in digital technology such as the Princess Medallion and MSC for Me, designed to streamline embarkation procedures, make onboard bookings and "geolocate'' your children; and a big increase in solo cruising. I'm sure we're all looking forward to vastly improved Wi-Fi as part of the new digital offerings but how many lines will make cruising easier (less expensive) for solo travellers?
THE PORT Port Vila, Vanuatu
WHO GOES THERE Carnival, Celebrity, HAL, NCL, Oceania, P&O, P&O UK, Princess, Royal Caribbean.
WHY WE LOVE IT Port Vila, on the south-western coast of Efate, is the capital and main trading hub of Vanuatu, an archipelago of about 83 islands in the Coral Sea. Despite being hammered by Cyclone Pam in 2015, the town and surrounding countryside and beaches have made a remarkable recovery. Set around Vila Bay, Port Vila is home to a mix of cultures – Melanesian (indigenous Ni-Vanuatu), French, English and Chinese among them – and it's an easy-going, compact town where you're bound to meet friendly locals.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Cruise ships dock at the commercial pier about five kilometres from the town centre and you're greeted by a row of colourful souvenir stalls along Wharf Road. If there's no shuttle provided by your ship, take a local bus, taxi (can be expensive) or water taxi to Vila. You can easily while away a day in Port Vila on your own doing some duty-free shopping, stocking up on handicrafts, relaxing on a nearby beach such as Honeymoon or Breakas (take some cash to pay a small entry fee), boarding a water taxi or ferry across to Erakor island or checking in to a local resort for day-spa treatments. Popular tours include ziplining in the jungle; underwater ocean walks; Wet'n'Wild Water Park; and sublime snorkelling at Havannah Harbour, Hideaway Island and several other spots.
MUST SEE Mele Cascade Falls; The Summit Gardens and Plantation, the largest tropical gardens in the South Pacific, which has an essential oils distillery and cafe; National Museum; Ekasup Cultural Village.
MUST EAT Check out the hot dishes served up in the main produce market or treat yourself to lunch in one of Port Vila's eateries. They range from Asian-fusion to French, Indian, Italian and even Tex-Mex at the War Horse Saloon. Vanuatu beef is a speciality, as is fresh lobster and seafood, particularly poulet fish ("chicken fish").
NEED TO KNOW Vanuatu's currency is the vatu (VUV) although Australian dollars may be accepted in shops and restaurants in Port Vila. Tipping is not expected.
MSC Cruises' 16th ship, the 4500-passenger MSC Bellissima, is due to be christened in Southampton in March 2019. It is an identical sister to 2017's MSC Meraviglia.
Lindblad Epic Antarctica
After its inaugural Arctic season in early 2020, Lindblad Expeditions' newest ship, National Geographic Endurance, will sail a 35-day Antarctic itinerary that takes in four different wilderness regions. Departing on December 27, 2020 (with a reverse voyage departing on January 26, 2021), the 126-passenger ship will sail to the Antarctic Peninsula, rarely visited Western Antarctica, the massive Ross Sea ice shelf and the sub-Antarctic islands of Australia and New Zealand, where Lindblad has been given special permission to explore strictly regulated islands. The voyage follows in the footsteps of famous explorers such as Ernest Shackleton – after whose ship National Geographic Endurance is named – and Lindblad says that only a few thousand people in the history of the planet have ever made this voyage. See au.expeditions.com
Windstar extends ships
Windstar Cruises is spending $US250 million on extending its three boutique ships, Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride, over the next two years. Each ship will be cut to allow the installation of a new section that will lengthen each vessel by about 25.6 metres, bringing them to just over 138 metres and increasing passenger capacity from 212 to 312. Windstar's president John Delaney said: "The initiative not only creates beautiful new suites and public spaces, but we will also take the opportunity to re-engine the ships with a more fuel efficient and environmentally responsible propulsion system."
Other changes include two new dining venues, two new Owner's Suites that will have three bedrooms and two balconies, new shops, a more spacious fitness centre and a new spa. See traveltheworld.com.au