Cruise lines keep adding to their itineraries in an industry push to get travelers of all stripes on deck. While many voyages still accommodate the middle-aged vacationer content to see the Caribbean from a chaise longue, an increasing number offer less-sedentary vacationers everything from glacier treks to trips to the ballet.
"What's become interesting about ocean cruises is that they are all developing their unique brand," said Christine Duffy, the president and chief executive of the Cruise Lines International Association, an organization that represents 27 lines. "The expansion and flexibility really dictates why we are seeing the growth of people interested in cruising."
There are so many niche cruises that it's hard to keep track of them all. But the excursions from major lines have tended to fall into five areas.
Young and Younger
Ten years ago, passengers were older, and ships were quieter. But the industry is finding plenty of room for market growth among passengers well below retirement age. Carnival Cruise Lines carried 710,000 passengers under 18 last year, more than double the 350,000 travelers that age in 2002. At Norwegian Cruise Line, families (which includes anybody traveling with a child under 18) are outnumbered only by baby boomers; teenagers are the largest child segment, at 42 percent.
Cruises have adjusted their amenities accordingly. Royal Caribbean International is rolling out a Barbie experience on all of its ships in March. Barbie-themed staterooms will be augmented by tea parties, dance classes, movies and fashion-design classes for girls 4 to 11 years old.
Other lines seek a broader audience. The Norwegian Breakaway, launching in May, will host the line's largest children's facilities, spread over two decks with a teenagers-only club atop the ship. And the Hapag-Lloyd Europa 2, also launching in May, will feature seven family suites with shared balconies and shore excursions for children, teenagers or families on designated cruises.
Even operators normally associated with the 45-plus crowd are catering to multigenerational travelers. The river operator Uniworld, which markets itself as a luxury boutique line, has increased the number of family cruises it offers during winter and summer school holidays.
Running New Rivers
Though they are subject to water levels that shift with the seasons and diminish with drought, river cruises continue to proliferate. Viking River Cruises alone plans to introduce 10 new ships on the Rhine, Main and Danube in March, and operators are increasingly venturing to Europe's secondary waterways and beyond, to Asia and North America.
Uniworld will become the first United States-based line to operate on the Po River in northern Italy. April through October, seven-night cruises starting and ending at Venice will take guests aboard the 134-guest River Countess to various ports for excursions to Verona, Bologna and Padua.
The Douro River in Portugal, which splits the terraced banks of port-wine country, is the focus of new itineraries from Viking, Uniworld and AmaWaterways. The latter's 108-passenger AmaVida will depart Porto for seven-night trips on the Douro featuring tastings and estate tours, March 26 to early November.
The Mekong River has been Asia's main channel, with a number of recent launches, including the 16-stateroom Avalon Angkor from Avalon Waterways, sailing between Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Siem Reap in Cambodia over seven nights.
Now it's Myanmar's turn. Orient-Express, with the 82-passenger Road to Mandalay on the Irrawaddy River, will add the 50-passenger Orcaella in July, shuttling from the country's largest city, Yangon, to the temple-filled town of Bagan on seven-night itineraries. (The ship will also make two summer trips up the more remote Chindwin River.) Grand Circle Cruise Line also added seven-night Irrawaddy trips in spring and fall on the 34-guest Paukan.
In the United States, interest in river cruising has spread well beyond high-profile waterways like the Mississippi, which became home to two cruise lines last year. Un-Cruise Adventures (formerly InnerSea Discoveries and American Safari Cruises) will launch the 88-passenger Safari Legacy in August on the Columbia and Snake Rivers for fall and spring itineraries in and out of Portland, Ore. The excursions, which visit a mix of historic forts, Washington wineries and scenic gorges, are among a handful of such trips.
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While the Caribbean remains the world's top cruising region, ships are increasingly venturing as far as Australia, New Zealand and Asia, allowing passengers to explore turf traditionally served by land-based touring companies.
New departures around Australia range from Zegrahm's small-ship adventures in the rugged Kimberley region in September to Celebrity's 35-night circumnavigation of both Australia and New Zealand in 2014 on the 2,850-passenger Solstice.
The list of Asian itineraries continues to grow with offerings by Princess, which will begin a series of seven different cruises in Japan beginning in April aboard the 1,990-guest Sun Princess.
And voyages to colder climates, which have drawn several cruises in recent years, are proliferating at both poles. The high-end Seabourn will offer its first cruises to Patagonia and Antarctica beginning in November aboard the 450-guest Seabourn Quest. At the opposite pole, Lindblad Expeditions has already sold out many of its Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland itineraries, but added a 15-day August trip to Greenland's west coast, Canada's Baffin Island and Newfoundland for a tour among the icebergs on the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer.
The latest departures in Alaska include Alaskan Dream Cruises' new 62-passenger Baranof Dream, with a new 11-day trip beginning in May that explores the wilds of Chichagof and Baranof Islands.
A devoted base takes a cruise for a steady supply of onboard distractions, and the industry has responded by increasing the entertainment.
One of them, Celebrity Cruises, recently joined with Billboard, the music industry's chart-tracker, to create a game show, trivia contests and '80s dance parties on 10 of its 11 ships. Holland America will hold six cruises in 2013 and early 2014 featuring dance lessons and shows from "Dancing With the Stars" professionals. Crystal Cruises offers shows and classes from the Magic Castle, a magic club in Los Angeles.
And the new Norwegian Breakaway, which is to make weekly departures to Bermuda from its home port of New York beginning May 13, will present Broadway-style shows including "Rock of Ages" and "Burn the Floor."
Non-theatergoers will have to make do with a fireworks show, the five multistory slides in the ship's water park, the nine-hole miniature golf course and the high-ropes challenge course.
Music-themed cruises, which have given new life to bands like New Kids on the Block, continue to proliferate. Additions range from the country-rock band Alabama, on the Norwegian Pearl in October, to members of the National Symphony Orchestra of London, on the Queen Mary 2 during its Sept. 2 westbound Atlantic crossing.
Cruise? What Cruise?
Mega-ships are loaded with amenities designed to keep passengers busy on board, but many smaller ships are touting the opposite: immersion at the destination, with more overnight port calls and interactions with locals.
Azamara Club Cruises, which operates two recently refurbished ships, is offering overnight or late-evening port departures on its itineraries. Moored in destinations including Kobe, Japan; Gustavia, St. Barts; and St. Petersburg, Russia, the ships act as hotels, allowing passengers evening opportunities to dine or to attend a sumo match or a ballet.
Crystal Cruises will increase its shipboard overnight calls at the start and end of a cruise by 50 percent. A 12-day Mediterranean cruise May 18, for example, runs from Istanbul to Barcelona with overnights in each of those ports and in Monte Carlo, for evening visits to its casino.
A few itineraries venture from the tourist path altogether, delving into social issues by partnering with local charities. On its 15-day trip in March through Central and South America, Zegrahm Expeditions pays a call on a convent and orphanage in Isla de Providencia, Colombia, to which it will donate school supplies. Crystal Cruises arranges for you to volunteer at a Cape Town orphanage or clean a Mexican beach. Hope Floats (hopefloats.org), a nonprofit based in California, links Carribbean-bound passengers to organizations on five islands that feed the homeless, care for pets or help teachers.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.