Groups Embrace High-End Cruises

Cruises are raising the bar on their offerings for group travelers

Crystal Cruises deep-sea submersible

According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 24 million passengers are expected to sail this year, up from 15 million just 10 years ago. Part of this growth is thanks to the fact that the industry is transforming to meet the preferences of today's top performers. Here are five trends helping cruises to rise in the estimations of meeting planners.

1. Unique Experiences
"If there's one recurring theme as we look at incentive travel and cruise trends, it's this: Experiences are the new luxury," says Jo Kling, president of Miami, FL-based cruise incentive company Landry & Kling Events at Sea. Large cruise lines are building innovative ships with multilevel sports decks, expansive AquaParks, theaters for Broadway shows, and transformative venue spaces. Midsized and smaller luxury lines are focusing on authentic destination experiences, culinary excellence, enrichment, and services including personal butlers to create memorable voyages.

2. More Luxury
To meet the demand for a more exclusive cruise experience, several small and midsized  luxury ships are on order -- perfectly sized for private ship charter. Crystal Yacht Cruises, Crystal River Cruises, Seabourn Cruises, Silversea, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises are launching all-inclusive luxury ships in 2016 and 2017, with more on the way.  

"For incentive participants who want the variety of larger ships along with luxury treatment, MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines offer private 'ship-within-a-ship' enclaves," says Kling. "Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have created special 'Suite Class' concepts with added perks, services, and complimentary amenities including personal butlers, an upscale restaurant, concierge services, and an exclusive lounge."

These lines have also enhanced their private island destinations to cater to their "upper suite" guests with private beaches, luxurious beach cabanas, concierge service, and upgraded lunch menus in exclusive facilities.

3. Authenticity
To visit alluring, less-traveled ports, incentive planners may opt for a small ship or yacht that explores places beyond the reach of bigger ships. Cruise lines like Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania, Windstar Cruises, Crystal, Silversea, and Regent Seven Seas are also adding longer stays and more overnights in port so attendees can immerse themselves in local food, culture, and nightlife. These upscale lines are raising the bar on shore excursions to include more authentic, behind-the-scenes day trips.

4. Memorable Dining
Cruise ship culinary experiences are in high demand, especially for incentive groups, says Kling. Upscale cruise lines have responded by introducing globally inspired and locally sourced menu items, crafting chef-led culinary excursions, and adding interactive cooking schools onboard ship.

5. Wi-Fi Demands
Cruise ship Internet access is more accessible than ever, and the costs are steadily declining as cruise lines add more bandwidth, faster connectivity speeds, and Wi-Fi packages that include flat fees and inexpensive social media packages.  

Questions or comments? Email

This article appears in the June 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.