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What’s hot in luxury cruising? Small ships, personal, service and responsible travel are among the highlights, according to Peter Lynch.

For 17 years, luxury small-ship line SeaDream has run with the branding “It’s yachting, not cruising”. It was a throwback to the days when billionaires spent their summers in the Mediterranean aboard stunning private palaces on the water.

Its tiny two-vessel fleet epitomised this experience, from the personalised PJs (I still have a pair with my name embroidered on the chest) to the stellar level of service that made every journey special.

Today, it looks as if they were ahead of their time. In fact, this could well be the year of the yacht, as more lines add smaller luxury ships to their fleets.

Small is beautiful

Suites are bigger, guest numbers smaller and itineraries off the beaten track in the trend towards smaller luxury vessels.

The Scenic Eclipse Discovery Yacht is scheduled to begin sailing in August. When full, 228 guests in 114 suites will be served by a crew of 178. Suites start at 345 square feet and go up to 2,500 square feet. Everyone gets a butler.

But it’s the technology that is garnering the most interest. She has huge stabilisers, is Ice-breaker class and carries submarines and helicopters. Scenic has so much faith in the model, another is scheduled for 2020.

Crystal is also hard at work here. The five-deck, 62-passenger Crystal Esprit has been operating since 2015. Entry-level suites are 223 square feet, and onboard you’ll find the legendary Crystal service, a two-man submarine and a marina from which you can water ski, snorkel or kayak. Another, Crystal Endeavor, is expected in 2020 with Polar-class capabilities, two seven-man submarines and 100 suites.

Next year also sees the much-anticipated Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection with 298 guests across 149 suites, including two penthouses. And while they won’t be heading for the Arctic, there will be the Ritz-Carlton spa and three-Michelin starred Aqua restaurant to make up for it.

Ritz Carlton living room

Ritz Carlton living room

Ponant spotted the trend some time ago. Four new Explorer-class expedition ships that each accommodate 184 passengers are either already sailing or on the way. Le Lapérouse has already completed her first season in Australia, and will be back next year.

Not to be outdone, SeaDream Yacht Club is building its first brand new ship. SeaDream Innovation will tap into another hot-button trend: sustainability.

Tread lightly

Most lines now realise that their passengers want to travel responsibly, so low emissions, no plastics and shore excursions that give back to local people are essential.

SeaDream Innovation has several features designed to reduce her environmental impact, including waste-heat energy converters and shore power. She will have a four-megawatt hour battery, allowing her to sail silently and emission-free without disturbing the surrounding wildlife for up to three hours. Used in combination with its four diesel engines, the system will enable SeaDream Innovation to visit sensitive areas such as the Norwegian fjords after her launch in 2021.

Hurtigruten

Hurtigruten

Hurtigruten has also developed a new hybrid-powered vessel. Roald Amundsen is the world’s first ice-class hybrid-powered expedition ship, and she is expected to start sailing in June. The 530-passenger vessel cost more than $320 million to develop and build, and she can sail with electric propulsion for 15 to 30 minutes, which will cut emissions by 20 per cent.

Hurtigruten is also reengineering existing ships to run on a combination of large battery packs, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied bio gas made from organic waste like dead fish. Yes, you read that right.

Everything old is new again

Another trend that has increased its pace this year is updating – or even rebuilding – existing ships. While some lines like Silversea and Windstar are slicing ships in half to add more cabins, Crystal is reconstructing interiors and lowering guest ratios to make bigger suites.

After all, ships can last up to 30 years – but tastes change every minute.

Oceania Cruises is spending $145 million on its OceaniaNEXT fleet upgrade of four of its 684-guest ships – Regatta, Insignia, Sirena, and Nautica – to feature new dining experiences and a dramatic upgrade of amenities.

OceaniaNEXT

OceaniaNEXT

Crystal has already refurbished the Symphony and Serenity, while Regent Seven Seas has spent $182 million on re-imagining Voyager, Navigator and Mariner with trademark flamboyant new fixtures, restaurant interiors and artworks.

Silversea is also working to upgrade its fleet, with Silver Spirit dramatically “stretched” last year to create new dining venues and an enlarged pool deck.

Food, glorious food

Once, it was quantity. Now, it’s quality, variety and experience that dominates food on board luxury cruise ships. Healthy eating and the less-is-more mantra is driving change.

Oceania – who boasts that they serve “the finest cuisine at sea” – has announced they will be serving an extensive range of plant-based dishes designed to impress guests who avoid animal products.

Almost every cruise line has now embraced the move to healthier eating, and most offer vegetarian or vegan alternatives on their menus.

Oceania food

Oceania – who boasts that they serve “the finest cuisine at sea” – has announced they will be serving an extensive range of plant-based dishes

In Oceania’s case, it has partnered with chef, culinary instructor and author, Christophe Berg, to put together a new menu of 200 dishes they claim will improve health and wellness.

Elsewhere, the move to ensure more locally produced products, a greater knowledge of the provenance of food and a greater emphasis on avoiding waste is sweeping fleets.

Eating is now more experiential and relaxed, with some – like the newer Silversea ships – abandoning the dining room for smaller, boutique food outlets.

Family first – or last?

According to the 2019 Virtuoso Luxe Report, multigenerational travel is this year’s top vacation trend in Australia, with grandparents purchasing cabins for their kids and grandkids to show them parts of the world they probably couldn’t afford to visit otherwise.

Current retirees are the most active older generation the world has seen, and they want to be involved in showing their families the world.

Also according to Virtuoso, kids now have a voice in where families go, so it’s canny that operators like Disney Cruise Lines have managed to combine luxury, adult activities and themes that kids love. While it might not be considered as a luxury line, Disney’s well-appointed ships are an extravagant way for kids to cruise: great food and spacious suites.

At the other end of the spectrum, other high-end lines – Viking Cruise Lines, for instance – have had incredible success by promising their ships will be adults only. For many in the luxury space, that’s the only way to go.

But cruise lines catering for families are enjoying increasing success. And on luxury vessels, grandpa’s increased spending power is ensuring that family suites and activities have a growing place.

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