Cruise Passenger’s team of experts has looked into our crystal ball and predicts what the most popular developments will be for 2016.

Bigger and better suites

For many years, cruise lines have used the cheapest possible fares to attract passengers. In 2016, the pendulum will swing the other way as lines invest heavily in the penthouse and pointy-end traveller. Holland America Line is investing $40 million in revamping its suites across the line and the Queen and Princess Grill suites onboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 will get the same treatment. Azamara is adding brand new spa suites while Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Quantum class ships will get a brand new Suite Class with extras like butler service, an exclusive restaurant and designer goodies in the bathrooms.

Families take to the rivers

River cruising is traditionally the domain of couple or solo travellers, with no dedicated facilities onboard for children. But, in 2016 two lines will be introducing family friendly cruising in Europe and Asia. Adventures by Disney is partnering with AmaWaterways to offer seven-night itineraries cruising along the Danube River through Germany, Austria and Hungary aboard the new AmaViola, AmaWaterways’ first ship designed specifically for families. Onboard activities will include movies, karaoke, video games, sports and themed nights for children. Southeast Asian-based line Pandaw has also just announced a special program of family-friendly cruises will run during the school holidays (July, August and December). These cruises will include customised shore excursions, challenges to undertake and cycling tours of local villages. Onboard meals will be geared towards a younger palate and kids can participate in cooking classes or movie nights.

Luxury: the sky’s the limit

Until recently, ultra luxury cruising has been a niche market but there is some serious expansion going on at the top end. Crystal Cruises will be launching its first megayacht (complete with private two-person submarine) in December with more to follow. The line is also set to launch what it claims will be the finest river ships on the water in Europe and a private jet line for round the world trips. Regent Seven Seas Explorer, touted as the world’s most luxurious ship, launches in 2016 and Silversea and Seabourn both have new ships currently in the works.

More choice on the rivers

As more new ships and cruise routes roll out in 2016, there will be ever more choice for those enamoured of river travel. Two new European river-cruise companies have entered the Australian market: Austrian-based Lüftner Cruises (marketed under the Amras Cruises brand) and German company A-Rosa Cruises. CroisiEurope is launching two new paddlewheelers to reach shallow rivers where other ships cannot go. Barge cruising is the fastest growing sector of European river cruising, transporting between four and 24 guests along the continent’s network of canals. River cruising also continues to do well beyond the traditional European base. APT, Scenic, Avalon and Travelmarvel are all launching new ships on the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers, Evergreen is launching new routes on Africa’s Chobe River and American Cruise Line’s new America will be sailing along the Mississippi.

Just a taste

We predicted it earlier this year and the popularity of the short taster cruise is showing no signs of slowing down. P&O started the trend when it launched its short break cruises in 2010 and the program has increased every year. In the 2011/2012 season there were just 16 cruises of under seven days. In 2016/2017, P&O will be running 84 of its rebranded Sea Breaks around regional Australia and New Zealand. Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas kicked off its homeport season in Sydney with a three-day short break and the whole fleet will be offering them throughout the season. Carnival Cruise Line will launch a new three-night weekend sampler voyage to lure first-time cruisers in its 2016/17 itinerary.

Passengers stay connected

Wi-Fi has traditionally been eye-wateringly expensive on ocean cruises (most river cruise lines include it in the fare as they never stray too far from sure). That’s all starting to change. Many major lines have begun to roll out bulk Wi-Fi or data packages that start from as little as $5 a day. Premium and luxury ocean lines have even started to include unlimited Wi-Fi access for selected passengers. The Wi-Fi wars have well and truly begun.

Different dining

2016 could be the year we say bon voyage to the buffet. P&O’s The Pantry is the most publicised change to shipboard dining, replacing the main buffet with a food court-style dining concept featuring different outlets serving a range of cuisines. In the US, Royal Caribbean has done away with the vast main dining room and introduced Dynamic Dining, whereby guests choose from a number of smaller dining rooms (though not all guests are impressed). And then there’s the ever-expanding stream of celebrity chefs and their signature restaurants afloat, including Australians Curtis Stone, Luke Mangan and Luke Nguyen.

New destinations

Cuba is the big news for 2016. There’s been chatter around Cuba as a new cruise destination for the past 12 months, but this is the year that major US lines will finally begin sailing there from Miami. Carnival’s new fathom line will be the first, starting in May, but expect many more to follow. Even more remote destinations are being floated for coming seasons, as Silversea heads to Bangladesh and Ponant begins calling at the Scattered Islands off Mozambique.

Big ships get bigger

The world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas will be pushing back from the dock in less than six months. Weighing in at 227,000 tonnes and stretching 110 metres from bow to stern (30 centimetres longer than the current record holder), Harmony will hold just under 5,500 passengers and more than 2,000 crew. Australia is getting its own cruise behemoth in late 2016 when Ovation of the Seas sails into Sydney Harbour. It will hold almost 5,000 passengers and 1,500 crew.

Stay a little longer

The typical cruise schedule has passengers spending less than eight hours in port during a visit, with everyone back onboard well before the sun sets. Cruise lines have begun to realise that some of the best things happen after dark and are incorporating more late departures or overnight stays into their itineraries. Passengers will be able to have dinner, see a show, check out local bars or just wander the starlit streets before getting back onboard to sleep. Overnight stays also allows for an extra day of sightseeing in the world’s great cities.