Over the past decade, the $30 billion cruise ship industry has grown younger, according to Sharon Zackfia, partner at William Blair and Company. She says the average age on a cruise ship is approximately 40 years old.
“Cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and especially Disney, have used innovations and attractions to appeal to younger consumers and families,” Zackfia says. “The joke in the industry a decade ago was that cruises were only for newlyweds, the overfed, and the nearly dead, and that’s not the case anymore.”
Jim Berra, chief marketing officer at Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, says companies always look at how they can use technology to innovate. “One-third of the ship should be traditional for loyal cruisers, one-third should be an evolution across multiple vessels to dial up the innovation, and one-third should be revolutionary with brand new attractions,” he says.
With new ships debuting every year, here’s a look at some of the latest cruise ships sailing the seven seas today.
Dream, Disney Cruise Line, Approximate Cost: $900 million, Maximum Passengers: 4,000, Length: 1,147 feet
Although the Dream had her maiden voyage in 2011, Disney brought the ship into dry dock last fall for a multi-million dollar makeover that included the first integration of Star Wars on any ship. Walt Disney Imagineers worked with Lucasfilm to create a scale replica of sections of the Millennium Falcon.
“You can sit in Han Solo’s or Chewbacca’s chair and pull on one of the gear shifters and blast through hyper space to one of the planets – Hoth, Tatooine and Kashyyyk,” Danny Handke, creative design lead at Walt Disney Imagineering, said. “And sometimes you can do the trench run on the Death Star, which is one of my favorites.”
In addition to the cockpit, Imagineers recreated the engine room, which has been upgraded to include new Star Wars PC games for the kids to play. There’s also the famous Holochess table, and every once in a while the Force brings to life objects in the room, including the metal globe Luke Skywalker used for target practice when honing his lightsaber skills.
Vista, Carnival, Approximate Cost: $780 million, Maximum Passengers: 3,936 Length: 1,062 feet
The Vista is the only ship to feature a full-sized IMAX theater at sea, streaming current box office blockbusters and IMAX documentaries. The 187-seat theater is part of a new mid-ship Entertainment Complex, which also includes a smaller Thrill Theater, which features 4D experiences like Thrillogy that make use of motion seats, special effects, water and bubbles.
Vista is also the first ship to feature a micro brewery. The Thirsty Frog Pub and Brewery makes three types of craft beer: Port Hoppin’ IPA, Caribbean Wheat and Java Stout. The ship offers tours of the brewery so passengers can learn the art of the craft. And there are even built-in taps at select tables so guests can pour their own drinks.
There’s also plenty to do outdoors when not taking in the Mediterranean or Caribbean ports of call. The Vista has a ton of physical activities on its upper decks, including a suspended bicycle SkyRide with two tracks that passengers can pedal through high above the ocean.
Escape, Norwegian Cruise Line, Approximate Cost: $750 million, Maximum Passengers: 4,248, Length: 1,098 feet
Escape, which is the largest of Norwegian’s 14 vessels, had her maiden voyage in 2015. On board this ship, technology meets water parks at the Aqua Park, the largest water park at sea. One of the four main innertube waterslides features lights and special effects that winds through multiple stories. There’s also a Free Fall waterslide that sends vacationers straight down a tube. A Family Slide and Aqua Park Kids area round out this area.
The leading cruise lines attempt to balance the indoor technology and video games with activities like water parks, miniature golf, and, in the case of Escape, the largest ropes course at sea. This three-story multiplex of high-wire challenges includes planks, Sky Rails, and zip tracks that are 172 feet above the water.
With the cruise industry offering fewer stops at port these days (an average of three for a 7-night cruise), the ships become the key attraction for activities day and night. The Escape offers 16 restaurants to choose from and 10 themed bars spread throughout the ship.