The next big thing in cruising: 'Immersive' experiences

Andrea Zelinski

As I look to 2024 and think about which cruise trends will gain momentum next year, I’m betting one of them will be “immersive” experiences.

The word “immersive” is already trendy. Google Analytics found the term skyrocketed in popularity in late in 2020 — incidentally, in the midst of the pandemic. The word is used to describe experiences, like video games that plunge players into a new world and virtual reality experiences at museums that project moving versions of art, like Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night,” as guests seemingly walk through it.

Cruise lines are tapping that desire to be immersed in experiences, too.

For example, Silversea Cruises is promoting its first full season in French Polynesia as a “deep immersion” into 11 of the region’s islands. Explora Journeys invites guests to enjoy a “Temazcal Immersion” by partaking in an ancient healing ritual in Cabo San Lucas. Royal Caribbean will have a new ice show on the Icon of the Seas, “Starburst: Elemental Beauty,” featuring an artistic interpretation of the periodic table, which it calls a “fully immersive experience.”

Expedia Cruises’ president Matthew Eichhorst said the “immersive” trend is both new and gaining popularity. But the big trend is guests wanting to cruise to places where they can immerse themselves on land.

“I’m seeing where people are doing a more immersive destination focus,” he said, adding some guests want to spend the evening in port in places like Europe rather than scurry back to the ship by 4 p.m. to catch their dinner reservation.

An October survey supports his observation: That poll, by Allianz Partners USA, of 9,000 advisors who offer travel protection products found that 38% have gauged more interest from clients in cruises that promise “immersion” and “exploration.”

After having sailed 15 cruises over the last two years, one of my biggest complaints is often the lack of time to explore in port. On some calls, I’ve barely had enough time to take an excursion and lose myself exploring the city before the ship takes off.

But Eichhorst pointed out that cruise lines that offer long port stays and overnights can offer both value and the cultural immersion. This especially important in Europe, where cruising’s value proposition also plays a role.

“If you want to see Europe and the price of hotels in Europe is quite high these days, the value to actually see Europe but from a cruise ship is just absolutely amazing,” he said. He pointed to products like Azamara’s Croatia Intensive Voyage, a nine-day sailing that includes four nights when the ship is in port until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.

Eichhorst also pointed to Norwegian Cruise Line, a contemporary line that contends it spends more time in ports in Europe and Alaska than its competition does. The line said it found it will spend on average 32% more time in port in Europe and 20% more time in port in Alaska in 2024 than its contemporary or premium line competitors, including Holland America Line, Princess and Celebrity.

“NCL was the part that surprised me, because its less traditional from contemporary lines to stay so long in the ports,” he said. “That’s why we go to these amazing places. You want to see the land part, as well.”

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