When the curtain comes down on the 2022-2023 cruise season, the two most influential cruises lines for the rest of the decade may be Azamara and American Cruise Lines. Azamara has been leading the charge towards port-intensive cruising, and American Cruise Lines is introducing a dozen new ships that may change cruising forever.
Azamara’s Port-Intensive Cruising Experiences
Even when owned by Royal Caribbean, what set Azamara apart from the other premium ship brands was its emphasis on what it called “port-intensive cruising.” This means scheduling one or more overnight stops in nearly all their cruises. By typically scheduling at least 36 hours ashore for these intensive port stops, guests can often schedule as many as five activities (2 mornings + 2 afternoons, + 1 evening) for each port visit. Or, they can travel to an inland city not on the schedule. Thus, during a two-day visit to Nice, people can opt for high-speed train or air shuttle visits to Paris, Zurich, Rome, or Berlin.
After their separation from RCCL, Azamara has doubled down on this marketing strategy. During summer 2022, Azamara’sEuropean cruises typically include two port-intensive overnight stays. Here are some of the choices for “Intensive Destinations” in August 2022:
|Destination||Nights||Overnight #1||Overnight #2||Balcony(pp)|
|Wine & Culture||12||Bordeaux||Lisbon||$4159|
These prices and itineraries represent terrific value. If you were to start or end your voyage spending two days in a third city, you could visit three places overnight. This is probably the best way of spending less than two weeks, and around $10,000, on a cruise. My wife and I have done this in Norway, Western Australia and Asia, and have always has a great vacation on Azamara. The ships and the service are great; a few days into the cruise, you’ll probably start viewing the ship as your private club. Azamara ships carry about 680 passengers and about 400 crew, and the officers make it a point to get to know the guests well.
Averaging at least one overnight port visit every week is a concept that’s sure to catch on. It gives you a much better chance of experiencing life overseas closer to how the city or town’s residents view it. The inhabitants also appreciate this kind of itinerary because they know that if you dine in town or avail yourself of several cultural events, you’ll leave their city with more than a few postcards or tee shirts. You may opt to string two of these trips together for an unforgettable overseas experience of about a month.
Cruise lines also win out. Food and fuel probably top their list of variable costs; both will go down while the ship remains in port. It also provides more opportunities to sell excursions and events ashore.
I suspect that after the other small and midsize sip lines see how successful this approach is, they will opt to replicate it on many of their smaller, high-end ships. However, intensive destination cruises probably aren’t a good fit for the resort ships whose intent is to make up for their low fares by extracting as much as the guests’ funds as possible by keeping them on the vessel.
American Cruise Line’s Radically New Vessels
Until now, American Cruise Lines (ACL) has been booking modern paddle wheelers and other small ships that have cruised mainly on American rivers. However, unlike Europe, Africa, and Asia, the United States doesn’t have many waterways and canals that transport passengers.
But we have coastlines galore. Many inshore cruising grounds would be thousands of miles long laid out in a straight line. They are already paradises for yacht owners, fishers, and tourists arriving by automobile. Why not open them to small cruise ships as well?
Take the Chesapeake Bay, for instance. Bounded by Baltimore and Virginia Beach, it contains enough attractive unique and historical sites—plus foodie destinations—for a two-week cruise. Overnights can be scheduled in Baltimore, Chestertown, Annapolis, St. Michaels, Chincoteague Island, Virginia Beach, or Newport News; and Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Richmond are a brief bus ride away. Thanks to global warming, the Chesapeake is now a year-round cruising destination and can rival any available in Australia, the Med, Alaska, or Greece.
Of course, that’s assuming that the ship won’t run aground miles offshore where the water is still shallow, and it can handle the sudden storms that have demasted entire fleets of sailboats.
American Cruise Lines recognized the potential of cruising grounds like the Chesapeake and Pugit Sound, and it has just placed orders with Chesapeake Shipbuilding of Salisbury, Maryland, for 12 vessels that can accommodate 109 passengers and 50 crew. They will be 241 feet long, 56 feet wide, and have a hybrid catamaran design that enables shallow draft access and stable sailing along lakes, rivers, bays, and the coastline.
Charles B. Robertson, president and CEO of American Cruise Lines, said in a press statement, “’Project Blue’ started as a design challenge to create a boat small enough for New England harbors and stable enough for Alaska Inside Passage, with a draft shallow enough for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. These boats can run almost anywhere, and because there will be 12 of them, they will be deployed all over the United States.”
The press release goes on to say:
“Decor on the boats will be done by Studio DADO of Miami. Of the 56 staterooms, there will be a range of standard, suite, and singles accommodations—nearly all with private balconies. Observation and sitting areas will be available at the bow, both inside and outside, and each ship will have an expansive forward lounge with 270-degree views. At the stern, the ships will have a new adventure deck equipped with kayaks, tender, and other activity-related options relevant to the itinerary. The ships will also have two dining venues, as well as room service.”
The first two vessels, American Eagle and American Glory, are already under construction and will be delivered in 2023. If they prove successful, they will incorporate the advantages of mega yachts, small ships, riverboats, and expedition ships into a single product that should be wildly appealing. These “mega-cats” (my name for them) will be disruptive to the cruise industry and sure to be copied by shipyards throughout the world.
They will also fill an immediate need in the US by attracting those to cruising who never want to venture into foreign nations, be out of sight of land, or visit any place where their Medicare card is not valid.
Complete data on the designs have not been released, but if these ships can pass through most canal locks and under most bridges, riverboats as we now know them are likely to pass into oblivion. Right now, when rivers such as the Danube dry up in summer, the affected riverboats are out of business. With these coastal cruisers, they can explore the Med, the Baltic, or the French coast when the rivers get too low.
Pretty soon, cruisers’ choices will be clear: Would you rather visit a replica of Disneyland or a casino on a ship carrying 6,000 of your best friends; or would you rather visit the real Disneyland in Florida, Japan, or Los Angeles on a fast and stable mega-cat along with 100 other guests and 50 crew to keep everyone happy?
Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have cruised on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships. He writes a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s read by more than 80,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the founder of Cruises & Cameras Travel Services, LLC. He has been recognized as a “2021 Top Travel Specialist” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and a “Travel Expert Select “by the Signature Travel Network. His specialties are luxury small-ship cruises and COVID-19 safety measures, and has a doctorate in Educational Research with minors in Marketing and Quantitative Business Analysis. He’s also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he managed qualitative and quantitative research in the private & public sectors. He’s a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has written 13 books and hundreds of articles. His email address is email@example.com.