Cruise News Update: February 25, 2023

Catch up with another cruise news update with coverage on Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, and Disney.

It’s time to catch up with another weekly cruise news update and we’ve got coverage on the new world’s busiest cruise port, Carnival Cruise Line, Disney, former Holland America ship, Royal Caribbean’s new mega-ship, and positive numbers for major lines.

Cruise News Update

In this week’s cruise news round-up, you can catch up on Port Canaveral overtaking PortMiami as the busiest cruise port in the world, increased web traffic for the major cruise lines, Carnival Cruise Line bringing back its much-demanded paper Fun Times, a new Disney cruise passenger loyalty tier, a former Holland America ship being acquired and an impressive look at Royal Cribbean’s Thrill Island featured on the Icon of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean Goes Behind Largest Water Park at Sea

Royal Caribbean International has released the sixth episode of its “Making an Icon” series, this time offering an in-depth, insider look at “Creating Thrill Island” – one of the most hotly anticipated features of the upcoming Icon of the Seas.

One of eight distinct neighborhoods on Icon of the Seas, Thrill Island is located primarily on Deck 16, and is designed as a shipwrecked island with unique decorative details to immerse guests in the adventure.

“On the thrill-o-meter, we wanted to make sure we maintained a proper balance, but we also wanted to make sure we took it all the way,” said Jennifer Goswami, Director of Product Development for Royal Caribbean. “On Thrill Island, it’s really our maxed out version of what we could do from a thrill perspective on a ship.”

One of the most thrilling features of the space is the Category 6 waterpark, the largest waterpark ever at sea with 17,010 square feet of splashtastic fun.

Six record-breaking waterslides offer thrills for all, from dueling mat racing slides to the tallest drop slide at sea, the first open free fall waterslide on any cruise ship, and the first family raft slides ever at sea.

Waterslides aren’t the only key features of Thrill Island, however. Crown’s Edge is a heart-pumping ropes course, skywalk experience 154 feet above the ocean with an unexpected drop leading to a zip line.

This pushes the boundaries beyond the deck of the ship, putting adventurers right over the water in an area never before accessible to guests.

Thrill Island will also include classic favorites found on all Royal Caribbean ships, including the rock climbing wall, Adrenaline Peak, with five lanes to challenge.

Lost Dunes is the reimagined miniature golf course with extensive theming for more fun everyone can enjoy, and the FlowRider surf simulator is found in the starboard aft corner of Thrill Island.

Port Canaveral Takes Crown from PortMiami

While the year began slowly, with cruise lines continuing to limit guest capacity for health and safety restrictions, 2022 quickly gained momentum as cruise travel dramatically rebounded.

Thanks in part to Port Canaveral’s proximity to Orlando and the faster easing of local community restrictions in that part of Florida, compared to more stringent health and safety measures in the more populous communities of South Florida, the cruise port gained a slim lead over PortMiami to become the world’s busiest passenger cruise port.

In total, 4,072,396 multi-day cruise guests moved through Port Canaveral, edging out PortMiami’s updated 4,022,544 multi-day guests, an updated number directly from the port rather than 3,988,094 from Florida Ports Council.

Cruise Ship at Port Canaveral, Florida
Photo Credit: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock

“We’ve always aimed to be the best cruise port in the world, but what an achievement to now be known as the busiest,” said Captain John Murray, Port Canaveral CEO. “This historic milestone is testament to the efforts of our team and cruise partners to provide a best in class experience for all cruise guests sailing from Port Canaveral.”

Florida is home to four additional cruise ship homeports: Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale just 21 miles (34 kilometers) from Port Miami; Jaxport in Jacksonville in the state’s northeastern corner; Port Tampa Bay on the west coast; and Port of Palm Beach still further north from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

None of the other homeports comes close to the passenger traffic of either Port Canaveral or PortMiami, though they all serve different cruise lines and offer great vacation options for guests.

Web Traffic Increase for Major Cruise Lines

In a recent report by SimilarWeb, an online market intelligence company, suggests that things are looking up for the cruise industry. The report shows a significant increase in web traffic for major cruise lines in the first two months of 2023 compared to 2022. This indicates strong pent-up demand for cruises that could drive higher bookings in the coming months.

With Virgin Voyages leading the way with a remarkable 318% increase year-over-year and a 46% rise compared to December, the other cruise lines followed suit, with Holland America Line seeing a growth of 117%, NCL with 107%, Royal Caribbean with 103%, Celebrity Cruises with 92%, Princess Cruises with 87%, and Carnival Cruise Line with 66%. 

Cruise Ships in Miami
Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock

Overall, the 28% increase in web traffic growth year-over-year in January for the group of seven leading cruise lines is a positive sign for the industry. It indicates that the industry is on its way to recovery.

While Carnival leads in web traffic, Royal Caribbean is the leading cruise line in converted visits, or website visits that lead to a booking. 

This data shows that five leading cruise operators, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity, and Princess, saw a 55% growth in bookings through their websites in January 2023, year-over-year. 

Carnival Brings Back Paper Fun Times

Carnival Cruise Line brand ambassador John Heald has announced the return of the delivery of the Fun Times newsletter, a feature many guests have missed in recent years.

Prior to the pandemic industry-wide shutdown of cruising, many cruise lines had already begun slimming down onboard newsletters to save paper and reduce waste.

Instead, cruise lines introduced digital apps for guests to use. Carnival Cruise Line was no different with the Carnival Hub app, which includes detailed information about onboard activities, dining, and entertainment, as well as useful features such as deck plans and safety information.

Carnival Cruise Line Fun Times
Photo Credit: Fuschia Foot / Creative Commons

Many guests, however, continue to prefer the printed newsletter for the convenience of having daily schedules at their fingertips without carrying around a cell phone or mobile device.

Instead, guests could pick up a printed newsletter at the Guest Services desk, public cafes, or other public venues. Now, the Fun Times will once again be delivered to guests’ cabins to inform them of the next day’s onboard schedule.

“In the days and weeks ahead we will provide a printed version of the Funtimes in the cabin mail box the night before,” Heald said.

The Carnival Hub app will continue to be available, giving guests their choice of how they prefer to be kept updated about what is coming up on their cruise.

New Disney Cruise Line Loyalty Tier

Disney Cruise Line has released details of the new Pearl level of its Castaway Club loyalty program. While none of the tiers have an extensive list of benefits, the perks Disney Cruise Line provides are well worth cruising with Disney multiple times. The new benefits will begin May 1, 2023.

For Pearl level, the first new benefit is the ability to book new itineraries four days before the general public, earlier than anyone else may be able to book a Disney cruise.

Pearl level guests will also be able to book onboard activities and Port Adventures (shore excursions) 123 days prior to setting sail on a booked cruise, which is three days earlier than the next highest loyalty level at 120 days.

Disney Wish Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: EWY Media / Shutterstock

This applies to specialty adult dining reservations, spa services, and other popular onboard activities that frequently sell out on every sailing.

Exclusive to Pearl level is a brand new benefit. All Pearl level guests will receive a complimentary unlimited digital photo package, ensuring they are able to capture every moment of these most magical vacations.

In addition to these exclusive benefits, Pearl members will also receive all the benefits awarded to lower loyalty tiers, including a dedicated member phone number for information and assistance, welcome aboard gifts, special discounts, and a complimentary dinner at Palo or Palo Steakhouse.

The Pearl tier of Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Club has only just been introduced, and anyone who has sailed on 25 or more Disney cruises is eligible for this most elite level of loyalty. Lower tiers start at Silver (1-4 sailings) and continue with Gold (5-9 sailings) and Platinum (10-24 sailings).

Former Holland America Ship Acquired

Celestyal Cruises has acquired the former Carnival Corporation-owned Holland America Line cruise ship Ryndam from previous owner Seajets. The vessel, now renamed Celestyal Journey, is 55,819 gross tons and has space for 1,258 passengers. 

The company has not disclosed whether it will expand or reduce the ship’s capacity; what is clear is that it will be investing some 20 million euros in refurbishing and overhauling the cruise ship.

The newly-refurbished vessel is expected to offer a considerable increase in premium and balcony staterooms, catering to the high demand for such accommodations on all its voyages.

Former Holland America Cruise Ship
Image: Celestyal Cruises

The acquisition marks a strategic move by Celestyal Cruises to position itself better and to take advantage of the renewed interest in cruising that is evident worldwide.

Celestyal Cruises already has a fleet of three mid-sized ships, and the addition of the Celestyal Journey will provide the company with additional capacity to meet the expected surge in demand in the coming summer, which provides a much better opportunity for investments.

The Celestyal Journey was owned by Holland America Line before being transferred to P&O Australia and renamed Pacific Aria in 2015. The cruise ship sailed on her maiden voyage for Seattle-based Holland America Line in 1993. 

More Cruise Headlines

It was just another busy week of cruise news and we have all the coverage on Cruise Hive, including naming ceremony details announced for the new P&O cruise ship, cruise tourism in Mexico soaring to new heights, Royal Caribbean releasing new Winter itineraries, a warning to passengers from Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival teasing its upcoming new additional ship, and plenty more.


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