Cruise ships are hosting everything from Broadway shows to skydiving, as companies focus on luring in millennials seeking thrilling and immersive experiences, industry experts said on Thursday.
Incidents like the sinking of the Costa Concordia and the breakdown of the Carnival Splendor have done little to deter people from taking cruises, industry data shows.
Sixteen new cruise ships will be launched in 2014 and passenger numbers will reach 21.7 million this year, up 400,000 from 2013, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents companies around the globe.
Millennials, people born from the 1980s to the early 2000s, are driving that growth and to keep them coming, companies are extending port stays and adding exotic locales like Thailand and Fiji to their itineraries.
"We are really trying to cater to that generation," said Jim Berra, chief marketing officer of Carnival Cruise Lines and CLIA's marketing chair.
Extending excursions, he said, is one way of attracting a consumer looking for a more immersive experience.
Azamara Club Cruises launched "AzAmazing Evenings", complementary late-night excursions that allow sports lovers to watch water-jousting in France and cultural seekers to sample local wine and dance in Cyprus.
Companies are also investing in thrills aboard their cruises, such as skydiving, zip lines and observation spheres that tower over the new ships.
"For the first time, passengers are looking for adventure as well as a way to see exotic places," Christine Duffy, CLIA's president and CEO, told a news conference.
A recent survey of American Express travel counselors across the United States showed consumers were looking for new cruising experiences. Forty two percent of the 250 agents questioned in the poll also reported an increase in bookings for 2014.
To keep cruisers connected, companies are investing in low orbiting satellites that can expand broadband coverage aboard the ships and apps that will help passengers organize their days.
"Millennials are looking for a shared experience as they live so much of their life online," said Berra.
Royal Caribbean has commissioned celebrities to spruce up the ship's cabins, restaurants and fitness areas. Genevieve Gorder, of the Home and Garden Television Network, will design rooms, while Dhani Jones, a former professional football player, will advise in the creation of the SeaPlex sports zone aboard the Quantam of the Seas, due to set sail in November.
"This is not your grandfather's Oldsmobile. It is not just an over 50's industry anymore," said Duffy.