Currently, the official Seatrade Cruise Orderbook shows a total of 129,122 berths scheduled to join the world cruise ship fleet over the next five years. That may seem amazing in itself, but more extraordinary is that 13.5% of those berths will enter the small ship luxury arena, ships with fewer than 1,000 guests apiece. It is in this sector, which includes expedition cruise ships, that some of the most exciting cutting-edge technology is to be introduced over the next few years.
Recently Ponant unveiled what it called a pioneering design for its next-generation cruise ship that would produce zero CO2 equivalent emissions, a key driver in new ship design. The plan is to deliver the ship by 2030, and it will feature renewable energy supplied by wind and sun combined with low-carbon non-fossil energy associated with fuel cells. Sails, photovoltaic panels, and solar eco-designed devices will be incorporated, with liquid hydrogen, and recycling of water and heat.
Image credit: Stirling Design International
Meanwhile, Accor's investment in the Orient Express Silenseas project to build the world's largest sailing ship is using similar ambitions from French yard Chantiers de l'Atlantique with a revolutionary new design to meet today's sustainability challenges.
Orient Express Silenseas will sail with a ground breaking technological design known as 'SolidSail': three rigid sails with a surface area of 1,500 meters will each be hoisted on a balestron rig, with three tilting masts reaching more than 100 meters high, able to ensure up to 100% of the propulsion in suitable weather conditions, and to be used in conjunction with green hydrogen when necessary.
Image credit: Maxime d'Angeac and Martin Darzacq for Orient Express
At Four Seasons, a new luxury yacht with 95 spacious suites will offer floor-to-ceiling windows and access to expansive private terrace decks. The roomiest four-level suite at over 9,600 square feet also includes a private spa and a private wading pool. The yacht will be fitted out to use green energy fuels, zero emission energy sources when possible, such as solar and shoreside electrical power. The aim is to create villa-like estates in a nautical residential setting.
Image credit: Four Seasons
The recent growth in AI will unlock a whole host of developments in ship design and the onboard experience. The very shape of cruise ships will continue to shift as AI finds the most efficient design, with carbon-neutral power incorporated and controlled by AI in ways never before considered possible.
Image credit: Mundy Cruising AI created future luxury cruise ship concept
Looking at big data across multiple construction sectors could unlock new materials and building techniques. We expect ships with large open spaces, boasting plenty of greenery, low lighting to enable star watching in the middle of the ocean, and panoramic views from every part of your light-flooded maritime home.
AI assisted navigation will help plot the most fuel-efficient route taking into account weather and sea conditions as well as navigational restrictions, with guests as a result benefiting from much smoother sailing. Advances in AI controlled stabilisers will improve this still further.
Incorporating AI into itinerary planning will help create itineraries incorporating the latest trends and guest feedback, tap into differences in demographic interest, and even use data from other travel sectors, not to mention improved provisioning and more efficient fuel use.
Image credit: Mundy Cruising AI created luxury bar concept
Predictive AI can also assist with passenger flow, and waste reduction across a ship's hotel operations by crunching data including current occupancy levels, ports of call, excursion availability and take up, and even the weather, to accurately predict the guest demand at each lunch venue for example, or save energy by automating environmental controls. These efficiencies will help make battery powered ships more viable whilst the technology in this area continues to improve.
Safety will be enhanced as AI can monitor and predict potential maintenance issues making for a safer cruise as well as reducing minor inconveniences to guests when small technical issues affect equipment.
Image credit: Mundy Cruising AI created Virtual Reality concept
AI will be significantly incorporated into the guest experience. Personal human interaction will become even more key to the core of true luxury. AI based interactions will support this by freeing up the time of the experienced crew by using a virtual concierge to respond in conversational language to fulfil the most common and simplest of requests; restaurant opening times, menu choices, shore excursion availability, port highlights, spa information and even personal recommendations 24/7. This will allow staff to interact more meaningfully with guests, help those who enjoy face-to-face conversation, and deliver service that surprises and delights.
Cruise lines will also be able to personalise the guest experience to a far greater degree, analysing the number of guests on any one cruise with dietary requirements to deliver more menu choices for example. Shore excursion planners will be quicker to respond to trends as AI finds shifts in patterns faster. Service levels will improve as AI combines guest feedback along with staffing information, available entertainment, and even the weather at the time to provide extra insights into possible improvements. All of this will help to aid the decisions made by experienced staff.
This enhancement of the human connection in addition to predicted behaviours will elevate the level of luxury on board and allow guests to be delighted with something totally new out of left field. Authentic interactions, extraordinary surprises, and experiences that take you out of your comfort zone will be key to the new luxury.