The Pew Research Center defines Millennials as those born between 1981 and 1996. The Center estimates that by 2019, Millennials will overtake Boomers in population size, as their 73 million surpasses the Boomers at 72 million.

Those kinds of generational differences impact a number of industries, including the $7.6 trillion global travel industry. And if there's one realm of travel that has traditionally been thought of as the realm of the Boomer ... it's cruises. But that's changing as Millennials come on board (pun intended).

The old-school version of going on a cruise looked like boarding a gigantic Carnival ship from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas. You spent a lot of time in the ship's casinos, restaurants, and pools, and not a lot of time in the islands.

Millennials want something else, and cruise lines are starting to provide it. Twenty- and thirty-somethings don't just want to relax aboard; they want to do dynamic things in interesting ports. And they don't care about casinos or restaurants with white linen tablecloths; they want good music and fun activities on board, like the ziplines or indoor skydiving tunnels some ships have installed.

Colleen McDaniel, executive editor of Cruise Critic, says the rise in Millennial interest in cruises has prompted changes in the industry. "Overwhelmingly people choose where they're going to cruise to first, rather than by ship or by line. So cruise lines have begun to spend more time in port," McDaniel said. "And I think that's significant--it's not just a quick drop in where you might only have five hours. You can actually spend the whole day there."

A few examples of places younger people want to spend the whole day: Alaska (which is supposed to be unreal from the water); the Greek islands; Iceland; Mexico; and European river cruises on the Danube, Seine, and more.

A few ways the industry is adapting to what Millennials value in cruises:

1. Smaller ships

Not only are smaller ships easier for passengers to navigate, but they make it easier to get to unique, out-of-the-way destinations. For example, Vidanta Cruises is opening a new luxury cruise line in 2019 that will focus on Mexico, and its ship will be able to dock in places larger ones simply cannot access. Passengers will thus be able to explore uninhabited bays and other parts of the country that are untouched. Imagine swimming with friends in a pristine cove with crystal-clear water, then returning to what is essentially a mega-yacht. It's also more eco-friendly--the cove stays resort-free.

2. Interesting things to do on board

U by Uniworld is the first cruise line explicitly aimed at Millennials. It offers small river cruises through cities like Amsterdam and Budapest, with plenty of time in port. It also has cool features aboard, including a paint and wine night, silent disco, and rooftop camping (you can actually sleep under the stars on the top deck). It's also a small ship, so the activities it offers ashore are in smaller groups, like visits to breweries or bike tours.

3. Good music

Traditional entertainment on cruise ships included musicals, bingo, and enthusiastic large-group activities like line dancing. The update that's more appealing to young people? DJs that know what they're doing. There are even floating music festivals like Anchored and Groove Cruise, which feature EDM artists like Deadmau5.

4. Creative food options

MSC's Seaside class of cruise ships uses decor that mimics South Beach condos, and food options include an Italian coffee and chocolate bar, and a teppanyaki grill. (The ship also features the longest zipline of any cruise ship). Other cruise lines emphasize their creative brunch options, tapas-style restaurants, and taquerias.

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Adam Coulter, managing editor of Cruise Critic, says this new kind of cruising will also compete with other group travel packages aimed at young people. "You've got a ship that's going to, say, Mykonos, Kos or Santorini in the middle of high season, when you can't get a hotel room for love nor money." As that ship includes not just a place to stay, but all your meals and often some alcohol, its appeal grows.

"Overall [Millennials] are challenging the cruise lines to get more creative," says travel agent Rob Stuart. "The cruise experience is less about just relaxing and more about doing something on vacation and creating an experience you can share."

This is encouraging. Because regardless of your age, sharing creative experiences in some of earth's most stunning locations alongside the people you love is some of the best of what life has to offer. 

"People don't take trips... trips take people." - John Steinbeck

Published on: Sep 22, 2018