It’s widely accepted that cruising is now a multigenerational business, catering as much to millennials as it does to baby boomers.

That includes attracting the family market, too, which was identified by CLIA as a top trend in its ‘State-of-the-industry’ report for 2014. According to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), 1.6 million children – out of a total of 20.3 million passengers – now join their parents on cruises each year.

Operators’ efforts to provide a more family-oriented experience are clearly yielding positive results and creating a more diverse, less exclusive demographic at sea.

Cruise lines have also made their products more affordable in a bid to lure young families on board, as Kirk Neal, a divisional vice-president at Carnival Cruises, explains.

"Back in its day, cruising was thought of as a luxury vacation that only a few could afford," he says. "But as more cruise lines came into the picture, and products became more affordable, more families started to take cruising holidays. Once that starts to happen, you begin to realise the economic benefits this market has – families are good for the bottom line. They’re also good for spreading news about cruising."

In many ways, it’s perfectly conceivable why children would be attracted to the sheer novelty of a modern-day cruise ship; on-board activities, such as water slides, kids clubs and musicals, often constitute the deal-breaker.

The same, perhaps, can’t be said of the archetypal teenager, who may well be resentful of being on holiday with their parents in the first place.

Yet, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) CEO Richard Fain has expressed his intention to tap into this difficult demographic group, citing their potential to become the future lifeblood of the industry.

"Not only do we want more [teenagers], but they are shortly entering the period where they become the parents," said Fain.

"So what we’re trying to do is get them early; get them to bring their parents; get them to bring themselves with their own friends and then with their own families."

Double whammy

The plan to entice adolescent consumers is two-pronged: more on-board interactive technology and more state-of-the-art entertainment.

The flagship for RCI’s proposed new model will surely be its newest addition to its fleet, Quantum of the Seas, which made its maiden voyage in November 2014.

Corroborating the group’s self-penned slogan – "This changes everything" – which preceded its unveiling, the vessel has already won widespread acclaim as a watchword for on-board technical gadgetry and innovative entertainment facilities.

The technological highlights include a bionic bar – at which drinks are prepared by robotic bar staff, with guests ordering via a tablet – and North Star, a skydiving ride that offers passengers a 360° panoramic views above the ocean waves.

That’s not to mention a surf simulator, rock-climbing wall and Seaplex – a sports entertainment venue, described by RCI as "the largest indoor activity space at sea".

Fain is more than hopeful that this raft of amenities will make teenagers think twice before perhaps dismissing cruising – in their own parlance – as ‘lame’ and a pursuit for older people.

"So one of the reasons for all of the things that we’re offering is not only because our guests want them, but because it helps crystallise just how terrific a cruise is and how varied," he says.

"It’s hard to think of this as a sedentary vacation when you have rock climbing, surfing, skydiving and bumper cars."

"When you look at some of the shows that are on board, whether it’s aerial shows or Broadway or DreamWorks, or some of the great new things that we’ve got on Quantum, it’s pretty amazing how entertainment has changed," adds Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, former executive vice-president at RCI, and who now heads up daughter company Celebrity Cruises.

Show of variety

The message, it would appear, is simple: on-board entertainment is no longer an addendum, but requisite for attracting younger market segments, such as teenagers. It’s a sentiment currently being mirrored at Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), says Richard Ambrose, vice-president of entertainment.

"We’re trying get them early; get them to bring their parents; get them to bring themselves with their own friends and then with their own families."

"Until recently, our ‘freestyle cruising’ concept was more focused on dining, but now we’re really concentrating on the entertainment services on board," he explains.

"Five years ago, we decided to focus on entertainment and transform it into one of the Norwegian brand’s pillars. It’s not just shows either; you have water parks, rope courses and theme nights. The sheer amount of entertainment activities available really means there’s something for everyone."

After sluggish beginnings, today’s operators have made huge strides in keeping up with the growth curve of technology taking place onshore – particularly when it comes to on-board technology.

The Quantum of the Seas boasts what is known as ‘smart-ship technology’, which includes a wristband, allowing passengers to navigate their way around the ship and make on-board purchases.

It also has an app for tablet computers and smartphones, enabling the ‘track and trace’ of luggage around the ship, while restaurants can also be booked online.

According to Fain, the simplification of the holiday through such gadgetry is intended to appeal to the tech-savvy teenager, whose attention span might be wanting when it comes to the contemplation of performing manual procedures.

Cruising the web

Then there’s the issue of staying online. While cruises were once billed as escapist retreats on sea – with some high-end luxury thrown in – today’s marketing slogans among operators are more likely to inform potential customers of how they can stay connected with friends and family back on land.

"The idea of a cruise vacation as an ‘escapist’ holiday is dated; everyone wants to be connected," says Vincent Cirel, CEO of cloud solutions provider Milepost and former chief information officer for NCL.

"The past few years have seen a rapid adoption of mobile technology, and everyone on our ships has cell phones."

For the connected, social-media-dependent teenager – and for whom the notion of being offline represents sheer anathema – these advancements will surely be welcomed.

But, for operators, the challenge still remains as to how to improve balky bandwidth speeds – an ongoing frustration for cruise passengers. In November, Carnival announced the roll-out of new hybrid Wi-Fi on board its vessels, which offers a tenfold average speed improvement compared with the use of traditional geostationary satellites.

In this way, teenagers can expect to experience the same high-speed internet connections that they mayget in their bedrooms.

According to Carnival CIO Ramon Millan, the new technology will allow guests to access social-media websites such as Facebook, which had previously been blocked due to using too much bandwidth.

"The world is changing," he says. "And what these guys are offering – Google, Facebook or Twitter – is something that demands more bandwidth and connectivity."

However, when it comes to the cost of internet usage at sea, Cirel believes it will be a little while to come before we see the matching of terrestrial prices.

"The cost of internet and cell-phone usage will come down eventually, but not on a par with terrestrial-based use," he says. "A big challenge is communicating that effectively to our guests. If the passenger has high-speed internet at home, then they have about ten to 20 times the bandwidth of what we have across the whole ship, and we pay 200 times what passengers pay for that bandwidth.

"Satellite technologies are expensive and complicated, and we have to consider that while managing our guests’ expectations."

Richard Fain’s vision for attracting younger cruisers is likely to have brought about a degree of head shaking among some, who might well surmise that being stranded at sea with one’s parents would be the ultimate nightmare for a teenager.

But, lest we forget, the notion of multigenerational passengers also seemed particularly far-fetched not so long ago.

Through the rigorous deployment of psychographics, the cruise industry has proven its propensity for reinvention – a trait, coincidentally, shared with a certain section of society, aged 13-19.