Optimism High at Seatrade Cruise Conference

Seatrade Cruise Global in Miami Beach
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By Gerry Barker
Photos/Video by Gerry Barker

MIAMI BEACH — It’s billed as “the world’s largest event for cruise line executives and suppliers of cruise services,” and the 39th edition of Seatrade Cruise Global just concluded here at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

What started as a magazine for the shipping industry in 1970 has steadily expanded to encompass conferences worldwide as cruising and cruise travel continues its upward growth.

The Seatrade conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center

After a record-setting year in 2019, the pandemic hit and cruising, like many other forms of travel and tourism, was “dead in the water,” no pun intended. But ever-resilient, cruise lines met the challenge and have not only recovered, but also are setting new records.

Speaking at this year’s industry keynote, Kelly Craighead, President & CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) told a standing room-only audience that a record number of people took a cruise vacation in 2023 — almost 32 million, which beat the previous record set in 2019 by two million, also noting the outlook for 2024 is projected to be 34 million, and in 2025, 36 million.

To keep up with growing demand, she said there are 56 new ships planned to deploy by 2028. Currently, there are 300 ships in service and the average age of a guest is 46.

Post-pandemic, the influx of new cruisers was attributed to pent-up demand for travel after several years of cabin fever. But not so now, says Josh Weinstein, President, CEO & Chief Climate Officer for the Carnival Corp. “This is natural demand,” he pointed out, saying the pent-up urge to travel following the pandemic is over. He added that Carnival is experiencing “unprecedented demand,” with 2024 shaping up to be a record year and 2025 bookings already ahead of 2024.

That same optimism is reflected in this year’s conference numbers: Over 11,000 attendees from 120 countries, 600 exhibitors and 2,700 cruise line executives.

For media and press, it’s four days of conference sessions, interviews, press briefings, sit-downs with exhibitors, receptions, parties and demonstrations that start early and usually end late at one of the art deco hotels or restaurants on South Beach. It’s wise to pack comfortable shoes because you’ll log several miles going to and inside the cavernous Miami Beach Convention Center corridors.

F&B@Sea at Miami’s Wynwood Arts District

It should be pointed out Seatrade Cruise Global is actually split into two shows. Starting last year, F&B@Sea was launched to spotlight the food and beverage component of cruising. This year, it was expanded and held concurrently at the Mana Wynwood Convention Center in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, a 20-minute bus ride away.

Here’s a sampling of conference events:

— Holland America kick-started things by hosting a pre-conference presentation and luncheon aboard their ship, Nieuw Statendam, docked at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. (We wrote about this ship in this story that appeared on Splash here.) The highlight was experiencing new dishes created by Holland’s Fresh Fish Ambassador, Chef Masaharu Morimoto. One of those was “Crispy Whole Fish,” prepared with sweet tamarind chili sauce and pickled vegetables. The fish was red snapper, and having it staring at me from the plate was a little disconcerting. Their mixologist also debuted some new drinks, including one served in a conch shell. Major points for presentation.

— Hong Kong Tourism was a major conference sponsor, and hosted a luncheon to spotlight “The Rebound of Asia’s Destinations,” featuring Hong Kong, Korea, The Philippines and Xiamen. During the luncheon, guests were treated to a dragon dance, which the Chinese believe “drives away evil spirits and ushers in good luck and blessings.” That certainly proved true at last year’s event, when my spouse, Pam, won two tickets to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, which we hope to use this year.

— Triton Submarines was in the exhibit hall, showcasing its latest technology. The company, based in Sebastian, FL., offers a wide range of submersibles, and one of their clients is Scenic cruises. Scenic guests can board Triton’s state-of-the-art 660/9 AVA, which accommodates eight passengers and can reach depths of 660 feet. Its interior can be customized for dining, cocktail and spa experiences — even weddings. There’s nothing like saying “I do” surrounded by sea life. Read more about Triton here.

— There’s always several exhibitors that feature dancing and music, with performers dressed in traditional garb . This year was no different, as attendees were entertained by dancers from the Dominican Republic and Virgin Islands, a mariachi band from Mexico and taiko drummers at the Japan booth. There was even a group of provocatively-dressed dancers accompanied by two drummers that marched up and down the aisles. You couldn’t be sure who they represented, but they did get a lot of attention.

— At the attendee reception, we saw some cool performance art from a group of white-clad dancers, and a cool piece of technology, the “Mobilemax” — a hand-held, portable photo booth that snapped our picture, then emailed it to us. Standing out on the ballroom’s terrace, the sun setting on the Miami skyline provided the perfect background.

— A favorite health and wellness activity returned: Puppy yoga. As participants did yoga, puppies from the Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue roamed at will, seeking out cuddles and delivering kisses. A vendor making their first appearance was Pierced. Based out of Toronto, they told me they thought attendees might want a chance to get a piercing, or at least get their nails done. Much to my surprise, they looked busy. Myself, I have an adversity to pain.

— There was no shortage of food and alcohol at F&B@Sea. One of our favorites was finding “The Hideaway,” a speakeasy hidden behind curtains sponsored by Bacardi. It was like our own private nightclub, where the bartender offered a menu of specialty drinks. It was a tough decision, but I went with the “New Caribbean Spiced Pina Colada,” while Pam had the “Grey Goose Expresso Martini.” Our friend Joe joined us for a toast to taking more cruises.

— One of the other highlights at F&B@Sea was AUTEC’s a robot sushi machine, which promises to “increase efficiency and simplify operations while preserving the artistry and authenticity of sushi craftsmanship.” One machine “delivers precision cutting of up to 4 hosomaki sushi rolls simultaneously, offering 6, 8, or 10 pieces per roll,” while another can crank out 2,400 rice balls per hour. At the inaugural F&B@Sea Awards, AUTEC was honored for “Trailblazing Product.”

— The conference for us ended on a high note as Windstar (read about our cruise to Tahiti on Windstar’s Star Breeze here) announced the addition of two new ships to their fleet. To celebrate, they threw a party at Baoli on South Beach, where food, drink and good times ruled.

With the cruise industry on a roll, 2025 should be even bigger and better.


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