Thousands of people are expected at the Hamburg Cruise Days Festival. Business is booming. Those booking cruises are no longer just old age pensioners - but also sports fanatics, as well as heavy metal fans.
The popularity of cruise ship holidays is on the rise, with 1.77 million Germans booking a cruise last year alone. That's an increase of 7.5 percent on the previous year, according to survey data by the German Travel Association. "In the last ten years the number of passengers in Germany has trebled," says Michael Ungerer, CEO Germany of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). By 2017, Germany plans to take a further 25 new cruise vessels with 71,000 beds into service.
Hamburg shows that Germany excels at cruises. A third terminal for cruise liners was opened in June this year. Now over 8,000 people can embark and disembark when a cruiser arrives in port. The Cruise Days festival has also established itself as a tradition in Hamburg. Cruise ship operators and event organizers use it to present their vessels and their latest maritime ideas.
Germany edges up to second place
In numbers, cruise passengers from Germany have pushed the Brits off second place. Only Americans book more cruise holidays than Germans. And the industry is counting on further market expansion. In terms of cruise passenger numbers, Germany hopes to crack the two million mark this year.
For Germans, the most popular cruise destinations are the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. "Most Germans want to get the most out of as little money as possible", says package cruise holiday expert Andreas Hey, who advises and helps holiday makers find the most suitable cruise. "That's why many begin their cruise in Kiel and sail to the Baltic, meaning they can get to and from the boats using their own car for the comparatively short drive". A survey by the German cruise ship association shows four out of five German cruise passengers choose to sail European seas.
Football and rock music rather than fancy dinners and caviar
Over the years the cruise line business has changed - particularly in terms of its customer base. "Passengers are getting younger on average, helping to break the established image that cruises are for old folks", holiday expert Hey tells us. Ship owners aim to attract young holiday makers by vamping up their entertainment. Despite their efforts, however, the average age of cruise passengers is still around 50.
Some operators are thinking outside the box - for instance, one is offering a "Full Metal Cruise" - where a line-up of some 20 bands performs for the 2,000 heavy metal fans on board. "The Full Metal Cruise is a perfect combination of rock festival, city break and holidaying at sea," TUI Cruises spokesperson Godja Sönnichsen promises. Those with other tastes can book cruise packages with music provided by the Vienna Philharmonic or local popular musicians Udo Lindenberg and Helene Fischer.
Those more interested in sports can book a BVB Borussia Dortmund soccer cruise with AIDA Cruises. Football fans set sail for world famous soccer stadiums - like Wembley - or the training pitches of professional teams, including Ajax Amsterdam. On board, football tournaments are held and passengers get a chance to meet former Borussia Dormund players. Alternatively, the Disney Cruise Line with its children's entertainment program offers stressed parents a bit of peace and quiet.
History of German luxury cruises
The first German passenger cruise ship was the "Prinzessin Victoria Luise" which went into service in 1901. There were as many staff on board as there were passengers, while fancy dinners with champagne and caviar were a regular occurrence. Formal attire was the standard. It was traditional at the final night's dinner for men to dress in black suits, with black shirts and ties as a mark of mourning that the voyage was coming to an end.
Things are a bit different these days as cruise operators have redefined what luxury entails. The motto of Hapag Llyod's "Europa 2" cruise ship has been "21 knots and no ties" for a few years now. "There are an increasing number of people, with a lot of money, who still don’t want to wear a suit and tie to dinner", cruise holiday expert Andreas Hey explains.
What about the expense? A cruise, if you're not looking for high-end luxury, shouldn't be too costly. "Basically in relation a cruise doesn't cost any more than a package holiday," Andreas Hey says. A cruise package tour booked with a German operator costs on average 173 euro (193 USD) per day, according to a study by the German Travel Association and CLIA Germany. "This price can be pushed down to 100 euro per day," Hey says, "so long as you are prepared to lower your comfort demands - for instance four berth inside cabins can be very inexpensive."
While the cruise ship industry might be enjoying growing popularity, it is regularly the target of criticism by environmentalists. For many years Germany's "Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union" (NABU) has been issuing warnings over pollution in ports and at sea.
The main problem is the carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning heavy oils. During their lay days in port, cruise ships can at times use as much energy as a small town. Ship builders are taking steps to address this problem in the next generation of cruise liners. Ship operators Aida and Coasta Crociere, for instance, want to power four of their new ships with liquid gas, which significantly reduces pollutants as no sulfur dioxide or soot is emitted.
While the cruise industry tries to adapt to these demands, there's one thing that hasn't changed in over 100 years, according to TUI Cruises spokesperson Godja Sönnichsen: the reason for choosing a sea voyage holiday. "Guests travel with their hotel," says Sönnichsen. "It is convenient and travelers are not tied down to a single holiday destination. You see something new every day and you can holiday with lots of different age groups - and then, of course, there is the fascinating draw of the sea."