As Chris Prelog and his team at Windstar Cruises contemplate not just what will be trendy in travel for 2024, they’re also thinking much more longer term. How will travel continue to evolve into the next decade? We had a chance to sit with Chris, president of Windstar Cruises, and talk about a wide-ranging series of thoughts, issues, and contemplations.
Where will travelers most want to go in 2024, and what’s spurring their interest?
We are seeing a lot of business in and around of Europe and the big news for Windstar is that we’ve expanded to year-round cruising in the Mediterranean. Star Legend is offering winter-in-the-Mediterranean voyages and we’re finding that our travelers, most of whom have already traveled widely in Europe, love the idea of visiting places like Nice, Marseilles, Barcelona and Rome at a very different time of year. In December, the Christmas Markets were a big draw (and that’s playing out in robust 2024 winter bookings for the coming December) and we’re seeing a lot of interest in exploring cities that are open for business, without crowds.
Iceland is another destination in demand, and we’re happy to see that the volcano eruption that occurred over the past two months is no longer affecting life on the island. The Blue Lagoon, which had been closed for a month (and is a favorite place to visit for our travelers in more temperate seasons) has reopened.
For our travelers, particularly North American guests who are looking for new discoveries in Europe, we’re also seeing huge interest in Canary Islands cruises. This archipelago of Spanish islands, off the west coast of North Africa, is primarily a draw for nature lovers and there’s also plenty of culture, mostly influenced by Spain, and even very exotic styles of wine making. It’s funny that for Europeans, the Canaries are part of an established travel map (I first started traveling there from my hometown in Austria as a young boy) and there’s so much to like, including volcanoes, beaches, camels, foliage, a rich culture that has a certain slower quality of life than you will find in Spain.
And I can’t fully answer your question about 2024 – and beyond — without talking about French Polynesia, which is a main destination for Windstar. We have a ship change coming up in February with Star Breeze replacing Wind Spirit. This doubles capacity in a region where we’ve been sailing for over 35 years and a ship truly is the best way to experience Tahiti. It’s also very competitive from a value proposition.
What has Windstar – and the cruise industry – learned from the global conflicts of the recent past and how will these learnings pertain to 2024?
If the various global events have taught us anything, it is to remain flexible, agile and be quick to adopt to any changes coming at us. You don’t know what happens tomorrow/next week and of course the latest cause to change course has been the conflict between Israel and Gaza, which has affected our Middle East itineraries.
Our team has become an expert at, with lighting speed, being able to adjust our program and cruises. They make it look easy and trust me, it’s not, but in this case we shifted Star Legend to year-round Mediterranean, and the season is progressing well.
In Iceland, recent eruptions have captured global tourism – all quiet, now – but there’s definitely more interest in Iceland because of the volcanoes. We use the time we’re there to show the beauty of Iceland to guests – its waterfalls, underground volcanos, lagoons, the natural diversity.
And we’re always looking to show our guests destinations they perhaps have not seen. The Canaries lend itself so well to our Wind Class of ships because, well, it’s always windy. You get the Sahara winds that blow from Africa over the Atlantic (the beach in Fuerteventura is red because of the sand). Similar in fact to the Greek Islands experience on a sailing vessel. It’s all about providing intriguing destination with the ideal ship designed for their regions.
How has the onboard experience, not just at Windstar but also on other luxury and small ship cruise lines, evolved in 2023 and where do you see it continuing to change moving forward?
For us, an experiment to create new ambiences onboard evolved from a partnership with two sister resorts: Colorado’s Broadmoor and Georgia’s Sea Island. Both properties have compelling ambiences – very different – and we’ve designed existing suites on Star Breeze and Star Legend to evoke their sensibilities and create a link between land and sea. They have been hugely in demand and we’re expanding the redesign to other ships in the fleet. In fact the effort was awarded the best suites design on small ships from Cruise Ship Interiors (CSI).
Beyond that, we’re always evolving our onboard product. When we decided to renovate the suites, we didn’t want to do like for like, we wanted a theme. It comes from a place of being 180 degrees from ordinary.
Another onboard spot we’re focusing is the marinas that are on all six ships in the fleet. One guest was standing on the marina, and commented “now I’m heading into my pool” and that pool was the ocean – the biggest pool there is.
In other ways, a huge evolution in the cruise industry is this: There is now a cruise for virtually every style of travel. There are cruises for traditional travelers who love to go to sea the way they have always been going, and there are voyages that appeal to new-to-cruise travelers who are drawn by smaller ships and expeditions. Many travelers today crave port-intensive schedules, and by that I mean not hustling from one place to another every day but to have more quality time to spend in ports themselves.
Theme cruises have taken on a whole new meaning too. From the early days, where they were primarily focused around food and wine (and these are still incredibly popular), we’ve seen great appeal of themes such as Formula One. Sports is a theme that we’re continuing to explore, ranging from participating in events to creating more active experiences that allow travelers to be more engaged in destinations. We are also creating opportunities that have special impact – and also create powerful memories. It’s not just about donating funds – though we believe that’s important, too – but also about exposing guests to unique initiatives that offer new perspectives for them Our partnership with Coral Gardens in Moorea is one such example.
For me, the biggest luxury is peace and comfort, obviously, but also time. There’s nothing more luxurious than peace and time.
Where will you vacation in 2024 and why did you choose the trip?
Next year I promised a school friend of mine to come and visit her at a special vacation place in Austria. As a native Austrian, it’s exciting to make discoveries there and my wife, Silke, and I are spending a week at Montestyria in Mariazell, Austria. This is a fantastic property built out of several individual chalets where you can rent a chalet, have pool and full lake access, you can hike, get amazing food and be in total peace and tranquility.
And I think that our desire for a “slower travel” vacation mirrors what we’re hearing from a lot of our guests, who are craving a bit of peace and quiet along with discovering new places and experiences. In fact, that’s fueling a renewed interest in longer itineraries – and inspired us to create our 55-day 2026 Grand Caribbean Adventure.