For their next vacation, Jessica and Michael Hammer are heading to Sweden, where they will stay with friends and immerse themselves in the rhythms of daily life.
"We want to learn about the country," said Jessica Hammer, a 31-year-old Coconut Creek, Fla., resident who works for a software company.
One place the couple won't be found anytime soon: on a cruise ship, which they view as "a floating prison," "generic and commercial" and "plasticky."
Wielding craft beer and cocktails, speedy Wi-Fi and apps, celebrity chefs and Broadway shows, cruise lines are increasing their efforts to appeal to discriminating young adults like the Hammers, part of the millennial generation that accounts for an estimated $1.3 trillion in annual spending.
"Millennials love to travel; they love to show off their travel on social media," said Debbie Fiorino, senior vice president of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based travel agent networks CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. "We have a great opportunity to get them as first-time cruisers, and we believe they will become lifetime cruisers."
Earlier this year, the Cruise Lines International Association identified the growth of millennial passengers as a top trend for 2014. The trade group's most recent market profile study, released in 2011, showed that the average age of a cruise passenger was 50 and only 7 percent were between 25 and 29.
While the cruise industry has long been moving away from its history as a grandparents' getaway with assigned dinner seating at set times and limited entertainment, operators are finding even more ways to diversify options in entertainment, food, drinks, activities and itineraries.
"Cruising is adapting to this generation by adding features that will appeal to a lot of people but are must-haves if you want to get a millennial on a cruise ship," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of the website CruiseCritic.com.
There is no consensus yet on where the millennial generation starts and stops, but most definitions include at least the 18-34 age range; the number of millennials is believed to be between 80 million to 95 million. The group is known to be tech-savvy, global in world view, careful about spending and hungry for new experiences, according to experts.
"Affordable adventures are a huge theme for millennials," said Jeff Fromm, president of millennial-focused consultancy FutureCast and author of the book "Marketing to Millennials." He said the group has a greater desire than any other generation to visit every state and continent, values experiences over status brands and must be able to share those adventures quickly with their social networks.
That makes them ideal targets for cruise lines, which promote value, the ability to visit multiple destinations and diversity in options that can let young workers without much vacation time steal away for a quick weekend trip.
Lucy Garcia, a 30-year-old travel agent in Hialeah, Fla., who owns a Cruise Planners franchise with her sister, finds that she sells a lot of weekend cruises to fellow millennials and goes on many herself. The length is a good option for first-timers, she said, as well as those on a budget.
"It's a gateway to cruising," she said.
While lines with mass appeal such as Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line have historically offered three- and four-day jaunts, more brands have been introducing shorter voyages. Princess Cruises now has sailings three to five days long from Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale, and Celebrity Cruises has found success with weeklong European itineraries.
Companies have also started adding more overnight visits to allow guests to get a fuller experience in port. Celebrity, a "modern luxury" brand owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises, has planned itineraries around events such as the Cannes Film Festival.
"Those additions to our itineraries are very much in tune with how this segment is looking for kind of cool experiences that give them stuff to talk about," said Lisa Kauffman, Celebrity's vice president of marketing.
Just this year, Doral, Fla.-based Carnival Cruise Lines which said 40 percent of adult passengers are millennials started its Carnival Live concert series featuring acts such as Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson and Lady Antebellum.
Stephanie Evans-Greene, Carnival's vice president of brand communications and planning, said the introduction of a Dr. Seuss program has resonated with young parents.
"There's a real connection to the brand there and millennials wanting to have quality time with their family and kids specifically," she said.
The cruise line recently announced a partnership with Tampa's Cigar City Brewing to offer its craft beers popular with young adults on Florida-based ships.
Other cruise companies have been seeking foodie cred by joining forces with well-respected names in the food and beverage world as well.
For the upcoming Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, Miami-based Royal Caribbean International is partnering with British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and Miami's Michael Schwartz, who has already created "farm-to-ship" menus for restaurants on two other vessels in the company's fleet.
Norwegian Cruise Line announced recently that it was expanding a seasonal partnership with Bar Lab, the outfit behind the popular Broken Shaker bar in Miami Beach, to consult on the line's cocktail program. Located at an upscale hostel, the bar was a James Beard Foundation semifinalist last year.
"This new generation ... is so much more educated about food and beverage and cocktails and the people who are making them," said Frank Weber, Norwegian's vice president of product development, at a recent launch event at the bar. "People are looking for local experiences, authentic ingredients."
Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian's president and CEO, said the cruise line's model of letting passengers do what they want on their own schedule is meant to appeal to younger travelers. Millennials made up about 15 percent of the company's 1.6 million guests last year.
The Miami-based cruise line's newest ships look to draw more from that segment with Broadway shows, water parks, ropes courses and a variety of restaurants and bars.
"These ships have been designed for people to have a lot of fun," said Sheehan, who said he uses his children who were born in 1983 and 1988 as a gauge. "Even though I make believe it's for me to have a lot of fun, it's really for people of that age."
Royal Caribbean International also offers a multitude of on-board activities such as rock-climbing walls, a surfing machine and, on the newest ship, a skydiving simulator.
"Our ships aren't built for just sunbathing," said Kara Wallace, the cruise line's associate vice president of consumer insight and marketing strategy.
And Royal Caribbean wants passengers to be able to show off those experiences in ways they never could before at least not until they reached better Internet service. To that end, the company has been investing in greater bandwidth on megaship Oasis of the Seas with plans to eventually roll it out fleetwide.
"The millennials are an enormous market for us," Royal Caribbean Cruises chairman and CEO Richard Fain said during an earnings call last month. "When we will have more bandwidth on one ship than every other ship in the industry combined, you are talking about something we think will help us bring in more customers."
But for Danny Yanez, a Miami resident who has been cruising since childhood, part of the appeal is putting his phone away and enjoying the company of his wife, Ashley, and fellow passengers. The 29-year-old is such a devotee of cruise vacations that he and his wife took their bachelor and bachelorette parties on separate weekend Bahamas voyages and then honeymooned on a ship in the Mediterranean.
The couple, architectural consultants who live in Miami, go on at least one cruise a year, usually from South Florida.
"We don't have to fly anywhere; it's very simple for us to go on a ship," Yanez said. "We do have some great, great weekend deals. For people our age, we're not expecting to be on a five-star ship, especially with the price we pay."
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