Racing a bumper car around the track; whooshing high above the sea in a water coaster; sipping molecular cocktails; taking in a trendy Broadway show – these are all things you can do aboard a cruise ship as it glides along port to port. And cruise lines keep upping the wow factor to bring passengers ever more write-home-worthy experiences.
“The exciting thing about cruise travel is that it’s always evolving,” said Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners-American Express Travel, the nation’s largest home-based travel agent franchise in the cruise industry, and recent CLIA Hall of Fame inductee. “Just when we think the cruise lines have come up with the most innovative shows, attractions and activities, they wow us, again.”
If you think cruising is all about lounging by the pool, cheesy shows and overstuffed buffets, read on.
All in the family
What’s out: Cruising is for Baby Boomers.
What’s in: Cruising is for multigenerational families.
“There used to be a perception that cruising was for an older generation,” said American Express Travel Caribbean Cruise Insider Curtis Kowalski. “But ships such as Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess and the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakaway have changed this perception.
“We’re seeing more and more families considering cruise ships – and it’s especially popular for those planning a multigenerational vacation. These ships offer room for the whole family and there’s something that will appeal to everyone.”
What’s out: Ocean-view cabins.
What’s in: Key access suite area; loft suites.
Mmmm – pure decadence. You’ll need a key for entrée to the private space where the Crown loft suites reside aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. These two-level urban lofts put the living and dining areas on the main level and the master suite and bath on the upper. A shower for two, private balcony, flat screen TVs, glorious views, special privileges and upgraded amenities are all part of the package.
A butler standing by night and day – that’s just one of the perks of the Haven, the pampering enclave aboard Norwegian’s Epic, Breakaway and Getaway cruise ships. Elegant suites and villas, a concierge and a Courtyard with its own pool and hot tub – menu, too, for white linen dining in the privacy of your suite.
What’s out: Typical inside cabins.
What’s in: Inside cabins with virtual views.
“Inside cabins used to be a good deal, offering passengers access to all the ship’s services, without the cost of a room with a view – but they tended to be small spaces with no views or atmosphere,” said Kowalski. “Now, cruise ships are offering inside rooms with virtual, real-time views, perfect for anyone on a budget who wants to feel like they’re at sea.”
What’s out: Swimming pools.
What’s in: Sportsplex and Aqua Parks.
Why twiddle your thumbs poolside when you can ride a water coaster (Disney Cruise Line); zip down a waterslide (Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Lines); marvel at a dancing fountain (Celebrity Cruises); enjoy a putting green (Crystal Cruises); or savor the quieter refuge of an adults-only pool with LED screen (Norwegian Cruise Line)?
Let me entertain you
What’s out: Las Vegas-style revue shows.
What’s in: Broadway shows.
The Great White Way has hit the high seas: Royal Caribbean has “Chicago: The Musical” (Allure of the Seas), “Hairspray” (Oasis of the Seas) and “Saturday Night Fever” (Liberty of the Seas); Norwegian offers “Rock of Ages” and “Burn the Floor” (Breakaway) and, coming in January 2014, “Legally Blonde: The Musical” (Getaway).
It's all about the mixology
What’s out: Bahama Mamas; Tequila Sunrises.
What’s in: Martini bars; molecular cocktails; craft beers on tap; wine bars.
You’ll find all these on select Celebrity ships, along with a new craft cocktail experience that updates old-school faves and serves them alongside new-school libations. Oenophiles, take heed: Celebrity received 10 Award of Excellence nods (out of 11) in the first-ever cruise line category in Wine Spectator magazine’s 2013 Restaurant Wine List Awards; this is the place to swirl, sniff, sip and savor.
The spice of life
What’s out: General dining, typical early or late dining times and the same table each night.
What’s in: Specialty and gourmet dining.
Said Kowalski: “Cruises are moving beyond the buffet and basic American fare to offer specialized and unique dining experiences, with international options from Brazilian barbeque to Chinese noodles, and from celebrity restaurants like Geoffrey Zakarian’s Ocean Blue on the Norwegian Breakaway to private Chef’s Tables likes those aboard Princess Cruises.
Life aboard and ashore
What’s out: Armchair adventure.
What’s in: Full-on fun and immersive experiences.
As if scaling a rock wall isn’t enough. Skydiving, bumper cars and a skyride called the North Star that offers up a 360-degree view: Expect Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum of the Seas to be a game-changer in terms of the adventure and hands-on experiences offered aboard ships.
What’s out: Homeports as a means to an end.
What’s in: Pre- and post-cruise stays in homeports.
According the editors of Cruise Critic, homeports like Galveston, San Francisco and Los Angeles continue to expand offerings in and around the ports, encouraging guests to come a day early or stay a day later to enjoy the cities as part of the vacation. Cruise passengers will find hotel specials and packages and other discounted offerings geared to them.
The all-important connectivity
What’s out: The feeling of being disconnected.
What’s in: Improved tech integrations.
McDaniel noted that cruise lines are focusing on improving communication methods for guests by introducing better Internet accessibility, as well as offering communication devices and apps for use onboard. This is especially true of Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Silversea Cruises will offer a new service aboard the Silver Cloud, allowing passengers to stream movies and live television to any Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, smartphone or tablet. For those without their own devices, a limited supply of complimentary iPad minis will be available. The service will roll out to four other Silversea ships by the end of 2013.
Celebrity Cruises is continuing to update its Millennium class ships with favorite features from their Solstice class ships – which includes the introduction of the iLounge, with Apple workstations, informative classes on the latest products/technologies and Wi-Fi throughout the ships. And in May of 2015 Viking Cruises will introduce the 928-passenger ocean-going vessel, Viking Star – with complimentary ship-wide Wi-Fi.
IF YOU GO
Seeking thrills at an onboard water park? Pining to see a Broadway show? Find out what’s in and what’s waiting for you aboard ship by clicking into Cruise Lines International Association: CLIA: www.Cruising.org.