Just as in years past, 2013 brought some great innovations and unique enhancements to the cruise experience. Here’s a look at some of the highlights.
The 4,000-passenger, New York–based Norwegian Breakaway made waves with its Big Apple–inspired décor and a first-of-its-kind expansive waterfront promenade. The 3,560-passenger Royal Princess, Princess Cruises’ largest ship ever, made an impact with its expansive atrium with a touch of glitz, not to mention the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, serving as godmother.
The river cruise craze continued with new ships launching, including on U.S. river ways, while the Big Kahuna of river cruising, Viking Cruises, announced it would also launch the first new ocean cruise company in nearly 10 years (with the first ship debuting in 2015).
More short-duration cruises (of less than a week) appeared on cruise-line calendars while at the same time Oceania Cruises announced plans for the longest world cruises ever — two 180-day sailings in 2015.
The year also saw major ship overhauls and upgrades — so extensive on Carnival Destiny that the ship was renamed Carnival Sunshine.
Aimed at adrenalin-rush seekers, onboard recreational additions included extreme waterslides and ropes courses. The Plank on Norwegian Breakaway, for example, let’s you actually walk off the side of the ship (wearing a harness). Carnival Cruise Lines focused on speed on Carnival Sunshine with its Speedway Splash waterslide, while Disney Magic saw the addition of a superfast thrill slide called AquaDunk.
Entertainment became an increasing battleground as well. Norwegian Breakaway rocked the sea with the Tony-nominated show “Rock of Ages” and sultry “Burn the Floor.” Holland America Line had hits with its “Dancing with the Stars: at Sea,” based on the popular ABC TV show, and its B.B. King’s Blues Clubs. Carnival and Princess both introduced streamlined show productions that feature high-tech sets, while Crystal Cruises showed that magic sells with its “Magic Castle at Sea.”
Celebrity chefs drew fans to sea, including Tom Colicchio and winning contestants aboard a “Top Chef” cruise on Celebrity Constellation. “Chopped” judge and “Iron Chef” Geoffrey Zakarian and TLC TV’s “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro got rave reviews on Norwegian Breakaway, while Food Network star Guy Fieri saw his shipboard empire grow aboard select Carnival ships.
Cruise passengers showed a desire to pay for more in advance, hence the introduction of new all-you-can-drink alcohol plans including from Holland America, Azamara Club Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Carnival and MSC Cruises (on the Miami-based MSC Divina). At the same time, lines including Holland America and Princess experimented with sale pricing with free drinks as an option (as opposed to just shipboard credit).
With multigenerational travel a growing trend, the cruise lines beefed up their family programs, including Carnival with a new Dr. Seuss tie-in. Royal Caribbean launched a Barbie Premium Experienceprogram for doll fans, while Disney upgraded kids’ spaces on Disney Magic, including adding the new Marvel’s Avengers Academy superhero training program. Disney also became the first cruise line to have lifeguards at its main pools.
Cruising took a healthier turn in 2013, too. Smoking bans wereincreased by several lines with Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Cunard Line (beginning next year) all prohibiting smoking on cabin balconies. At the same time there was a new focus on fitness classes. Norwegian and Celebrity both added Zumba (also offered on Princess), while Norwegian Breakaway introduced first-at-sea interval training against an avatar and MSC Divina launched the first at-sea aqua cycle classes held in a pool.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings for us lucky cruisers.