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Cruise Trends: Six Things That Will Give Cruising A Whole New Look

Cruise Trends: Six Things That Will Give Cruising A Whole New Look

By Paul Marshman  

For a long time, if you booked a cruise, you pretty much knew what you were going to get: a standard cabin, a pool or two, some excursions, and dinner in the dining room every night, followed by some stale entertainment in the theatre.

But things are changing in the cruise industry. In fact, cruising has probably changed more in the past 10 years than over its entire previous history. We’re seeing the birth of a new generation of ships, from smaller boutique vessels to giant megaships, all loaded with features we never thought we’d find on a cruise ship.

Some of these cruise trends just add to the fun, while others are signs of a whole new cruising experience — one that’s very different from what we’re used to. Here are a few from each category.

Far-Out Features

Ice bars, climbing walls, zip lines — cruise lines are always coming up with new ways to amuse us once we’re on board. Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum of the Seas is taking this trend high-tech, with things like the Bionic Bar, which has robotic arms that mix and serve cocktails. It also has RipCord by iFly, a skydiving simulator, and North Star, a glass pod that rises 303 feet to give you 360-degree views of the ship and the seascape.

Costa’s newest ship, the Diadema, features some innovative entertainment too, including an interactive circus show and a Laser Maze where you try to navigate your way through a web of laser beams without touching any, like in the Mission: Impossible movies. Sounds like a lot of fun — but I wouldn’t do it right after the buffet. (That goes for the North Star too.)

Dining With A Difference

The old routine of dining at the same table in the dining room every night may soon be a thing of the past.Norwegian Cruise Line – the cruise industry’s serial innovators — deep-sixed that concept years ago with its Freestyle Dining, and now other cruise lines are going even further. Royal Caribbean’s newly refurbished Oasis of the Seas has removed its Oasis dining room altogether, replacing it with a choice of 20 restaurants, many of them free. RC’s “Dynamic Dining” concept will also be on the new Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, and may go fleet-wide.

As well, P&O Cruises has announced that its new Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden ships will replace the traditional all-hours buffet with a marketplace of fresh food outlets called “The Pantry”. Depending on how P&O deals with the seating, this could be a welcome change. Cruise ship buffets have tended to be crowded, a bit uncomfortable — and after a few days, boring.

Better Internet

Now, some truly exciting news. Slow internet access has long been the bane of cruisers. But wonder of wonders: faster service has finally arrived.  Carnival Cruise Lines recently introduced WiFi@Sea, a system that delivers internet speeds up to 10 times faster than existing systems by switching from one transmitter to the next as the ship sails around the world. Royal Caribbean is on board, too, with a system called Boatloads of Bandwidth that uses a new generation of medium-Earth-orbit satellites to deliver speeds fast enough to download streaming video.

These systems will likely soon be standard on ships across the industry, though it’s not clear whether they will actually make using WiFi on ships cheaper. However, the way ships charge you for the service is changing. Some ships now bill by the amount of bandwidth you use instead of the minutes you spend waiting for your e-mail to load — that’s got be an improvement.

Big-Name Acts

On-board entertainment has been getting better in recent years. Now it’s taking another step forward by bringing big-name acts onto the ship for exclusive concerts. Norwegian led the way, with acts like Blue Man Group and the Rock of Ages musical (it’s now adding Jimmy Buffett’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere bars with nightly entertainment).

But Carnival is upping the ante in 2015 with its Carnival Live concert series, which will feature acts including Journey, Rascal Flatts and Smokey Robinson. The concerts will take place while the ship is in port, and will carry an extra charge of $35 to $250.

Viking Voyages

It’s not often we see a cruise line take on a whole new realm, but Viking Cruises, long a familiar name in European river cruising, is doing just that. In 2015 it brings its river cruising style down to the sea for the first time with Viking Star, its new, 928-passenger ocean-going ship.

The Star will have a distinctive  approach, with free WiFi throughout the ship, free wine and beer with meals, and extra-large balconies — all things that are standard fare for river cruisers. And it will have Nordic touches, like a spa with a snow room and sauna. Fittingly, it will cruise the Baltic, the Norwegian fjords and the Mediterranean, at least for the first year. A second Viking ship is expected in 2016.

Creative Cabins

Norwegian caused a sensation a few years back with its new, capsule-like “studio” single cabins to accommodate the growing number of people who cruise solo. They’ve been very popular, and other lines have followed suit including Royal Caribbean, Cunard and Costa.

Holland America is now getting into the act, including ocean view single cabins on its new, 2,650-passenger Koningsdam (though there are only 12 of them). More interestingly, however: when the Koningsdam, launches in 2016, it will sport new family ocean view cabins with two bathrooms — just the thing to cut down those morning lineups.

Those are some of the cruising trends that will make vacationing at sea a different experience in the years to come. But those are only the ones we know about: who knows what the cruise lines are working on back at the lab? Stay tuned: there’s more to come.

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Paul Marshman is a writer, photographer and traveler living in Toronto, Canada. Paul is semi-retired from a 30-year career as a reporter, editor and photographer on Canadian newspapers and magazines where his travels have taken him to 50 countries. Paul’s articles have been published everywhere from the Toronto Star to Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel and Paul now shares travel tips and stories on his popular blog – The Travelling Boomer.

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