By BETH J. HARPAZ
AP Travel Editor
Cruise trends as the 2013 season gets under way are shaping up to include a bigger focus on multi- generational groups, more specialty food offerings and continued efforts to wow passengers with new onboard firsts such as an aquapark, a glass walkway and a vertical garden.
Here are some details on what’s new in cruising.
THE NEW IT SHIPS
CruiseCritic.com editor Carolyn Spencer Brown says two of the hottest new ships debuting in 2013 are the Norwegian Breakaway, which will be the largest ship ever to homeport year-round in New York City beginning in May, and Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess, launching in June.
The Breakaway’s exterior features the unmistakable pop art of Peter Max, with Lady Liberty’s face and a city skyline anchoring the brightly colored design. Onboard, the ship offers an open-air quarter-mile boardwalk and an aquapark, including five multi-story water slides and a double freefall slide where the floor drops away. The ship will carry 4,028 guests and will sail weeklong cruises to Bermuda through Oct. 6.
The Royal Princess will carry 3,600 passengers and will feature a jogging track and the SeaWalk, a glass-bottom walkway extending 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship and 128 feet above the ocean. One part of the ship, The Sanctuary, is described as a “signature haven just for adults,” with private cabanas and steward service for light fare and drinks. Its maiden voyage will begin in Southampton, England, and head for Spain and Portugal, followed by trips to the Mediterranean and Caribbean. It calls on Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in October.
NEW ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES
Today’s cruise ships offer everything from skating rinks to planetariums to climbing walls, but the new attractions and activities just keep coming. Among the latest:
Crystal Symphony debuted in September with a vertical garden, which is a plant-covered freestanding living wall, 7.9 feet high.
The MSC Preziosa ship, debuting in March, will feature what’s being called the longest single-rider water slide at sea, 394 feet long.
On the Celebrity Reflection, an all-glass shower extends over the edge of the ship with a wraparound verandah and special glass so you can see out, but not in.
On Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth ships, passengers can take “back of the house” tours and visit everything from the engine room to backstage theater areas to the kitchen galley and the recycling facility.
Carnival Cruise Lines offers TV-quality game shows at sea with passengers as participants, along with 3-D movies in theaters equipped with motion seats and special effects such as wind and water.
Holland America Line has a programming partnership with “Dancing with the Stars” while Celebrity is partnering with Zumba for fitness workouts and pool parties.
Theme cruises woo fans of everything from country music to sports by hosting performances and celebrities onboard. NFL coach Don Shula and Miami Dolphins Hall of Famer Larry Csonka will be on a Crystal Serenity cruise this summer.
Seems like every cruise line is upscaling and expanding food options.
Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy in October began offering a $50 per person Champagne brunch at Remy, Disney Cruise Line’s adult-only restaurant named for the character from the animated film “Ratatouille,” with dishes created by French chef Arnaud Lallement.
The Norwegian Breakaway will have everything from a Brazilian-style steakhouse to separate bars for Asian noodles, gelato and raw shellfish.
On MSC’s forthcoming Preziosa ship, there will be an Eataly Restaurant modeled on the Manhattan Italian gourmet food mall.
Celebrity chef Jacques Pepin has served as Oceania Cruises’ executive culinary director for nine years, and this September, he’ll be a guest on Oceania’s Riviera ship.
But there may be a downside to some of the new food offerings.
Arnold Boris, editor-in-chief of Cruise Gourmet, said he has found that as specialty food options with extra fees increase, basics that used to be offered for free decrease.
“It’s all unbundled now,” he said.
Spencer Brown agreed: “The quality of the main dining room has gone downhill while they’ve raised the prices to get into these alternative restaurants.”
The unbundling trend is seen in other areas as well, with mass-market lines keeping fares low but charging extra for various onboard activities.
Ironically, the opposite is happening on luxury lines, where “they don’t want to lower [ticket] prices because it doesn’t look good, but they’re throwing everything in for free. Luxury is the best value it’s ever been,” Spencer Brown said.
SHIP REVITALIZATION AND MULTIGENERATIONAL TRIPS
Fewer cruise lines are building brand-new ships, but many are doing intensive renovations on existing ships.
Some of these renovations involve adding new spaces to accommodate a fast-growing segment: multi-generational groups. Cruises are being marketed as the perfect vacation for grandparents, parents and kids to take together because they can pursue different activities onboard, then have a meal or shore excursion together.
To accommodate the diverse needs of old and young, ships are expanding areas for youth activities while at the same time creating more adult-only pools and quiet areas where passengers can nap, sun, or read a book.
The cruise industry has long recommended that consumers use travel agents to navigate their options.
But an increasing number of travelers are abandoning the middleman and booking directly with the cruise line of their choice, either by calling or through the cruise company’s website.
Traditional travel agencies “not long ago accounted for three-quarters of all cruise sales,” according to a November 2012 report by PhoCusWright, but “slipped to 62 percent in 2011.”
Overall, 13 percent of cruise bookings were made online in 2011, up from 11 percent the year before. Of those online bookings in 2010, 43 percent were made through cruise line websites, a share that is expected to rise to 59 percent in 2014, PhoCusWright said.