10 New Cruise Ship Features
An underwater lounge, top-deck racetrack and spellbinding
Magic Carpet round out offerings aboard the newest venues at sea
By Rebecca Matheson Ortiz
For quality meals, Royal Caribbean favorites Chops Grille, Izumi and Jamie's Italian mingle with fresh new options like Hooked Seafood, a New England-style diner, and El Loco Fresh, a made-to-order Mexican establishment. Entertainment options include a staging of the Tony Award-winning "Hairspray" and a tribute to the history of flight. Kids will love the fountains and pools of Splashaway Bay as well as a 10-story waterslide, Ultimate Abyss, while adults might find themselves in the Bionic Bar, where cocktails are mixed by a robotic bartender.
And then there are the accommodations, like the Ultimate Family Suite making its debut aboard the Symphony of the Seas this April. A two-level, 1,346-square-foot space, it's a destination unto itself, with a private 3-D movie room, wraparound balcony, whirlpool and, for the kids, a colorful climbing center, Lego wall and tube slide between their second-floor room and the ground floor.
The ship will be sailing weeklong Mediterranean itineraries through early October, with prices from $1,019; for Ultimate Family Suite pricing, contact the cruise specialists at Vacations To Go. They also can provide more information on the following features, from a barbecue joint that brews its own beer to the cruising world's first underwater lounge.
Magic Carpet ride
In late 2018, Celebrity Cruises will debut the 2,926-passenger Celebrity Edge, the first vessel in its eponymous class. It's built to wow, with a design meant to focus attention outward, toward sweeping views of the sea. Guests are encouraged to relax and watch the waves while dining, lounging by the pool or sipping a cocktail made with herbs harvested from the onboard "plant library."
The Edge's Magic Carpet, an industry first, isn't a dusty rug or even an on-screen experience -- it's a cantilevered platform that floats as high as 13 stories above the water and moves all the way from Deck 2 to the tiptop of the ship, changing its atmosphere at each level, from an alfresco dining venue to part of the futuristic-looking pool deck to a place to mingle and grab a drink as you open your eyes to a whole new world at sea.
Weeklong Caribbean cruises begin in December and are offered through April 2020, with prices from $989.
Seabourn loyalists have come to expect six-star luxury, and the bar was raised with the 2016 introduction of the 604-passenger Seabourn Encore. A sister ship, the Seabourn Ovation, hits the waves this May. Each features all-suite accommodations, personal stewards attending to customer service needs, gourmet gastronomy shaped by Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller and a bar staff trained by renowned mixologist Brian Van Flandern.
Aboard both ships, The Retreat invites up to 28 people to stretch out under a canopy or take a dip in the central whirlpool. To claim your own little sanctuary, snag one of 15 private cabanas; each one is set up like a living room with a couch, table and high-definition TV, with the added bonus of a fridge stocked with frosty beverages and the option of curtained seclusion.
Indulge in the delights of small-ship cruising on the inaugural sailing of the Seabourn Ovation, an 11-night trip between Venice and Barcelona, departing May 5.
Under the sea
Ponant, known for its high-end yachts and French approach to cruise vacations, continues both traditions with its newest set of sister ships. Le Laperouse will join the fleet in June, and Le Champlain debuts in September; both hold an intimate 184 guests, tout fine continental cuisine at their two restaurants and offer 188-seat theaters for shows, lectures and more. They are the first of four luxury expedition ships that the line calls the Ponant Explorers and have hydraulic platforms for easier boarding of Zodiac boats.
Passengers will find Blue Eye, a new lounge concept to be introduced with Le Laperouse's launch, beneath the waves. This industry first is an underwater, multisensory venue with portholes peering into ocean depths, all the better for encountering passing dolphins and whales. Couches that vibrate in tune with subaquatic sounds join projections from three submerged cameras located around the vessel to immerse guests in an experience that's one-of-a-kind -- at least until Le Champlain sets sail with an oceanic lounge of its own in the fall.
Le Laperouse's maiden voyage has sold out, but balcony accommodations still are available on three August cruises of Northern Europe. Prices start at $3,990 for an itinerary departing Copenhagen on Aug. 29 to explore ports in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and more.
Need for speed
Norwegian Cruise Line will introduce the 4,004-passenger Norwegian Bliss this spring, and it's clear this vessel is built for fun. While cruising Alaska's Inside Passage, the Eastern Caribbean or the Pacific coast of Mexico, guests can join a card game at the casino, try a multistory slide at the waterpark, put together a team at the laser-tag center and indulge in eateries such as Coco's, serving up temptations like crepes and specialty coffees.
Among the exhilarating activities is the longest racetrack at sea, twisting between two decks and stretching nearly 1,000 feet long, where daredevils in electric go-karts reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Race the kiddos or make it a date, but don't worry about the noise being disruptive for your fellow passengers -- the karts are silent, though drivers will hear revving engines and other sound effects through their headrest speakers.
Take a spin while on one of 17 Alaskan jaunts sailing round trip from Seattle between June 2 and Sept. 22. Prices start at $969 for a week at sea.
The latest ship from MSC Cruises, the 5,429-passenger MSC Seaview, is set to make a splash with its "beach condo" concept, a blending of indoor and outdoor spaces (think floor-to-ceiling windows for dining venues and waterfront promenades) to better connect guests with the sea. Onboard features include the Balinese spa, a fitness center with a host of training programs, two bowling lanes and a waterpark touting multiple slides, including two that stretch their clear tubes over the side of the ship for a thrilling panorama.
The line's three most recent vessels ( MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside, new for 2017, and the MSC Seaview, making its debut this summer) are equipped with the innovative MSC for Me program. This technology was created to keep guests connected to their ship, crew and travel group. Using hundreds of screens located on board, a mobile app and interactive bracelets, you can get navigation guidance, monitor your children, access maps, plan your schedule, book dining reservations and shore excursions, receive recommendations and more.
See the future of cruising on the MSC Seaview's Mediterranean inaugural from Genoa, Italy, on June 10. Prices begin at $948 for a seven-night sailing.
Barbecue and brews
A 2018 newbie from Carnival Cruise Line, the Carnival Horizon, sets sail in April. There is something for all 3,960 guests, from SkyRide, a two-lane bike course suspended high above the sports deck, to the exclusive Havana Bar and Pool -- with its Cuban mojitos and resort-style vibe -- to a multiplex featuring both Imax and 3-D theaters.
And celebrity chef Guy Fieri is at it again, offering a taste of something special. Take a trip to "Flavortown" at his newest addition to the Carnival fleet, Guy's Pig and Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse/Brewhouse, where you can chow down on brisket, baby back ribs and sausage. Quench your thirst with a pint or refillable growler of Parched Pig beer, including a farmhouse ale and toasted amber, brewed right there on the ship and available nowhere else on Earth. Tour the brewery before lunch for a behind-the-scenes look at the crafting process.
Join the Carnival Horizon for a four-night jaunt between New York and sunny Bermuda, with prices from $629 for a Sept. 13 departure.
Not a new ship, but new to Azamara Club Cruises, the ship formerly known as the Adonia will be transformed into the Azamara Pursuit after a full refurbishment project. The reveal will take place in August when the vessel opens the door to new itineraries, excursions and ports like Antofagasta, Chile's second-largest city. Cheerful staterooms will greet guests with fresh flower bouquets, and seven restaurants will satisfy even the pickiest palates.
Along with the new look comes new technology. The onboard Inspiration Center displays a 100-inch, interactive touch screen that allows cruisers to explore the world with the press of a finger. Tap a destination on the map to see pictures, videos, information and shore excursions for that locale.
Options for 2018 sailings aboard the Azamara Pursuit include seven- to 14-night vacations in the Mediterranean. A weeklong Sept. 22 itinerary traveling round trip from Piraeus, a port for Athens, visits the Greek isles of Mykonos, Crete and Santorini; prices start at $2,249.
Princess Cruises' Pacific Princess underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in mid-2017. It now proudly displays fresh colors and furnishings but hasn't lost a bit of its small-ship style -- more than 175,000 square feet of new carpet were laid and staterooms, the pool deck, welcome atrium and four dining venues, including Sterling Steakhouse and The Club Restaurant, were refreshed.
The ship also received 700 Princess Luxury Beds. In collaboration with Dr. Michael Breus, a board-certified sleep expert, and Candice Olson, decor specialist and host of HGTV shows like "Divine Design," Princess created mattresses scientifically engineered for sound slumbers, with 2-inch pillow tops and a medium firmness for support. Beds are draped in Jacquard linens and hypoallergenic duvets made for rejuvenating nights.
Put these beds to the test on an eight-night cruise of the British Isles this summer, traveling round trip from Dover, England. Prices start at $1,299 for an Aug. 10 departure.
Expected in the spring of 2019, AmaWaterways' AmaMagna will be a 196-passenger riverboat twice the width of traditional European ships, making it the line's largest offering to date as well as the biggest vessel on the Danube River. The majority of staterooms will boast more than 300 square feet of space, and common areas will be roomier. Shore excursions and meals at multiple venues are included in the fare.
The AmaMagna also will feature a water sports platform, a first for the world of river cruising. Guests can set out on guided adventures via Zodiacs,
paddle away on their own in canoes or try other recreational equipment available in select ports.
Sample the ship and scenic cities in Germany, Austria and more on the eight-day " Romantic Danube." Departures are available in fall 2019, with prices from $3,199.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Spring 2018. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.