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Cruise Trends We Love

From chef-driven restaurants to fantastic teen programs,
these innovations enhance seagoing vacations

By Alexis Loyd

Vacations Magazine: Cruise Trends We Love
Disney Cruise Line
Every year, cruise lines push boundaries and break barriers to come up with the Next Big Thing, floating out new features that will both grab the attention of potential first-timers and keep already devoted fans coming back for more. Here are some of our favorite developments at sea.

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Creative dining. Star chefs are taking their culinary creations to cruise ships. Jacques Pepin, epicurean legend and longtime adviser to Oceania Cruises, launched a signature French bistro on the line's newest sister vessels, Marina and Riviera. Guests of Jacques, the chef's first namesake restaurant, dine on dishes such as duck foie gras and coq au vin. Both ships were designed with gourmands in mind; Cat Cora, from the Food Network's "Iron Chef America" and Bravo's "Around the World in 80 Plates," is godmother of the Riviera.

The Marina and Riviera also offer hands-on classes at the onboard Bon Appetit Culinary Center. Guided by master chefs, passengers whip up fare like frittatas and scones, crepes suzette and filet mignon at 12 cooking stations made for two. Topics include Pepin-inspired techniques, food and cocktail pairings and emerging cuisines, which focuses on Moroccan, Peruvian and Asian-fusion flavors. One- and two-hour classes are offered for a fee.

Other celebrity chef collaborations include Guy Fieri's Guy's Burger Joint on the Carnival Liberty, Nobu Matsuhisa's Silk Road restaurants on board the six-star Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity and Todd English's eponymous establishment on the Queen Mary 2. Holland America Line recently introduced a culinary council comprised of experts such as Charlie Trotter and Marcus Samuelsson, and it hosts a packed lineup of food and wine experts in its culinary arts centers, theater-style venues perfect for demos.

Lines also are adding a foodie favorite: the chef's table. A multicourse meal and a chance to meet the cuisine chief is now available on Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines. Debuting in 2013, the Royal Princess will introduce the Chef's Table Lumiere, where passengers dine at a glass table surrounded by a curtain of light.

Celebrity Cruises and Carnival have added appetizer-inspired spots to their dining scenes. With iPad menus in hand, guests at Celebrity's Qsine can order international bites presented in clever fashion on several ships, including recent releases Silhouette and Eclipse and the upcoming Reflection. Snack on sushi lollipops, baby back rib spring rolls and escargot on pillows of lobster mousse. This year, Carnival added the Taste Bar -- available first on the Miracle with fleetwide rollout complete by summer 2013. Morsels here are designed to introduce you to the flavors of the ship's restaurants; for example, sample the meatballs and ricotta bruschetta offered at the Italian-themed Cucina del Capitano.

With the debut of the Disney Fantasy this March, Disney Cruise Line upped the ante at its signature Animator's Palate restaurant. "Animation Magic" combines beloved characters like Cinderella and Mickey Mouse with diners' drawings brought to life. Passengers sketch on special place mats, and later in the meal their art is incorporated into animated sequences displayed on screens around the room. A lucky few even have their figures step into the scenes of Disney classics.

For noncarnivorous cruisers, Holland America introduced a vegetarian menu this spring, available at lunch and dinner in the main dining rooms. Of the 22 new dishes, 13 are vegan. Vietnamese spring rolls, butternut squash soup and cheese polenta with mushrooms and artichoke hearts are some of the options.

Big entertainment. While parties by the pool, trivia contests and bingo games are standard fare on many ships, audiences have come to crave more sophisticated entertainment. Two lines have upped the production value to deliver five-star lineups.

When it set sail for the first time in 2010, the Norwegian Epic was hailed as a game-changer in the industry for its list of big-name performances, among them the inventive Blue Man Group, side-splitting Second City improv troupe and the acrobats of Cirque Dreams. Other popular programs include Howl at the Moon, the dueling piano and sing-along act seen in venues across the country, and Legends in Concert, a Vegas-style extravaganza of talented artists impersonating stars from Elvis to Lady Gaga. Don't overlook the more low-key Slam Allen Band in the Fat Cats club, which mixes classics from greats like B.B. King and Otis Redding with original tunes.

Allure of the Seas from Royal Caribbean rivals the Epic's blockbuster itinerary with its awe-inspiring agenda. Passengers can gasp at OceanAria dancers and high divers in the AquaTheater, delight at the jumps and spins of pro skaters in the ice rink or attend the hit Broadway musical "Chicago" in the Amber Theater. A partnership with DreamWorks Animation film studio allows fans to see their favorite characters -- like Shrek, Alex the Lion from "Madagascar" and Puss in Boots -- at the 3-D movie theater, themed meals and parades.

You can have the highly personalized service and perks commonly associated with intimate deluxe ships without sacrificing the dazzling array of choices found on a big vessel, thanks to a couple of savvy lines that have developed the ship-within-a-ship concept. Round-the-clock butlers, priority embarkation and disembarkation, concierge service, a private pool area and exclusive dining and bar options are advantages afforded guests that book accommodations in The Haven section of Norwegian Cruise Line or on the Yacht Club decks of MSC Cruises.

Available on NCL's Gem, Pearl, Jade, Jewel, Epic and the upcoming Breakaway, The Haven is centered on the secluded Courtyard, with a pool and hot tub. It boasts several suite categories, including spacious two- and three-bedroom villas. Guests receive preferred reservations at shows and specialty restaurants and have a private dining venue for breakfast and lunch. Rates for some high-end accommodations in The Haven include bottled water and alcoholic drinks.

At MSC Cruises, the Yacht Club is located on the forward upper levels of the Fantasia, Splendida and brand-new Divina; the Top Sail Lounge allows for panoramic views over the bow. In designated Yacht Club spaces, which include a generous, quiet outdoor area with pool and Jacuzzis, guests receive complimentary wine, beer, liquor, specialty coffees and sodas. Pricing also includes meals in an exclusive gourmet restaurant. (Click here to read more about the Yacht Club experience in the Mediterranean.)

Adults-Only Havens. Seek solace in these kids-free escapes, from libation-infused lounges to private pool areas.

Cosmopolitan cruisers aboard Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy choose Skyline Lounge for the view: Seven LCD-screen "windows" display a different city every night, from Paris to London to St. Petersburg. Cocktails are crafted in celebration of each metropolis: Sip Hong Kong's Zen-Chanted with green tea liqueur, lime and guava juice or Chicago's Blues, a whiskey and peach schnapps concoction.

The Norwegian Epic's Svedka Ice Bar is the coolest place at sea, chilled to 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Slip on the provided gloves and faux fur-lined coat and start your night with a drink on the rocks.

Princess has added the Sanctuary to 14 members of its fleet. "Serenity stewards" serve smoothies, fresh lemonade, healthy bites like fruit skewers and lettuce-wrapped spring rolls, chilled face towels and Evian atomizers. Comfy loungers and personal MP3 players loaded with relaxing melodies help set the mood. Al fresco massages are an option on select ships.

Carnival cruisers 21 and over find refuge on the upper Serenity deck, whether napping under an oversize umbrella, unwinding in one of the Jacuzzis or sipping a bar beverage delivered by a waiter. The Serenity on the Sunshine, debuting in April 2013, will span three decks and feature a pool with waterfall and dining area.

In the Solarium, found aboard Celebrity ships, you can swim with no fear of screaming young splashers in the lap pool. Or, soak in the hot tub or stretch out on a cushioned chaise. A glass roof allows sunshine in, while air-conditioning keeps guests cool.

Teen Scenes. On your next vacation, you'll dodge bullets of sarcasm and evade eye rolls if you pick a cruise ship designed to distract your adolescent travel companion.

Sullen sighs cease when adventure-seeking minors coast down the zip line, glide across the ice-skating rink, scale a rock-climbing wall or hang ten on a surf simulator on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. These ships also provide separate space for 12- to 17-year-olds in the expanded Living Room, a place for sampling mocktails and mixing music at Scratch DJ Academy, and Fuel, a dance club where teens can bust a move until 2 a.m.

Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy offer the 14-to-17 set the Vibe lounge, with coffee bar, stage area for karaoke competitions, dance floor and media room. Drama kings and queens can take on roles in a zombie flick, while quieter types might prefer to camp out in an individual pod to watch a movie or play a video game. An added bonus: There's a private sundeck with pools and loungers, no parents allowed.

PlayStation 3, a video jukebox and flat-screen TVs await at Norwegian Cruise Line's revamped teen program, Entourage, to be rolled out to all ships by August. Kids play foosball by day and hit the dance floor at night. The Norwegian Breakaway will debut the largest youth zone in the fleet.

And several lines pamper young cruisers with teen spa treatments. Exclusively for 13- to 17-year-olds, Disney's Chill Spa indulges kids with the antioxidant-packed Hot Chocolate Wrap and the blemish-fighting Acne Attack Facial. Royal Caribbean's Vitality Spa offers a youth-oriented menu with options like the Beach Babe deep-conditioning hair treatment or Sole Mate pedicure. Meanwhile, Norwegian provides ice cream mani-pedis and mother-daughter and father-son massages.

Coming Attractions. These ships aren't out yet, but we're chomping at the bit to experience the latest at-sea amenities they will offer.

When NCL's Norwegian Breakaway makes its inaugural trans-Atlantic cruise in April 2013, passengers will have the chance to try out the largest ropes course at sea and walk The Plank, a platform extending over the ship's side, in the three-story sports complex. The quarter-mile Waterfront simulates an ocean boardwalk, with shops and eateries facing the sea.

Princess Cruises has found a new way to offer passengers stunning ocean vistas on the Royal Princess, which hits the high seas next June. The SeaWalk, an enclosed walkway of glass (including the floor), extends 28 feet beyond the ship's edge and 128 feet above the water. Styled in similar fashion, the cantilevered SeaView Bar will appeal to those who wish to combine wave-watching and sipping.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in July/August 2012. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.

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