What's New in Cruising
A look at the latest amenities, attractions and adventures at sea
By Brent Stoller
From new destinations and dining to new ships with new attractions, cruise companies always are pushing the envelope to create extraordinary experiences. For this story, we dive into the industry's latest innovations and initiatives, including the ones mentioned above and more.
Once you identify your can't-miss adventure, lock in your next sailing by contacting the cruise discounters at Vacations To Go.
Once the forbidden fruit of travel, Cuba's classic cars and irrepressible vibe are now within reach.
Fathom, Carnival Corp.'s newest line, offers seven-night sailings with stops in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos. Adhering to the U.S. government's "people-to-people" travel guideline, which stipulates visitors engage in educational exchanges with Cuban citizens, passengers interact with local families, artists and entrepreneurs during extended shore excursions included in the upfront rate. Itineraries depart every two weeks from Miami.
Additionally, Viking Cruises' weeklong Caribbean trips in December 2017 will spend one night in Havana; two of the four scheduled departures had sold out by press time. Oceania Cruises also hopes to send two liners to the country, starting as early as this year.
> Cocktails from a swim-up bar. Free-fall jumps at an aerial park. Excursions to Mayan ruins. Welcome to Harvest Caye, an exclusive island in southern Belize.
Kayaking enthusiasts paddle in the saltwater lagoon, while nature lovers snap photos of manatees and toucans, the country's national bird. Dining options abound, from cheeseburgers at Landshark Bar & Grill to native cuisine in the shopping district.
Conveniently serviced by Belize's only cruise ship pier, Harvest Caye opens this November and will be accessible on Western Caribbean jaunts from Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
> Princess Cruises is the first to schedule sailings through the Panama Canal's third set of locks, the centerpiece of the waterway's $5.25 billion expansion. Beginning October 2017, the Caribbean Princess will travel seasonal, partial transits of the canal from Fort Lauderdale, FL, making stops in the Bahamas and Colombia before entering these concrete elevators, which raise the ship the requisite 85 feet to access Gatun Lake. From there, the ship turns around and heads back to the Atlantic side, making its way to Costa Rica and the Cayman Islands to complete the 10-night voyage.
> Off the coast of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sir Bani Yas Island tempts visitors with its wildlife and scenery, which is why MSC Cruises has deemed it the perfect setting to host the company's private paradise.
The cruise line's 1.5-mile-long beach oasis, accessible from the main isle by a wooden boardwalk, opens this December amid golden sand and towering palm trees. Guests can ride horses through a nature reserve, get massages in seaside cabanas and catch glimpses of cheetahs, hyenas and giraffes on dhow boat tours.
The new lagoon retreat on Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian's private Bahamian island, will boast its own pool and beach, a complimentary oceanfront restaurant and party spaces for up to 75 guests.
This secluded spot, slated to open by summer 2017, will be available at no charge to Haven and suite passengers, as well as patrons of the on-site spa. For additional privacy -- or some air-conditioned respite -- rent one of the 22 villas equipped with living and dining areas, bathrooms and outdoor terraces.
> Want someone who ensures you look and feel your best while you enjoy the best? Meet your Royal Genie. Available to Royal Caribbean International guests in Star Class suites, these go-to gurus are equal parts assistant, personal shopper, concierge and fashionista. Your wish is their command, whether that's planning special celebrations, scoring hard-to-get reservations or organizing individualized shore excursions.
> Premium dining, as well as priority boarding and disembarkation, are just some of the benefits of Princess' Club Class mini-suite category. Your table awaits in a reserved section of the main dining room, where you'll feast on daily chef specials, some of which are prepared tableside. Guests also receive daily hors d'oeuvres and half-bottles of red and white wine on the first day of the voyage.
Offered on certain ships as early as this December and rolled out to the rest of the fleet by fall 2017, each upgraded stateroom includes a balcony, two 42-inch flat-screen TVs and a walk-in closet. Occupants will be among the first to experience the line's Princess Luxury Bed, with a 2-inch-thick pillow top and
a mattress whose individually wrapped coils are designed to reduce "partner disturbance."
> Home to grizzly bears, 1 million acres of glaciers and the highest peak in North America, Denali National Park and Preserve attracts roughly 400,000 visitors annually. Participants on Holland America Line cruise tours in Alaska can take a break from hiking or tracking wildlife at Denali Square, an entertainment and dining enclave that the company built at its McKinley Chalet Resort just outside the park gates.
Listen to ranger-led lectures in the amphitheater and observe artists-in-residence craft Alaskan-themed masterpieces before enjoying a dinner theater production at the Gold Nugget Saloon. Or, just cozy up to one of the outdoor fire pits and take in the mountain views.
The ocean is a cruise ship's sanctuary, and Royal Caribbean is intent on protecting it. Teaming with the World Wildlife Fund, a leader in nature preservation, the cruise company has pledged $5 million toward marine protection efforts and aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions while increasing its seafood purchases from sustainable sources. As part of this five-year partnership, the line also vows to educate passengers on ocean conservation.
> Since 1895, the Wildlife Conservation Society has protected the planet's animals and ecosystems through scientific studies, preservation initiatives
and educational empowerment. In 2017, the organization brings that inspiration to Paul Gauguin Cruises with two lecture programs.
The first, "Wildlife Discovery Series," focuses on locales like the South Pacific, where sharks, turtles and other species fight for survival. "Stewards of Nature," the second agenda, engages younger travelers with interactive presentations in hopes of forging a new generation of conservationists.
> Holland America joins forces with entertainment company BBC Earth to explore the natural world like never before. As of September, all of the line's ships are expected to showcase an array of programming, including movie screenings hosted by BBC Earth filmmakers, kid-friendly workshops and a game show that reveals the world's hidden secrets. Don't miss the concert adaptation of "Frozen Planet," the brand's award-winning series about the polar regions, which features footage from the documentary choreographed
to live music.
Eating a good meal is like enjoying a good movie -- both instill an emotional imprint that extends beyond the experience's conclusion. That's why Celebrity Cruises has melded the two with A Taste of Film, a dinner theater connecting what's on screen to what's on your plate.
Now available on the Celebrity Summit, Celebrity Infinity and Celebrity Millennium, its first iteration featured the movie "The Hundred-Foot Journey," which celebrates Indian and French cuisines. During the opening scenes, the audience enjoyed delicacies such as crispy shrimp with tamarind. When the film's setting switched to France, so too did the tasting menu, with offerings like truffled mushroom risotto.
> What more do kids want than a superpower or two? This fall on the Disney Wonder, they'll have the opportunity to pick up a few superhero tips at a Marvel-sanctioned academy. This new Disney Cruise Line adventure schools eager pupils on courage, collaboration and problem-solving. Displays of Iron Man's helmet, Black Widow's gauntlets and other memorabilia convey to cadets the sanctity of their mission, and a hands-on demonstration from Spider-Man himself helps them heighten their "Spidey sense."
> Thomas Keller, the culinary force behind Michelin-starred landmarks like The French Laundry in California's Napa Valley and Per Se in New York City, brings his talents to sea with The Grill, the newest steakhouse from Seabourn. Expect the chef to put his spin on classics like prime New York strip, lobster thermidor and creamed spinach, served alongside a comprehensive cocktail and wine selection. Guests also can enjoy Caesar salads and ice cream sundaes prepared tableside.
The restaurant debuted aboard the Seabourn Quest in May and will be added to the rest of the fleet during scheduled maintenance dockings; it also will be featured on the new Seabourn Encore when that ship launches in December.
> Take the plunge down Royal Caribbean's Ultimate Abyss, the most exhilarating 13 seconds at sea. This 10-story tube slide on the Harmony of the Seas, with its graffiti-adorned walls and nearly 300 LED lightbulbs, creates the sensation of rocketing through space. Slip around a 450-degree spiral and hit top speed on a straightaway before corkscrewing to a close. At the bottom, the only thing bigger than your smile is your desire to do it all over again.
Incorporating the necessities of home into life on board, Celebrity introduces Xcelerate, the line's upgraded wireless internet system. Installed on nearly all ships this spring, the technology's lightning-fast speed allows passengers to browse with ease, communicate with loved ones over Skype and other apps and stream entertainment on sites like Netflix.
> With help from technology innovator EMC, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. aims to quadruple its bandwidth on all three of its brands' 23 ships by the beginning of September. Cutting-edge satellite dishes will work with EMC's SpeedNet program to deliver connection speeds comparable to those of fiber-optic networks. Norwegian and Oceania guests can purchase per-minute and unlimited usage plans, while the service is complimentary on Regent Seven Seas' vessels.
> One of the best parts of cruising is that there's no telling who you'll meet on board. Now, Costa Cruises takes that perk to a new level with Pepper, the first robot that recognizes and responds to human emotions.
Created by SoftBank Robotics Corp., this effervescent android processes words, facial expressions and body movements to conduct a conversation. Fluent in English, Italian and French, five of these robots will be dancing with guests, doling out info and posing for selfies aboard the Costa Diadema on sailings through the Western Mediterranean.
> Stern to bow, the MSC Meraviglia is a marvel in modern technology. Debuting June 2017 for MSC Cruises, the ship will incorporate near-field communication, a system that allows guests to use their smartphones and cruise cards to access cabins, schedule activities, make purchases and geo-locate travel companions. In the interior promenade, the ceiling will double as a digital sky thanks to a 5,167-square-foot LED screen broadcasting imagery as breathtaking as the surrounding ocean vistas.
Sail through Asia, Australia and other locales aboard the all-suite Seabourn Encore, which debuts in early December and gears up for its official inaugural in January. Its staterooms, styled by designer Adam D. Tihany, feature separate sitting and sleeping areas and abundant closet space. During designated dockings, guests will enjoy caviar and Champagne in the surf and go kayaking and pedal-boating off the stern of the ship -- activities that are covered in the upfront cost. Eateries include a formal dining room, a casual buffet and The Grill, Thomas Keller's aforementioned chophouse.
> Viking Cruises will introduce two sister ships in 2017 -- the Viking Sky in February, followed by the Viking Sun in December. Immersing passengers in the destinations they visit, these liners will offer onboard lectures about upcoming port cities and their restaurants will highlight regional fare, serving dishes like Venetian risotto while navigating Italian waters. Serenity beckons at every turn, from the calm of the Wintergarden lounge to the chilled bliss of the spa's Snow Grotto.
> White-glove butler service. Rejuvenating body wraps. Evening theater followed by whiskey and cigars. The Silver Muse, Silversea Cruises' latest vessel launching April 2017, raises the bar for at-sea luxury. Attendants on the pool deck make your relaxation their priority, and multiple lounges provide spaces for friendly gatherings. A variety of cuisines, from tapas to Japanese, are available at eight restaurants. At Hot Rocks, cook your meal tableside atop a lava stone grill.
> Meraviglia, the Italian word for "wonder," is what passengers will feel touring the Mediterranean aboard MSC's latest ship. The MSC Meraviglia, sailing June 2017, entertains kids with sports tournaments, water slides and Lego activities, while adults try their luck at casino games and raise a pint during Oktoberfest celebrations. For more exclusivity, suites in the MSC Yacht Club are serviced 24 hours a day by butlers and provide access to a private pool, gourmet restaurant and after-hours shopping appointments.
> The MSC Yacht Club also will be offered on the MSC Seaside, a megaliner that maximizes the tropical climates it explores. Exploring the Caribbean year-round from Miami, it's packed with outdoor spaces, including a promenade that encircles the ship, allowing guests to eat, shop and relax amid ocean breezes. Nine restaurants and 20 specialty bars have all cravings covered, and a water park with flowing fountains will have children splashing for joy. The ship makes its inaugural journey in December 2017.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in September/October 2016. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.