Cruise trends as the 2013 season gets under way are shaping up to include a bigger focus on multigenerational groups, more specialty food offerings, and continued efforts to wow passengers with new onboard firsts like an aquapark, a glass walkway and a vertical garden.
Here are some details on what’s new in cruising.
The new ships
CruiseCritic.com editor Carolyn Spencer Brown says two of the hottest new ships are debuting in 2013.
The Norwegian Breakaway has an open-air, quarter-mile boardwalk, and an aquapark, including five multistory water slides and a double freefall slide where the floor drops away.
The Princess line’s 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.
Attractions and activities
Today’s cruise ships offer everything from skating rinks to planetariums to climbing walls. Among the latest additions:
•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, at 394 feet long.
On the Celebrity Reflection, an all-glass shower extends over the edge of the ship with a wraparound veranda 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 offer TV-quality game shows at sea with passengers as participants, along with 3-D movies in theaters equipped with motion seats and special effects like wind and water.
Holland America Line has a programming partnership with “Dancing with the Stars” while Celebrity is has zumba 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 the French Michelin-starred chef Arnaud Lallement.
The Norwegian Breakaway will have everything from a churrascaria (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.
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 onboard activities.
But the opposite is happening on luxury lines, where they don’t want to lower (ticket) prices because it doesn’t look good, so they’re throwing everything in for free.
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: multigenerational 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.
On Norwegian, for example, between 15 and 20 percent of guests on any cruise are part of a multigenerational group, according to spokeswoman Vanessa Lane. “Families are the second-largest cruising segment, only behind the 55-plus age group,” she said.
More than half of Carnival bookings involve more than one state room, no doubt many booked by family groups.
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.
Carnival ships have “Serenity Spaces.” Norwegian ships offer exclusive suite areas with key-card access and private courtyards called The Haven; they’re not adult-only but they are designed to be quieter than other parts of the ship.
Carnival ships increasingly offer observation areas next to youth play areas where parents and grandparents can watch their kids play.
Online and social media
The cruise industry has long recommended that consumers use travel agents to navigate their options: which cruise line, which ship, type of room, itinerary.
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 branded website.
Meanwhile, the cruise industry is making new efforts to reach travelers using social media.
A new YouTube channel, Cruise Industry TV, launched this month at www.youtube.com/cruiseindustrytv.
Also new is CruiseForward, a website with a Facebook page, for showcasing stories from the cruise industry such as voluntourism efforts, www.facebook.com/CruiseForward.