A new kind of cruise ship
Royal Caribbean announced today that the ship currently (and temporarily) known as Project Genesis will have a revolutionary design: Carved into the middle of the ship will be a five-story-tall, football-field-size courtyard called Central Park; it'll be open to the elements, with landscaping (including trees), cabins with interior views, and restaurants with outdoor seating (and not all of those restaurants will require paying extra, which is good news). The ship will start sailing at the end of 2009. It all looks pretty cool: Check it out here. I learned all this at a press luncheon where RCCL chairman and CEO Richard Fain spoke. I had a question, but I couldn't work up the nerve to ask him…
Basically, I wonder whether or not RCCL is prepared to deal with passengers being able to look into each others' rooms, or passengers who are noisy (in theory, everyone in Central Park will be able to hear any arguments--or whatever the opposite of arguments are--of passengers in inside-facing staterooms). Most hotels with an atrium might have doors that face inward, but not balconies. It'll be interesting to see if there are any unintended consequences.
Cruise news: Celebrity says "Turf's up!"
In December, Celebrity Cruises launches the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice. In what is being called an industry first, the top deck of the Solstice will be covered in real grass. The half-acre Lawn Club will include places for playing golf, bocce ball, and croquet. It will also have picnic spots. Here's an artistic rendering of what the Lawn Club will probably look like: The Solstice sets sail December 14 from Fort Lauderdale on a seven-night cruise to Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten. An interior cabin room starts at about $800 per person, based on double occupancy (celebritycruises.com). If you’re looking to cruise, there are two other major ships to keep an eye out for this year: Royal Caribbean’s 3,600-passenger Independence of the Seas (set to debut in May) and Princess Cruises’ 3,100-passenger Ruby Princess (slated to launch in November). —Amy Chen CRUISE ADVICE Virgin cruiser Josh Dean took readers' tips on a trip to Alaska, to see just how helpful they were—and came back with some advice of his own. Read his story here. MORE BY AMY CHEN Report from the Balloon Festival.
Cruise with your favorite musician! Sixthman is an Atlanta company that sets up cruises that headline musical stars. Today, for example, "tickets/fares" go on sale for the first Cayamo "song cruise" with Lyle Lovett and Emmylou Harris, which will set sail Feb. 4 through Feb. 10, 2008 on the Carnival Victory. Prices start at $747 per person for a double interior room. As with any cruise, add about 30 to 55 percent for additional costs, such as on-board alcoholic drinks, taxes, and port charges. Other upcoming cruises will feature the rock and pop acts Ben Folds, John Mayer, and Barenaked Ladies. Indie- and retro-rock fans will want to consider a trip on the The Rock Boat, which will depart Jan. 19, 2008, for a five-day festival at sea, with headliners Sister Hazel, Aslyn, and Toad The Wet Sprocket. Sixthman's website offers a list of upcoming music cruises.
The Bigger the Boat, the Bigger the Splash
A new fleet of cruise ships hits the water this year, the likes of which have never been seen. When Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas launches in June, it will surpass the Queen Mary 2 as the world's largest passenger ship. A month later, the Costa Concordia will jump to the top of the list in terms of capacity, with 3,780 passengers. But it's not just the size that's impressive. The new boats are loaded to the gills with diversions: Freedom of the Seas has an ice rink, a wave pool, and a regulation-size boxing ring. COSTA CRUISES: COSTA CONCORDIA Launch date: July Passengers: 3,780 Itineraries: 7-, 9-, or 11-night cruises out of Rome with stops in Istanbul, Venice, Barcelona, Alexandria, and Santorini Cool Features: Samsara, a two-level, 20,000-square-foot spa--the largest at sea--with a thalassotherapy pool, in which seawater is used for body wraps. Less relaxing, but more fun: the Formula 1 racing simulator (price to be determined) Something Special: Retractable roofs over the pools on the top deck for when the weather turns chilly Splurge: As on most ships, the best restaurants aren't included in the cabin price. Options include Ristorante Samsara, for lighter fare near the spa (from $23), and fine Italian dining at Club Concordia ($29) ROYAL CARIBBEAN: FREEDOM OF THE SEAS Launch date: June Passengers: 3,634 Itineraries: Seven-night round trips from Miami, with stops in Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and a private beach in Haiti Cool Features: FlowRider, a 40-foot-long wave pool for surfing and body-boarding. The ship also has the largest rock-climbing wall afloat, a boxing ring, an ice rink, and the H2O Zone, a huge water park where passengers can douse each other with water cannons Something Special: Solarium, an adults-only area with whirlpools cantilevered off the top deck for sweeping views of the sea Splurge: Six- and eight-person family rooms come with bathtubs and curtained-off sleeping alcoves with bunk beds HOLLAND AMERICA LINE: NOORDAM Launch date: February Passengers: 1,918 Itineraries: 10- or 11-night round-trip cruises from New York City to Turks and Caicos, St. Thomas, and Barbados from fall through spring, as well as 10-night summer cruises out of Rome to Dubrovnik, Santorini, Monaco, and Barcelona Cool Features: Culinary Arts Center, a state-of-the-art kitchen that'll welcome celebrity chefs and sommeliers for sailings; also, flat-panel TVs and DVD players in all staterooms Something Special: The Loft, a teenagers-only lounge with karaoke, music videos on big-screen TVs, and Internet access Splurge: The Pinnacle Bar sells 60 different wines from around the world, priced from $4.25 to $9.50 a glass PRINCESS CRUISES: CROWN PRINCESS Launch date: June Passengers: 3,080 Itineraries: Seven-, eight-, and nine-night cruises departing from New York City for Bermuda, Jamaica, Antigua, Aruba, St. Kitts, and other warm-water ports Cool Features: International Café, a 24-hour restaurant where the menu changes its theme every few hours: French, Spanish, and so on Something Special: The cruise line's popular Movies Under the Stars program, showing first-run features every night on a 300-square-foot LED screen on the pool deck Splurge: Ultimate Balcony Dinner, a candlelit, five-course meal, including champagne and a choice of lobster, beef tenderloin, or surf and turf as entrées, served on your cabin balcony ($100 per couple) NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE: PRIDE OF HAWAI'I Launch date: April Passengers: 2,376 Itineraries: Weeklong Hawaiian cruises from Honolulu, stopping at Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai Cool Features: Freestyle Dining, with a choice of 10 restaurants, and a recently introduced system of plasma screens throughout the ship that list how long the wait is at each restaurant Something Special: The ship is unusual in that it's registered in the U.S. and therefore doesn't have to touch international waters between port stops. As a result, passengers spend less time out at sea and have more opportunities to explore the islands Splurge: A traditional Hawaiian lomi lomi massage, which was once reserved only for island royalty, at the Mandara Spa ($99 for 50 minutes)
Having completed its maiden voyage along the French and Italian Riviera last summer, EasyCruiseOne--the orange ship owned by EasyEntrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou--is now sailing among the Caribbean islands of Barbados, St. Vincent, Martinique, Bequia, Grenada, and St. Lucia. Cabins start at $16 a night, and while a typical cruise lasts one week, passengers can book anywhere from 2 to 14 nights (easycruise.com). Don't miss the boat EasyCruise docks by day and sails by night. The ship is supposed to stay in port until midnight. But sometimes it leaves earlier, due to weather; a sign next to the security officer on the boarding deck has the day's return time. There's a half-hour window before the boat pushes off. Ask for deck five or six You choose the class of cabin when you book--there are four--but specific cabins aren't assigned until check-in (it's first come, first served). Decks five and six are tops, mostly because they're farthest from deck three--where people gather late at night at the reception desk in the lobby. Don't forget to bring . . . everything The only products you can count on are liquid soap, sheets, and towels. Here's what there isn't: an alarm clock; Internet access; magazines, books, or newspapers; a radio; or a single phone. Not all cell phones work at sea, either, so it's wise to consider a GSM model. Redecorate as necessary The $16 fare is for double occupancy in a standard cabin: a closet-size room with a shower, toilet, sink, and two single mattresses on the floor. "If you're cruising alone, stack one mattress on top of the other," suggests Sarah Freethy, a TV producer who spent last summer filming the ship's Mediterranean cruise and is now onboard shooting for the Travel Channel. "You'll double the floor space, plus the bottom mattress becomes a box spring." Get to the hot tub early Upon returning each evening, everyone makes a beeline for the Jacuzzi. Problem is, it only seats six. "Board the ship an hour before everyone is supposed to be back," says cruise director Neil Kelly. "You'll get a nice, long soak before the party gets started." Eat onshore Local island food is far better, and cheaper, than the ship's pub fare. A plate of conch fritters at Dawn's Creole, a beach bar in Bequia's Lower Bay, costs only $4 (784/458-3154). Smuggle in alcohol All passengers are told to declare liquor upon boarding. In theory, a security officer takes your booze and returns it when you leave. But they rarely check. So he may not find that 25-ounce bottle of Eclipse rum you bought for $6 at the Mount Gay factory in Barbados (246/425-8757). Create your own excursions All cruise lines, including EasyCruise, charge a lot for excursions anyone can book onshore for less. Consider the ship's Friday Party Night event in Anse La Raye, St. Lucia. The fishing village on the island's west coast hosts a street party, with reggae, lobster, and rum galore. EasyCruise charges $43 to bring passengers there; alternatively, you can take the 3C bus to town for only $2, and eat and drink well for under $10. Don't count on hand-holding Joyce Bentzmen, a marketer from Washington, D.C., read up on which public buses to take on each island instead of taxis. In Martinique, for example, she saved $38. "EasyCruise provides an empty framework," she says. "You have to fill it in yourself."