Thursday, 14 May 2009

Action at sea: cruising 21st-century style

Cruises are undergoing something of a renaissance. Growing numbers of younger cruisers means on-board activities and shore excursions are becoming more active, flexible and fun. Jane Archer explores the burgeoning world of the 21st-century cruiser.
Who says cruising is for old people? Big cruise ships these days are packed with activities that are great whether you are five or 55. Children can have hours of fun in the kids' clubs and dipping in and out of the swimming pools, and there are huge and luxurious spas and solariums where adults can relax and be pampered.

But there is so much more for the 21st-century cruiser: rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks and water parks, celebrity-run speciality restaurants in which you can dine like the stars and adrenaline-packed shore excursions for fun days in port.
On-board activities
Not so long ago, napkin-folding classes were considered the perfect way to keep passengers occupied when they had had enough of looking out to sea. There are still sessions on how to be the perfect hostess, and many ships have cookery demonstrations and wine-tasting sessions, but such gentile occupations are fast giving way to much more active ways to pass the days at sea.

Royal Caribbean International's Voyager-class ships (for instance - Voyager of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Independence of the Seas) have rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks, but also a FlowRider, a powerful wave you can surf on, and water parks with fountains, jets and even a lazy river.

It's all terrific fun, but things get even better at the end of 2009, when Royal Caribbean launches Oasis of the Seas. This is a huge ship, holding 5,400 passengers. As well as all the features above (and actually there are two walls and two FlowRiders), there is a zip wire - get harnessed up and slide on a wire across the top of the ship - and the first carousel at sea.

Norwegian Cruise Line has 10-pin bowling alleys and Wii Sports games on its newest ships - Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Jade. Its next new ship, Norwegian Epic, launching in July 2010, will have the first ice bar at sea. Passengers will be kitted out in fur coats, gloves and hats, and be able to drink ice-cold vodkas in freezing temperatures.
Water slides are a favourite with Carnival Cruise Lines and Italian line Costa Cruises. On new ship Carnival Dream, launching in September 2009, there will be a four-deck-high water slide and a two-lane racing slide.

Ocean Village has juggling and trapeze workshops to keep kids of all ages entertained on days at sea; P&O Cruises has bungee trampolines on deck 19 of Ventura, offering the ultimate view across the sea if you dare look up; guests on Cunard's Queen Victoria can learn sword fighting.

If all that sounds too energetic, Princess Cruises has the ultimate behind-the-scenes tour on Ruby Princess, letting guests visit the engine control room, laundry, food stores, bridge and theatre, and even climb into the funnel. On sea days, Holland America Line holds galley tours lasting about 30 minutes: passengers can pass through the kitchens, watching the chefs in action and tasting on the way.

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