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Coming soon: The next generation of cruise ships

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Norwegian Breakaway will arrive in early May 2013 (Norwegian Cruise Line)

The current generation of new cruise ships -- designed before the 2008 economic bust but not delivered until 2010 or later -- is just starting to feel comfortable to many of us. But a whole new generation of vessels designed after 2008 and reflecting the new economic realities is right around the corner.

These next-generation ships will start arriving as soon as April 2013, with three cruise lines introducing new models by June. These new ships are bigger than average, but not the biggest, and their facilities are somewhat more compact. But most importantly, they embody a new ethos, striving to provide the kind of cruise experience that gives passengers what they want but still keeps the cruise lines profitable.

These new cruise ships will fit more passengers into ship sizes that used to feel pretty roomy. But the new “snug fitting” designs don't necessarily mean ships will feel overly crowded. After a few design generations, the cruise lines now seem to have a handle on maximizing the efficiency of space. In an automobile analogy, we may be losing the bench seats and tail fins, but we are getting bucket seats and computer-aided entertainment centers.

Going out of style on the new ships are single purpose public rooms such as proscenium theaters, massive dining rooms and late-night discos. Now in vogue are multipurpose spaces for day and nighttime experiences, allowing guests to continually spread out and thus alleviating the feeling of crowding.

Driving this design innovation is the need to achieve greater fuel efficiency. Cruise ship fuel drives more than the propellers; it also runs the air conditioning, lights, toilets and bartenders' blenders. Single-purpose rooms that remain empty all but a few hours of the day or night waste a lot of fuel.

There will be more staterooms and less public space, but with flexible scheduling and more dining spaces, people will eat when and where they choose. Many of the new multipurpose venues will be “3-D” - dining, drinking and dancing with live entertainment. Instead of being herded around the ship, passengers will spend more hours in one area as the experience changes around them. Going a step further, the new venues will be concentrated into “neighborhoods” to offer an even larger experience without the need for seeking out clubs, cafes and bars scattered all around the ship.

The New Ships for 2013 – Norwegian Breakaway
Let’s look at the new ships and see how the new cruise paradigm fits the floor plans.

The first new generation vessel will be Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Breakaway, arriving in May 2013. Breakaway's design is largely based on the line's current flagship, Norwegian Epic, but it is smaller (144,000 tons vs. 155,873 tons) and will hold 100 fewer passenger berths (4,000 vs. 4,100).

Breakaway will emulate Epic (which came out in 2010) in many ways, including shows by Second City Comedy, Howl at the Moon and the Cirque Dinner and Theater experience. But the main theater is smaller than Epic’s, so the main show -- the Broadway and movie hit “Rock of Ages” -- will play there more often, to smaller audiences. The major change in the entertainment lineup between Breakaway and Epic is the elimination of the tribute show “Legends at Sea” - one of my favorite cruise productions – to free up the main theater for more showings of Rock of Ages.

One of Breakaway’s dining, drinking, dancing and entertainment neighborhood concept comes in a brand new setting called The Waterfront. This is an outdoor strolling deck above the regular promenade deck. It will offer a variety of restaurants with outdoor seating, so after an al fresco dinner at Moderno Churrascaria, one can stroll the deck to Gelato for dessert, then move on to drinking at Shaker’s Martini Bar or dancing at Bliss Nightclub. Several other restaurants will also have al fresco seating on The Waterfront, including Cagney’s Steakhouse and the new Ocean Blu seafood restaurant by New York chef Geoffrey Zakarian. Another neighborhood experience will be 678 Ocean Place, an indoor rotunda with open seating for several restaurants.

Carnival Sunshine – Coming April 2013
This is technically not a new ship; it's the older Carnival Destiny, undergoing a $155-million bow-to-stern remodeling over 49 days at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy, after which Carnival will re-christen the vessel as Carnival Sunshine.

Multipurpose venues in neighborhoods are a big trend at Carnival. In fact, the line leads the pack in next-generation cruising beginning with Carnival Breeze, which just arrived in June. Breeze embodies a new design concept Carnival calls “FunShip 2.0,” including neighborhoods like Ocean Plaza with al fresco seating on the promenade deck and the convergence of the Red Frog Pub with the adjacent Blue Iguana Tequila Cantina.

To support the focus on fuel efficiency, Carnival Sunshine will have 168 new double occupancy staterooms, many with extra beds for thirds or fourths. Most will be built into places Destiny used as entertainment venues. The stage of the main theater will be raised up a deck, making the former three-deck theater smaller. The space below it will be filled with new staterooms. So will space previously accommodating an outdoor mini-golf course and expansive play area for kids on Deck 12. Most noticeably, the expansive Criterion Lounge, the adjoining Downbeat Jazz Bar (one of the most colorful and imaginative rooms on Destiny) and the Apollo Piano Bar, all aft on Deck 5, will all be replaced with staterooms. The new Deck 5 cabin corridors will open to the new Alchemy Bar and dance floor, which replaces the Point After Dance Club, once famous for its wall-to-wall CRT video screens. Once again we see single purpose rooms replaced with multi-purpose venues in neighborhoods.

Showtime offerings in the remodeled main theater will include “family game night,” where Hasbro games have been adapted for the stage, much like old-fashioned TV game shows. These will be played in front of an audience, alternating with shortened 30-minute musical production shows in both daytime and nighttime slots throughout the cruise.

Another integral aspect of next-generation cruising is the elimination of old-style buffet lines in favor of modular food courts with individual serving stations for different kinds of cuisine. Destiny’s aft pool deck behind the current Sun and Sea Lido Restaurant will become added seating for the new Sunshine's "Food Marketplace."

Royal Princess Coming June 2013
Princess Cruises' newest Royal Princess ship (a name given to several earlier vessels) will be the line's biggest and most populous ship yet at 3,600 passenger berths in 141,000 gross tons. While the design is basically a blown-up version of existing Princess ships, the neighborhood concept comes through more than ever with an expanded Piazza Atrium offering open seating for Gelato, the Vines wine bar, the International Cafe coffee bar, and two restaurants -- Sabatini’s and Alfredo’s. Upper levels of the Piazza offer even more eating and drinking venues, and provide views and easy access to other restaurants and lounges.

For entertainment, Royal Princess will feature a modular, multi-purpose TV studio called “Princess Live” where the cruise director’s morning show will be followed by culinary demos, art lectures, “unplugged” musical concerts and late night comedy. All events can be beamed to stateroom TVs, which alleviates crowding and extends the onboard experience to more people. Fortunately, virtual entertainment is something modern society readily accepts.

“DIY Modular Cruising”
Say goodbye to the old cruise experience where everyone shared the same day and night routines throughout the cruise. Say hello to more efficient ships with a greater diversity and scheduling of activities within the spaces provided. This new style of cruising has not yet been given a name, but I tend to think of it as “Modular Cruising.”

Paul Motter is the editor of CruiseMates.com, an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter at @cruisemates

Paul Motter is the editor of CruiseMates.com, an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter @cruisemates.