Ready to go to the Ice Bar? Maybe you’d rather zoom over Russia’s landscape at over twice the speed of sound or take a Seawalk 128 feet above the ocean.
You can do all that and more aboard cruise ships these days as new ships offer activities never before seen at sea or on shore excursions. And because of the flurry of bad publicity in recent months, you’re like to score an especially good deal. Booking a cruise—especially if you are a newbie—is one trip where a travel agent can help. Cruising.org. the website for the Cruise Lines International Association, can help you find a cruise expert near your home.
The best part: You may not even have to fly to reach your ship, not with more than 30 ports in the United States, from Alabama to New York to Galveston to Los Angeles and Seattle.
You’ll find activities on board for every age group from toddlers to seniors. No wonder cruises are so popular with multigenerational groups!
Here’s just a sampling of what’s new:
1. Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line’s new ship Breakaway is the largest ship ever to home port in New York City with more than 5,600 passengers and crew. There’s the first Aqua Park at sea, including five multi-story water slides, a rope course, a zip line, rock wall, kids clubs, Broadway shows and more. Norwegian, of course, is famous for its “freestyle dining”—you can eat when and where you want (there are 28 different dining options --steak, French or Italian?), but you need to pay extra for some of them. There are also more than a dozen bars—including an Ice Bar where everything is made of ice.
2. River Cruises
River cruises are the fastest growing segment in the cruise industry, with an ever growing array of itineraries. In addition to new ships, river cruises are stopping in more places and expanding their itineraries. For example, American Cruise Lines along the U.S. inland waterways and rivers, went from 9 to more than 30 itineraries. Avalon Waterways went from 25 itineraries to 45 in five years. Some new itineraries in Africa include safari experiences.
3. Princess Cruises
Princess’s new Royal Princess, debuting this year, will feature a SeaWalk, extending 28 feet beyond the starboard side of the ship. At 60 feet long and hovering 128 feet above the ocean, this dramatic glass-bottomed walkway offers unparalleled views available on no other ship
4. Crystal Cruises
Crystal Cruises is promising the chance to make childhood dreams come true with new shore excursions—including experiences like space training. If you are cruising from Stockholm to Copenhagen, for example, you might have the chance to to don a flight suit and helmet, board the famed Russian MiG fighter jet built especially for high-altitude missions, and zoom over Russia’s landscape at over twice the speed of sound. There are also select sailings all summer where kids cruise free.
5. Royal Caribbean Cruises
Royal Caribbean is touting Barbie experience cruises and counting down to the new Quantum of the Seas next year complete with “virtual balconies” on indoor cabins, the chance to sky dive at sea via the sky-diving simulator RipCord by iFly. Kids and teens will love the SeaPlex, the largest indoor active space at sea complete with bumper car rink (that’s a first) roller skating rink, full size basketball court, table tennis and a circus school.
6. Disney Cruise Line
Disney Magic is relaunching with new spaces, a three-story water thrill slide and a spa and new experiences with Marvel characters – the first time Super Hero icons from the Marvel Universe have been introduced on a Disney Cruise Line ship. The Disney Dream’s inside staterooms feature a “Magical Porthole” that gives guests a real-time view outside the ship via high-definition cameras placed on the ship’s exterior.
7. Holland America
Holland America is touting “Dancing with the Stars” experiences on themed cruises complete with dance lessons, the chance to meet the dancers, ask questions and take photos, and a production starring celebrities and the famed dance pros.
Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando, LA and Chicago. Coming later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver.