I’ve been on my fair share of cruise ships, not a ton mind you like friends of mine, but enough to know that I love cruising. As mentioned in my post of 9/9/10, “european getaway, holland america line,”
Cruising is like taking your hotel everywhere you travel. There’s no need to pack , unpack and repack. You needn’t fret about transporting yourself from city to city. All meals are included, selections ranging from Asian to Italian to American to Continental to everything-in-between. And contrary to popular belief, you needn’t stuff yourself to overflowing. But if you do, exercise opportunities abound. There are spin classes, elliptical machines, decks to walk, and pools to swim. I can attest to the fabulous shopping, especially in the jewelry shops. Some of my favorite pieces, real and costume, were shipboard “gems.” Nightly entertainment rivals Las Vegas and Broadway. Then there’s the casino for gamblers, the lounges for dancers, and the amusement arcade for the younger set. A theatre features current films, special cooking classes satisfy the gourmands among us, non-denominational services gathers the religious together. Finally, the ports-of-call are yours for exploring, if you so desire. Our family chose walking tours, so we killed the proverbial “two birds with one stone.” We could eat very well onboard ship, and rid ourselves of excess calories on the shore excursions.
Cruising is my idea of a REAL vacation, no making up the beds, no straightening and vacuuming, no cleaning the bathroom, no cooking and serving, no clearing away the table and stacking the dishwasher. I can rise early or late, eat whenever, nap if I like, finish a book I’ve only read for 5 minutes before falling asleep at night. Time to myself with no chores to do before I’m allowed to play, is my favorite part of being on a ship away from land, hearth and home, at least for a week-and-a-half or two. That’s enough to get me back into the swing of living the life I love.
An article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, “Cruises Where the Grass Is Greener,” takes cruising to a whole other level. Ships are being equipped with ALL the amenities of home, leading you to think you’re still there. On the other hand the article’s opening line, “Cruise lines are trying to solve a peculiar dilemma: How to make it actually feel like you’re on water,” seems to imply the opposite. Reading on, I understood their unique problem.
Built like fortresses these days, or at least like floating hotels or Malls of America, passengers might forget the unique experience of being on water. To remind them that they are indeed away at sea, “cruise lines are increasing the amount of outdoor space on both small, luxury ships and large, mass-market ships.” The Silver Spirit, Silver Seas newest vessel, with a passenger capacity of 540, “has 60% more outdoor deck space than previous ships, including larger guest-room verandas and the company’s first restaurant serving dinner outdoors. (Guests can cook their own meat and fish over hot volcanic rocks.)”
Celebrity Cruises’ Silhouette, which sets sail in July, will have two new restaurants with outdoor seating, an open-air art studio where guests can take painting lessons and VIP sea-view cabanas for rent. All will be located on the top of the ship surrounding a 12,000 square-foot lawn of growing grass.
Some suites on Oceania Cruises‘ new 1,250-passenger ship, the Marina, have balconies outfitted with Jacuzzis and 42-inch flat-screen TVs specially made to withstand wind and salt water.
In an effort to lure younger customers to cruising, other lines are following suit. Carnival Cruises, however, has already secured its place as the premier party cruise company. I’ve never sailed with Carnival, but friends who have, were not disappointed. They wanted fun; they got fun. Sailing in May the lines’ newest ship,”Magic,” will “feature a 9,300-square foot water park, an outdoor video game area and an open-air sports facility with exercise bikes and rowing machines.”
In an attempt to compete with lavish sea-side resorts, cruise companies have incorporated spas, gourmet restaurants, rock-climbing walls, and Broadway shows like “Chicago” and “Hairspray” into their shipboard offerings. But increasing these to include grander outdoor spaces comes with a price, “ships face challenges that land resorts usually don’t.”
Nippon Yusen Kaisha’s Crystal Cruises sometimes ropes off the jogging track that wraps around its Symphony ship…in Alaska’s Glacier Bay, regulations require…(removing) paper coasters and napkins from all outdoor restaurants and bars. Alfresco activities are curtailed, too. “You can’t play ping-pong for fear the ball may go over,” says Mimi Weisband, vice president, public relations.
The grass growing in the Lawn Club atop Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships, had to be “hardy enough to withstand salt water and wind–and light enough so the roof wouldn’t cave in. The grass grows in a thin layer of sand, clay and volcanic pumice.”
On a recent afternoon onboard the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse, employee Eugene Creencia was ripping up areas of dried, brown grass and setting down wooden platforms in their place. …deck furniture and high-heels are banned…”It rips up part of the grass and we don’t have any to spare”…
Taking advantage of the shipboard lawn, when the ship docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, “several guests stayed onboard and played bocce and croquet–and remarked on the incongruity of lounging in a park on a ship.”
Later that evening, a jazz trio played on the Lawn Club. Couples sat on wool blankets laid out on the grass while crew members passed around glasses of wine and plates of cheese and fruit. The lights of San Juan blinked on shore.
Not only are cruise companies expanding and enhancing the outdoor spaces, they’re seeking to bring the outdoor experience indoors as well.
Everything from gyms to manicure stations are getting floor-to-ceiling windows to enhance sea views. Carnival will place desiccated palm trees and agave plants on its new Breeze ship launching in spring 2012. “They don’t require soil or water. …You feel outside even if you’re in a climate-controlled,” space.
Cruise lines have not been exempt from the economic downturn, but have been making a steady comeback within the last year. “Carnival Corp.‘s earnings, for example, rose 22% last summer.”
If I were you I’d pack my bags and head for the open ocean.