Best in Cruises From Ship to Shore
Cruise lines are working hard to make sure guests have more fun, whether cooking in a state-of-the-art kitchen or flying a fighter jet in Russia.
What's New on Board
SPORTS There's no danger of cabin fever on the massive new Royal Caribbean ship Freedom of the Seas, which takes passengers on seven-night cruises to the western Caribbean. Not only is it the world's largest cruise ship, weighing 160,000 tons, but it also has a 40-foot wave pool, a 43-foot rock-climbing wall, an ice-skating rink and a full-size boxing ring where guests can learn how to punch (a bag). SeaDream's yachtlike ships—which sail around Europe, South America and the Caribbean—have retractable marinas that unfold into the water so guests can snorkel, kayak, water-ski or wakeboard (the marine version of snowboarding) off the stern. Guests can borrow Segways (high-tech scooters) to get around the ship or port docks.
FOOD Last fall F&W partnered with Holland America Line to launch Culinary Arts Centers aboard the 13-ship fleet. The show kitchens, outfitted with Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances, host classes and cooking demos with more than 20 food-world luminaries each year, including F&W Best New Chef 2004 Bradford Thompson, of Scottsdale's Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician, and chocolate wizard Jacques Torres. This summer Silversea worked with Viking to create a show kitchen aboard its Silver Wind ship, which sails to South America and Europe. Next year, Oceania's star culinary director, Jacques Pépin, will sail on a Barcelona-to-Istanbul trip, doing cooking demos and hosting excursions; on recent cruises he has dined with passengers on board.
WINE Carnival's president, Bob Dickinson, an avid wine collector, has created a wine-themed trip called the Presidential Wine Club Cruise. Offered for the second time this December, the weeklong Caribbean trip features wine seminars and tastings from famed wineries; the previous cruise included wine events presented by Domaine Carneros and Perrier-Jouët. The cruise line's new consulting chef, the Michelin-starred Georges Blanc of the eponymous restaurant in Burgundy, will be on board overseeing wine-friendly dishes like bay scallops in truffle butter.
SPA Costa Cruises has launched the largest spa at sea aboard Concordia, which sails around the Mediterranean. The 20,500-square-foot spa has rock saunas and thermal and Turkish baths. Guests who book one of the spa cabins or spa suites get free access to the ship's Ristorante Samsara, with a menu created by Michelin-starred Italian chef Ettore Bocchia. (Other guests pay an extra fee to eat at Samsara.) Bocchia's inventions include buffalo mozzarella gelato, which he makes by chilling the cheese with liquid nitrogen to get the consistency of cream without added fat.
PETS On Cunard's transatlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2, all passengers—including four-legged ones—get the glam treatment. While their human companions are encouraged to wear black tie to dinner or cocktail parties, dogs and cats get their own QM2-logoed coats and name tags. A full-time kennel master is on board to feed and walk pets, and at turndown, the animals—well, their owners—can choose from a selection of pet beds, blankets and fresh-baked biscuits.
TECHNOLOGY Carnival is using "facial recognition," a technology usually used for security, to help passengers find souvenir shots of themselves taken by shipboard photographers. Rather than having to flip through hundreds of images, guests scan their faces into a machine that then retrieves every photo of them on file. On Windstar ships, the new high-tech toys include Bose SoundDocks in all staterooms, so guests can dock their own iPods. Passengers can also check out iPods loaded with 500-song playlists or borrow laptops to use throughout the trip; all three Windstar ships offer Wi-Fi access.
KIDS Cruise lines are finding plenty of things to keep kids and teens from getting restless. On Princess Cruises' Caribbean itineraries, kids can spend time with California Science Center-trained experts, learning how to dissect a squid or study a coral reef. The Kids Crew Program on Norwegian Cruise Line organizes pizza-making parties and pillow fights. In December, Norwegian's newest ship, the Pearl, will launch the first bowling alley at sea. Holland America Line's Culinary Arts program offers Cooking 101 for Teens, showing them how to make easy dishes like burritos and omelets, and how to tweak their favorite foods to make them more nutritious—for example, by topping pizza with peppers instead of pepperoni.
What's New on Shore
ARTS The small-ship cruise line Peter Deilmann Cruises—which sails the South Pacific and Caribbean and takes guests along European rivers—has introduced music-themed itineraries. Guests can listen to classical music performances as they sail the Danube, then disembark in Vienna for a tour of Mozart's house, and in Budapest for a show at the Hungarian State Opera House.
FOOD Sailing around St. Tropez in a private yacht with a celebrity chef beats lying on a lounge chair. On several of Celebrity's Mediterranean trips, guests can take an excursion with the cruise line's culinary consultant, Michelin-starred Michel Roux. Roux will take a group of 20 around Côtes de Provence, traveling by yacht to visit markets in St. Tropez, then to Roux's own vineyard and lunch at a seafood restaurant. In Croatia, Seabourn stops in the Istrian Peninsula, home of the truffle-growing town of Rovinj, where guests join expert truffle hunters and learn how to unearth the prized fungus. Lunch is truffle-spiked frittatas. Regent Seven Seas has expanded its Le Cordon Bleu workshops to include pre- or post-cruise cooking classes at the school's Paris, Tokyo and Sydney branches. Guests spend a few days learning about regional flavors and cooking techniques, and shopping and dining with Cordon Bleu chefs.
WINE On Silversea's new Slow Food Experience excursions in Genoa, Italy, passengers can become students for a day at the world's first University of Gastronomic Sciences and visit the nearby Wine Bank, which holds top wines from more than 200 Italian wine producers. Silversea guests eat a lunch highlighting local ingredients, then visit the Fontanafredda Estate, a renowned Barolo producer. Passengers on Princess Cruises' trips to the Iberian Peninsula can create their own blend of cognac at Camus, a family-owned producer in France. On British Isles trips, Princess passengers can visit the Scottish Malt Whisky Society in Leith, near Edinburgh, for a single-malts tasting.
SPORTS & ADVENTURE Nascar fans can race around the Monte Carlo hills in a Ferrari, in a new excursion offered by Crystal Cruises. Crystal's new lineup also includes bobsledding the Olympic luge track in Lillehammer and, for $21,099, flying a MIG fighter plane over St. Petersburg. Next March, Crystal will become the first cruise line to take passengers to the top of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, on nine-day pre- or post-cruise hiking excursions. This spring, Lindblad, a specialist in kayak excursions in Antarctica, became the first cruise line permitted to drop kayaks in the Galápagos. On some Baja California trips, Kira Salak, the first person to kayak solo down the Niger River, leads groups around the gulf to look at sea animals.