Cruise trends as the 2013 season gets under way are shaping up to include a bigger focus on multi-generational 'family' groups, more specialty food offerings, and continued efforts to wow passengers with new onboard firsts like an aquapark, a glass walkway and a vertical garden.
Here are some details on what's new in cruising.
THE NEW IT SHIPS
CruiseCritic.com editor Carolyn Spencer Brown says two of the hottest new ships debuting in 2013 are the Norwegian Breakaway, which will be the largest ship ever to homeport year-round in New York City beginning in May, and Princess Cruises' Royal Princess, launching in June.
The Breakaway's exterior features the unmistakable pop art of Peter Max, with Lady Liberty's face and a city skyline anchoring the brightly colored design. Onboard the ship offers an open-air quarter-mile (.4-kilometer) boardwalk and an aquapark, including five multi-story water slides and a double freefall slide where the floor drops away. The ship will carry 4,028 guests and will sail weeklong cruises to Bermuda through Oct. 6.
The Royal Princess will carry 3,600 passengers and will feature a jogging track and the SeaWalk, a glass-bottom walkway extending 28 feet (8.5 meters) beyond the edge of the ship and 128 feet (39 meters) above the ocean.One part of the ship, The Sanctuary, is described as a "signature haven just for adults,'' with private cabanas and steward service for light fare and drinks. Its maiden voyage will begin in Southampton, England, and head for Spain and Portugal, followed by trips to the Mediterranean and Caribbean. It calls on Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in October.
"The important thing about these two ships is what they say about cruising, which used to be you were outside during the day and at night you got dressed up and had dinner and went to the theater,'' said Spencer Brown. "Both ships reflect the new trend of being outside all the time with outdoor restaurants, more on-deck seating and other reasons for you to be outside.''
NEW ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES
Today's cruise ships offer everything from skating rinks to planetariums to climbing walls, but the new attractions and activities just keep coming. Among the latest:
-Crystal Symphony debuted in September with a vertical garden, which is a plant-covered freestanding living wall, 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) high.
-The MSC Preziosa ship, debuting in March, will feature what's being called the longest single-rider water slide at sea, 394 feet long (120 meters).