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Cruise Guide: The sky’s the limit . . . at sea

By Michael Coleman

As the world’s largest passenger vessel was unveiled in Miami last week, I had but one question on my mind: What will they think of next?

Royal Caribbean’s highly-anticipated Freedom of the Seas is not your typical cruise ship. She features 15 passenger decks, an onboard surf park, cantilevered whirlpools suspended 112 feet above the ocean, a full-size boxing ring, ice-skating rink, teeth-whitening and massage services, rock-climbing wall, wave pool and 14-person family suite.

At 160,000 tons, she’ll carry more than 4,000 passengers when she begins her seven-night Western Caribbean itineraries from Miami this week. 

Surf park? Boxing ring? Ice-skating rink? 

You’d think the cupboard has finally run dry as industry executives fell over themselves in recent years to one-up each other. For an industry that prides itself on firsts, even the most skilled craftsmen must be running out of new wrinkles to add to the fleets of tomorrow. 

Think again. 

With new ship building techniques and a global canvas, they’ve only just begun. While I’ll take a much closer look at Freedom of the Seas in this space next week, one doesn’t have to look far to see tomorrow’s trends today. 

For instance, Norwegian Cruise Line’s 93,502-ton, 2,384-passenger Norwegian Pearl, scheduled for a November launch, will feature a bowling alley onboard. Yes, a bowling alley at sea. They’ll also take a page from Royal Caribbean’s book with the introduction of a climbing wall in their sports area. This sister-ship to Norwegian Jewel and Pride of Hawaii will also feature two deluxe owner’s suites, complete with 1,195-square-foot cabins featuring living room, dining room, hot tub and sundeck. And, oh, did I mention . . . it includes your very own private courtyard with pool. 

Elsewhere, it won’t just be glitz and glitter headlining the launch of Crown Princess next month. Instead, look for an adults-only, quiet onboard retreat to garner the attention, and it may be a future, industry-wide trend. When the Princess Cruises ship sets sail for the first time on June 14 look for “The Sanctuary,” located on the uppermost forward deck of the ship, to offer a relaxing alternative to a host of outdoor activities and entertainment options available elsewhere. Solitude seekers will be able to escape completely to this plush, outdoor spa-inspired setting with signature beverages, light meals, massages, attentive service and relaxing personal entertainment. 

“With The Sanctuary, we’re not only providing an alternative venue for our relaxing spa services, but also offering passengers the opportunity to escape to a tranquil retreat at any time, day or night,” said Jan Swartz, Princess’ senior vice president of customer service and sales. 

When not indulging in spa services, Sanctuary guests will lounge amidst lush greenery, enjoy gentle breezes, ocean waves and softly piped-in spa music, which combines to further insulate the area. Guests will relax on plush outdoor furniture including double loungers for couples, as well as deluxe chaise lounges and chairs. 

If cruise travel makes the world a smaller place for today’s modern adventurer, won’t the frequency of visits to local restaurants, museums and other points of interest become stale even for the most ardent traveler? Not so, as cruise line executives fan out over the globe to make today’s new shore excursion experience invigorating, if not unforgettable, for the new wave of active Baby Boomers. 

While there are set standards to the formula – a number of lines have offered timely summer tours to coincide with the release of The Da Vinci Code movie – look for cruise lines to soon unveil packages that would make Marco Polo and other great explorers green with envy. 

In yet another industry first, luxury cruise specialist Crystal Cruises is offering a new overland adventure to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Thrill-seekers will revel at the rare chance to climb 19,340 feet to Uhuru Peak, through an equatorial jungle and dense cloud forest to the snow-capped summit, en route to the highest peak in Africa. 

The nine-night extended land program debuts in March 2007, and is available pre- or post-cruise, in conjunction with two Crystal Serenity itineraries beginning or ending in Cape Town, South Africa. 

“This new excursion is quite literally the pinnacle of adventure, reserved for only the fittest adventure-seekers who have always dreamt of conquering Kilimanjaro,” said John Stoll, Crystal’s director of land programs. 

Proof, yet again, that when it comes to modern cruise ship travel, the sky’s the limit.

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