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What’s new in cruising

When it comes to cruising, there’s bad adventure, like sinking, crashing, or being marooned on a ship without plumbing. And then there’s good adventure, like kayaking, snorkeling, and skydiving. Happily, the good kind is far more prevalent.

Wait a minute — skydiving? That’s right. Aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas (www.royalcaribbean.com), launching in November 2014, guests will go atop the ship, where a vertical wind tunnel will simulate the experience of skydiving — a first for a cruise line.

The 4,180-passenger vessel, sailing from New York, will also boast another feature that folks with vertigo will want to steer clear of: The North Star, a glass capsule modeled after the London Eye, that will lift passengers high in the air and over the ship, for a bird’s-eye view of ship, sea, and ports of call.

THRILL RIDES AT SEA

  • With more than 200 passenger vessels plying the world’s rivers and seas, cruise lines get pretty creative when coming up with new and thrilling features. Royal Caribbean grabs headlines for being the first line to offer adventures at sea like a surf machine, a rock climbing wall (available on all of its 21 ships) and zip-lining (on its Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas). The luxurious Seabourn line’s ships (www.seabourn.com) go one better — they have a marina off the back of the vessel, so guests can sail, waterski, or kayak off the back of the ship. Factor in ice-skating rinks, banana boat rides, and running tracks — all found on cruise ships these days — and you may well feel like a total slug if all you want to do is lounge around the pool.

  • Of course, if you do hang out at the pool, there’ll be plenty to see. The newest ships are looking more and more like water parks these days. Aboard the MSC Preziosa (www.msccruises.com), one of 12 vessels in the family-owned Italian cruise line that sails out of Miami, the longest single-rider water slide at sea whisks passengers through 394 feet of twists and turns above the deck. Not to be outdone, the new, 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway (www.ncl.com) offers a mega-size water park and a Nickelodeon-themed Kids’ Aqua Park (plus an Ice Bar for those who want to escape the waterpark scene). Does that sound too tame for your bunch? The new Carnival Sunshine (www.carnival.com) offers the Speedway Splash, a pair of side-by-side, 235-foot-long waterslides where guests race to the finish line.


RETRO FUN

  • Sometimes what’s old is new again. Princess Cruises (www.princess.com) offers a drive-in movie minus the cars on some ships, including the Royal Princess, a new class of ship launched this year by Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. Watching “Movies Under the Stars” on a Princess ship is pure retro fun: Guests sprawl out on padded lounge chairs with blankets, eat popcorn, and watch current movies on a giant screen.

  • And who among us doesn’t love bumper cars? You’ll find a modern version on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas (www.royalcaribbean.com). Bowling? You can do that at sea, too; the Norwegian Epic (www.ncl.com) has a bowling alley. And as much as kids love a water park, small fry will dry off in a hurry for the chance to bake cookies — which makes the kid’s baking classes offered by Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruises.com) popular.

SO THAT’S WHAT THEY MEAN BY ‘SHIP-SHAPE’

  • Bringing home a few extra pounds around the middle is an unwanted souvenir, so cruise lines have put a lot of weight behind gyms. Among the best — and definitely the biggest — is the 31,000-square-foot fitness center on the Norwegian Epic, where they offer Pilates, yoga, a weight room, and more. Most ships offer onboard fitness and yoga classes, but if you’re really into the latter, check out the series of yoga-themed sailings aboard the Star Clippers’ Star Flyer (www.starclippers.com). This four-masted sailing ship brings on a yoga specialist for these cruises, with all the classes you’d expect at yoga camp, plus an array of fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Speaking of healthy cooking, Canyon Ranch operates spas on ships on the Oceania Cruises (www.oceaniacruises.com) and Regent Seven Seas lines (www.rssc.com), as well as Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 (www.cunard.com). They bring the famous Canyon Ranch cuisine — health-conscious gourmet food that tastes great — to the seas, an alternative to the buffet line.

  • Of course, one of the best ways to stay fit on a cruise is to explore when you’re in port. Choose shore excursions that offer walking, hiking, kayaking, and other active modes of sightseeing and you won’t worry about that serving of crème brûlée. European river cruise lines like AmaWaterways (www.amawaterways.com) and Uniworld (www.uniworld.com) offer free use of bicycles to guests who want to go off independently or on guided bike tours to discover local villages, while Scenic Cruises (www.scenictours.com), a fast-growing luxury outfit based in Australia, keeps electric-assist bikes on board for touring. And you’ve got to love this one: the MSC Divina, making its North American debut in Miami this November, is the first cruise ship to offer Aqua Cycling at sea — basically, it’s spinning, but the bike is underwater.

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

  • If you are one of those early adopter types, consider sailing on a brand-new river cruise line. Scenic Cruises just launched Emerald Waterways (www.emeraldwaterways.com). Debuting in April, the ships will sail four eight- to 15-day itineraries on the Danube, Rhine, and Moselle rivers. The Emerald Star and Sky vessels will each carry 182 guests in 72 suites and 20 staterooms. Priced to compete with lines such as Viking and Uniworld, fares will include all transfers to and from the ship, all gratuities, and at least one shore excursion almost every day. Brag-worthy feature: an onboard heated swimming pool with a retractable roof that transforms into a movie theater by night.

  • A newcomer to the US market (as of last year), the German line A-ROSA (www.arosacruises.com) is launching a new ship in 2014, the 89-cabin Flora. Focusing on the active traveler, A-ROSA’s seven-to-11-night river trips cruise the Rhine, Rhone, and Danube rivers. Itineraries include castles, countryside, vineyards, and museums. Fares include gourmet dining, open bar throughout the ship, gratuities, and shore excursions.

  • Tempted to cruise, but still worried about those bad adventures? Take heart. “Cruising is an incredibly safe way to travel,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of www.cruisecritic.com.

  • “The safety of passengers is a top priority for cruise lines, and as the industry continues to grow and evolve, so do the safety measures put in place. As with any vacation — land, air, or sea — it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to safety protocols but, other than that, there’s not much more to do other than enjoy your vacation.”

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.
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