Cruising into the future: the glorious truth about life at sea

Today’s luxury ships offer facilities to rival the most glamorous hotels and everyone can find a cruise to suit their needs. So let’s ditch a few myths about holidays afloat…

Carnival Legend – it’s the length of three football pitches – packs in the family fun

Carnival Legend – it’s the length of three football pitches – packs in the family fun

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Cruises have changed out of all recognition in recent years and are no longer seen as the preserve of the newlywed, overfed and nearly dead.

As maritime meandering comes of age, fleets of sparkling new ships are offering every facility you can think of – plus many you couldn’t begin to imagine. They have something aboard for everyone, from families and foodies to adventurers and cultural buffs.

For those still on the fence, here we debunk some of the most common cruise misconceptions:

Live it up in Las Vegas then cruise the Californian coast – the ultimate flexible holiday

Live it up in Las Vegas then cruise the Californian coast – the ultimate flexible holiday

Cruises are too rigid – I want more flexibility to explore

Some of the most enjoyable cruise holidays include stays ashore, and there is a fabulous range of combinations on offer. Combine Florida’s theme parks with a Caribbean voyage, or stay in Las Vegas then sail along the Californian coast. Cruise-and-stay can simply mean tagging on a few nights in one of the cruise’s port stops, such as New York, Miami or Hong Kong. Alternatively, step up to a cruise-and-tour option to indulge in a variety of tempting trips. One of the most popular among Britons is Virgin Holidays Cruises’ spectacular Rocky Mountaineer train ride through the Canadian mountains, followed by a cruise to Alaska. The company also offers beach-and-cruise breaks with a stay in Barbados followed by the chance to sail around the Caribbean. Virgin’s cruise-and-stay selection additionally offers: New York breaks with voyages to Bermuda or the Bahamas; Fort Lauderdale and Miami stay with the Caribbean, and Singapore with Vietnam and Thailand.

There’s something for everyone aboard Carnival Sunshine, from a super-splashy waterpark to a Serenity area

There’s something for everyone aboard Carnival Sunshine, from a super-splashy waterpark to a Serenity area

Cruises aren’t family friendly

As long as you pick the right cruise ship, it can be a veritable playground of family-focused activities. Carnival Cruise Lines is among the most kiddie-orientated companies afloat thanks to its fun and friendly atmosphere and host of attractions. In addition to the Camp Ocean kids’ clubs, with activities as diverse as Build-A-Bear workshops, pirate parties and teen karaoke sessions, there’s a stack of deck attractions, such as water play zones and speedy water slides, daredevil ropes courses and Carnival’s SkyRide aerial bike ride. The fun continues ashore with child-friendly excursions encompassing boat trips, kayaking adventures and visits to animal attractions. Family-friendly dining onboard is another plus with a choice of restaurants and the ease of flexible buffets in the Lido Marketplace. Family cabins, some with their own private deck area and pool, complete the all-around generational appeal.

Irresistible dishes created by the celebrity chef Curtis Stone for Princess Cruises

Irresistible dishes created by the celebrity chef Curtis Stone for Princess Cruises

The food won’t be up to scratch

It’s a well-known joke among cruise veterans that passengers can easily put on a pound in weight for each day of their cruise because of the culinary temptations: the range of dining spots covers everything from speciality restaurants to snack bars serving pizzas, burgers and ice creams. Princess Cruises has even teamed up with Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone to bring passengers the culinary pleasures of his “Share” menu. Travellers can also sample upscale Tuscan-inspired dishes at Sabatini’s, a classic Italian trattoria, and succulent prime cuts at the Crown Grill steakhouses. Cruisers on Majestic Princess can try the Chinese cuisine of Harmony, the restaurant set up with chef Richard Chen, and the La Mer bistro, established with French chef Emmanuel Renaut. Princess has also carved out an impressive reputation for its excellent Chef’s Table dinners, hosted by a ship’s executive chef, and its balcony dining, where breakfast and dinner are served in the privacy of your own balcony.

The whimsical Rooftop Garden is a peaceful haven for guests aboard Celebrity Edge

The whimsical Rooftop Garden is a peaceful haven for guests aboard Celebrity Edge

Cruise ships are claustrophobic

With the world’s largest cruise ships taking nearly 7,000 passengers and boasting different neighbourhoods across 18 decks, the last thing anyone will feel is hemmed in. Even on smaller ships, there are lounges, bars and spacious open-deck areas. Modern ship designs are geared to bringing the outside in, with light and airy interiors, while the decks, too, are becoming increasingly imaginative. One of the best exponents is Celebrity Cruises with some of its ships boasting half-an-acre of real grass where passengers can play bowls or take picnics. Its new ship Celebrity Edge promises to push the boundaries with notable design firsts: the Magic Carpet, a cantilevered moving platform on the side of the ship that transforms into different venues; Eden, a giant glass-fronted entertainment venue with windows stretching up three decks; and the whimsical Rooftop Garden, inspired by children’s playgrounds.

Whether you want to learn to scuba dive or salsa, there’s a cruise for you

Whether you want to learn to scuba dive or salsa, there’s a cruise for you

I won’t learn anything new

Cruising is all about new experiences, different destinations and the opportunity to try something fresh. There could be classes on digital film-making, salsa sessions or even scuba diving lessons. With so many new vessels equipped with show kitchens, budding chefs can brush up their culinary skills, too. On the tall ships of Star Clippers, the entire cruise can be a learning process and a refreshing taste of sailing in some of the world’s biggest yachts, powered by Mother Nature. Simply observing the crew shimmying up the masts is fascinating enough, but passengers can help to heave up sails as the ship departs and learn how to tie nautical knots and navigate by the stars. Test your climbing skills by climbing nearly 50ft to the crow’s nest or try kayaking and water-skiing from the ship’s water-sports marina.

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Carnival Horizon a ‘Vista Sista’ but with notable differences

The outdoor serving station at Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse/Brewhouse. Photo Credit: Tom StieghorstONBOARD THE CARNIVAL HORIZON — Before this ship got its official name, Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy liked to joke that it would be called the Vista Sista.

The two ships are truly as similar as siblings, with just a few wrinkles separating the 2016-delivered Carnival Vista from 2018’s Horizon.

One of the most noticeable differences can be discerned as soon as guests board the 133,500-gross-ton Horizon, however. The Horizon is the first Carnival ship to be equipped with “destination-based” elevators.

The Funship Towel Animal mascot strolling the decks. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
The Funship Towel Animal mascot strolling the decks. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

The system, which was initially intended for the Vista, puts all the elevator floor commands on a touchscreen in the waiting area, rather than having them clustered on a panel inside the elevator itself.

Passengers punch in their destination, and a software program assigns them the next elevator that is headed to their destination floor. The idea is to cut down on wait times.

For anyone who hasn’t encountered the system on land previously, it takes a day or two to get comfortable with not having the traditional buttons to push inside the car. The walls next to the elevator doors look oddly empty, and one is left to trust that the system really will deliver you to the desired destination.

Many of the features introduced on the Vista have been faithfully reproduced on the Horizon without any variation, including the Imax theatre, the Family Harbor Lounge and the amazing Dreamscape columns that anchor the main atrium and the casino bar.

Up top, the nifty SkyRide recumbent bikes suspended from their dual tracks circle the funnel just like on the Vista.

At first glance, the Havana Cabana section seems like another duplicate, but the warren of tropically themed suites has been enlarged, giving it 79 cabins, 18 more than on the Vista.

On the top deck, the WaterWorks children’s water park has been festively rebranded with Dr. Seuss themes, with Seuss characters prowling the premises. Kids can choose between the red-and-white Cat in the Hat slide or the blue Fun Things slide. There’s also a 300-gallon Cat in the Hat tipping bucket.

Stairs to the water slides at the Dr. Seuss WaterWorks. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Stairs to the water slides at the Dr. Seuss WaterWorks. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

In the atrium, Carnival has added new retail names such as Michael Kors, Hublot and Kate Spade. But the biggest addition for the Horizon is Victoria’s Secret store, the lingerie chain’s first full store at sea.

Perhaps the greatest area of innovation on the Horizon has been in the food offerings, starting with Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse/Brewhouse, a name that requires some unpacking to understand.

The Guy is Guy Fieri, the TV chef who has created a burger concept for Carnival and also some complimentary BBQ pit stops on a few Carnival vessels. The Horizon is the first ship to have a proper barbecue restaurant, which accounts for the Smokehouse part of the name. It is open for free lunch on embarkation and sea days and at dinner with a la carte pricing each evening of the cruise.

The Brewhouse is a relocation of the brewery on the Vista from the RedFrog Pub into the BBQ restaurant. Carnival’s brewmaster has created four craft beers intended to complement the smoky food.

Another area where Carnival has combined venues is Fahrenheit 555, the steakhouse speciality restaurant that now has piano music at dinner. That was accomplished by relocating Piano Bar 88 from an area down the hall on the Vista to a space immediately adjacent to the steakhouse, where a private dining room sits on the Vista.

Bonsai Teppanyaki is Carnival's foray into a Japanese griddle restaurant. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Bonsai Teppanyaki is Carnival’s foray into a Japanese griddle restaurant. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

A wall divider between the piano bar and the restaurant is opened during early evening when dinner begins.

“You have live piano music while you’re in the steakhouse,” Duffy said. “And then we close that off and go back to the piano bar after dinner.”

Another change in the steakhouse is dessert presentation, which is done with flair and brio at the table.

The Bonsai Sushi area has been expanded to incorporate Carnival’s first attempt at teppanyaki, the Japanese griddle restaurant with performing chefs who plate food with a circus-like theatricality

9 Tips to Make the Most of a Carnival Vista Cruise Vacation

9 Tips to Make the Most of a Carnival Vista Cruise Vacation