From Tuscan-style steak houses and a French bistro, to staterooms for solo travelers or spa-goers, to a boomerang-style water slide and pet-friendly additions: a wide variety of cruise ship refurbishments are on the horizon.
These are more than spruce-ups. Oceania Cruises, for example, is pouring $40 million into a mid-sized ship it's acquiring from Princess Cruises. After a spring refit, the 684-passenger Sirena will begin sailing the Mediterranean with intriguing new dining choices. Tuscan Steak melds Oceania Cruises' traditional steak house, Polo Grill, and its Italian restaurant, Toscana. A Tuscan-style porterhouse, bistecca alla Fiorentina, and Iberico de Bellota pork chop with Gaeta olives are on the menu in a room with glossy paneling and platinum accents.
Sirena also will reprise Red Ginger, popular on Oceania Cruises' Marina and Riviera for dishes like miso-glazed sea bass and lobster pad Thai. The contemporary décor has ebony-wood finishes and red crystal chandeliers.
And Sirena's Grand Dining Room will transform into Jacques Bistro for lunch with a menu of master chef Jacques Pépin’s signature dishes. This will recreate a Parisian bistro, with seasonal specialties written on a chalkboard. Pépin is Oceania Cruises' culinary director and his namesake Jacques is a dinner spot aboard Marina and Riviera.
One of the most notable renovations is planned for Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 in the spring. For the first time this ocean liner will offer 15 staterooms for solo travelers. And passengers who book one of 30 new Britannia Club rooms will dine at the time of their choice in the single-seating, newly enlarged Britannia Club restaurant.
Plus, all 172 of Queen Mary 2's top accommodations—the Queens Grill and Princess Grill suites—will be reconfigured and restyled with subtle references to Cunard's history. They'll have muted tones and luxurious carpet featuring design work inspired by rugs from the original Queen Mary. The décor in the exclusive Grills restaurants will be updated and both will offer more tables for two.
The only cruise ship that also carries pets, Queen Mary 2 currently has kennels for up to a dozen dogs or cats that are always sold out. Ten more kennels will be added, along with a lamppost and a fire hydrant in the dog-walking area so pets from both sides of the pond will feel at home.
Celebrity Cruises, whose newer ships are distinguished by their grassy Lawn Clubs up top, is equipping its two 2001-built vessels with a Rooftop Terrace. It will sport chic furniture, a large movie screen, and curated food experiences that match the film or the destination. Plus, Celebrity Infinity and Celebrity Summit's specialty restaurants will both convert into the line's signature Tuscan Grille that, for the first time, also highlights Italian cocktails.
The first boomerang-style slide at sea is among bracing water features planned for Royal Caribbean International's Liberty of the Seas, which is moving to a new year-round home in Galveston, Texas. The Tidal Wave's steep drop propels riders up a near vertical wall for a moment of weightlessness before a free fall. Younger children get their own splash park with geysers and water cannons. The ship's new Mexican restaurant, Sabor, will feature tableside preparation of guacamole and salsas.
Further refurbishments entail new spa suites, updated bathrooms, and more contemporary décor throughout for Azamara Club Cruises' two upscale ships. And with luxury line Crystal Cruises expanding under new ownership, the first change is the addition of a 62-passenger yacht for the new Crystal Yacht Cruises brand.
Crystal Esprit, formerly Star Cruises' MegaStar Taurus, is being upgraded before it begins cruising in the Seychelles Islands this winter. The all-suite ship will emerge outfitted with a three-person submarine, four Zodiacs for excursions, and a 12-passenger Wider 32-foot super-yacht tender. Crystal Esprit's culinary concept will focus on local ingredients of the Seychelles and the Mediterranean. Think fresh seafood served on an alfresco terrace.
PLAN A CRUISE MONTH
October is National Plan A Cruise Month with special offers, discounts, and upgrades, plus a free cruise giveaway each day. In the #CruiseSmile sweepstakes, Cruise Lines International Association members are awarding prizes like a 12-day Danube River cruise with the luxury operator Tauck, seven days in Tahiti courtesy of Windstar Cruises, and a trans-Atlantic crossing on Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2. Enter by submitting "cruise smile" photo at CruiseSmile.org, on Twitter, or Instagram, tagged #CruiseSmile and #Sweepstakes. Deals during October's industry-wide promotion range from a free pre-cruise hotel stay in Honolulu with Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of Hawaii sailings to a $100 credit for shipboard purchases such as spa treatments and shore excursions with Paul Gauguin Cruises.
CHEF CURTIS STONE JOINS FORCES WITH PRINCESS CRUISES
Australian chef Curtis Stone, whose cozy Maude in Beverly Hills, California, builds each month's menu around one seasonal ingredient, will open his first restaurant at sea with Princess Cruises. SHARE will have a homey atmosphere and family-style dishes, such as a charcuterie starter, tagliatelle with roasted Alaskan crab, and duck leg with fennel. Plus, Princess Cruises will feature "Crafted by Curtis" items in its main dining rooms and a Curtis Stone’s Chef’s Table experience.
FOR THE WINE ENTHUSIASTS
Both wine connoisseurs and novices can become winemakers in a program with Washington state's Chateau Ste. Michelle aboard Holland America Line's new Koningsdam. BLEND will have a tasting table for 10 participants who can learn from an expert before creating their own blend from a selection of five barrels of single-vineyard red wine. Koningsdam debuts in April 2016 in Europe before beginning Caribbean cruises in November.
Anne Kalosh doesn't count the cruises she's taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she's on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.