Two exciting cruise ships are sailing into U.S. waters in early November. Royal Caribbean International's Anthem of the Seas, with an observation pod that extends high above the top deck, a sky-diving simulator, robot bartenders, and bumper cars, makes Bayonne, New Jersey's Cape Liberty its new year-round home.
And Norwegian Cruise Line's biggest ship, Norwegian Escape, brings the first Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville to sea, along with a bevy of other dining and drinking spots inspired by its hometown, Miami. Plus, there's a three-story ropes course, an adults-only deck area with a waterfall grotto, and a spa with a snow room.
Anthem of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's second Quantum-class ship. These are considered the most technologically advanced in cruising. From "smart" check-in (similar to airline-style check-in, you can present your boarding pass on a mobile device) to blazing-fast, pervasive Wi-Fi, this provides a shipboard experience that's in sync with the times.
Where Anthem's technology amazes is in the entertainment. Super-high-definition video projections on the floor-to-ceiling windows in the futuristic Two70º lounge create realistic backdrops and special effects for highly original productions with live singers, dancers, and aerial acrobats. RoboScreens (LED screens attached to robotic arms that soar, twist, and spin) are a mind-bending way to watch, for example, a Balinese dancer's moves.
The best headline musical in the immense Royal Theater is "We Will Rock You," with a score of Queen tunes. And for its U.S. deployment, Anthem adds DreamWorks Animation characters, events, and films.
This all-weather vessel has indoor spaces like SeaPlex, for bashing around in bumper cars, trying the flying trapeze, or roller skating to a DJ. Sky diving and surfing simulators are aboard, too. The North Star viewing pod floats cruisers high above the ship and out over the sea. At the Bionic Bar, robots mix the drinks.
Suited to Caribbean cruising, Norwegian Escape has loads of outdoor spaces. The upper decks house what's touted as the largest water park at sea, with four multi-story slides and a tandem racer where competitors race on tubes. When the floor drops from another pair of slides, riders go into a free fall before swooping into a loop.
The ropes course presents challenges like planks that extend over the ship's side and zip tracks that send cruisers soaring through the air. Enough adrenalin? Head to the tranquil bocce ball court.
Some of the restaurants and bars offer outdoor seating along The Waterfront, a promenade. Among them is Jimmy Buffet's 5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar, with live music after dark. Margaritaville, meanwhile, is tucked near the Spice H2O Lounge, the adults-only deck retreat with a waterfall grotto.
A number of food and wine notables created venues for Norwegian Escape. "Iron Chef" José Garces is behind Bayamo, featuring seafood with a Cuban twist, and Pincho Tapas Bar for typical Spanish small plates. Miami's Pubbelly Restaurant Group contributed Food Republic, with a fusion menu of dishes from around the world. District Brewhouse is a gastropub by Miami's Wynwood Brewing Company. The Michael Mondavi Family fashioned The Cellars, a wine bar.
Norwegian Escape operates week-long eastern Caribbean cruises, while Anthem of the Seas sails to Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Canada/New England.
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Dining with Silversea
Eight restaurants, more large suites, and connecting accommodations for family and friends are the first details to emerge about Silversea Cruises' new ship. 2017's Silver Muse will have suites with contemporary styling, dressed in earth tones of cream, saffron, green, and sienna. New for the line is Atlantide, an elegant restaurant for grilled seafood, fish, and steaks. There will be a Relais & Châteaux restaurant, and La Terrazza, a Slow Food-inspired à-la-carte venue. La Terrazza will have an olive oil cellar, mozzarella bar, seafood station, and a salumeria, an Italian-style deli. At the outdoor Hot Rocks venue, diners will grill their own seafood and prime cuts on heated, volcanic-rock plates. A casual, poolside pizzeria will bake pies in a traditional pizza oven.
Musicals at Sea
Princess Cruises raised the curtain on "Magic To Do," a new musical revue from Stephen Schwartz, the Oscar, Grammy, and Tony award-winning composer of "Wicked," "Pippin," and "Godspell." Schwartz’s first production for a cruise line, the show hinges on his fascination with magic and combines illusions with some of his most famous songs, such as "Magic To Do" from "Pippin" and "Defying Gravity" from "Wicked." Jim Steinmeyer, who has worked with Doug Henning, Siegfried & Roy, and David Copperfield, created the spectacular illusions. In a multi-year collaboration with Princess, Schwartz will oversee the development of four new musicals.
Good News for Vegan Cruisers
Most cruise lines have offered vegetarian options for years. But vegan choices are rare. Costa Cruises' new vegan selections not only cut out the dairy products and eggs, they stay as true as possible to the line's Italian heritage. For example, Costa chefs reinterpreted arancini, the fried balls of risotto that are traditionally flavored with Parmesan or mozzarella. Their vegan version skips the cheese, adds vegetables, and presents the arancini with stewed lentils.
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.