The "Ernesto Burger" at Princess Cruises' new Salty Dog Gastropub

Cruise lines across the industry are investing in upgrades to their restaurants, their entertainment options, and even their beds

Cruise lines across the industry are trumpeting a whole slew of ship upgrades and refurbishments that will do everything from giving passengers a better night's sleep to providing higher-quality food and more interactive entertainment.

The budgets for these refurbishments are as just as huge as the ships themselves: $450 million for Princess Cruises, $400 million for Norwegian Cruise Line, $300 million for Holland America Line, and $125 million for Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The list goes on. All told, the industry should see over a billion dollars invested in upgraded facilities over the next two years.

Better Food and a Better Night’s Rest

At Princess Cruises, a new campaign called the "Come Back New Promise" has the lofty goal of providing "transformative" moments and experiences, so vacationers "come back new." These experiences begin at the table, with a new roster of restaurants. At SHARE, designed by Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone (of Maude in Beverly Hills), diners can enjoy family-style dishes in a homey setting. The restaurant's centerpiece is a communal table where diners can share dishes like butter-poached lobster or duck leg with fennel. At another new spot, The Salty Dog Gastropub, Ernesto Uchimura (a founding chef of the original Umami Burger), elevates pub grub to gourmet fare. The menu includes small-plates like a lobster mac 'n' cheese as well as a signature "Ernesto burger," which is layered with everything from rib eye beef to grilled pork belly, caramelized kimchi, and cave-aged gruyere cheese. All the dishes pair wonderfully with a new selection of craft beers and whiskies.

The Come Back New concept isn’t relegated to experiences. Because the company knows that better sleep can do as much to help guests feel “new” as any other part of their cruise, the line is introducing the Princess Luxury Bed, which features a thick pillow top, enhanced support, a duvet, and Jacquard-woven cotton linens. The bed was developed in consultation with "The Sleep Doctor," Michael Breus, and designer Candice Olson of HGTV. Princess plans to install them in every stateroom across the fleet. 

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Upping the Culinary Ante

At Norwegian Cruise Line, the "Norwegian Edge" program aims to elevate service and culinary standards. Every Norwegian ship has already upgraded the menus in all of their complimentary (included in the fare) dining rooms. The menus balance traditional favorites like prime rib, chateaubriand, and rack of lamb with trendier dishes like shrimp ceviche, seared Atlantic scallops, and braised beef short ribs. And more optional à la carte items now offer more deluxe choices like grilled lobster tail and surf and turf.

The specialty dining (extra-charge) restaurants also have new menus. Le Bistro offers traditional French favorites such as bouillabaisse, pan-seared jumbo bay scallops, and veal medallions. And La Cucina offers a more robust menu with antipasti, risotto, and traditional secondi courses like osso buco alla Milanese and pan-seared sea bass fillet.

All New Entertainment

Holland America Line is hoping to stand out from the crowd by investing in more varied entertainment. On some ships, guests can enjoy chamber music in new performance spaces called the Lincoln Center Stage a new, exclusive partnership with the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Another program, Billboard Onboard, puts a new spin on the piano bar by turning it into an interactive musical history experience. Two pianists, a guitarist, and a DJ take turns performing shows built around the hits of the past 50 years. Between sets, passengers can sing and play along with trivia questions.

The new Gallery Bar, which was just introduced on the Eurodam, brings the idea of entertainment to the ship’s cocktails. The sophisticated spot offers an exclusive cocktail menu created by 2015 James Beard Who’s Who inductee Dale DeGroff, and many of the drinks come with their own story. Try the Hemingway Daiquiri, a twist on Hemingway’s favorite drink, the Papa Doble (a combination of rum, lime, grapefruit, and maraschino liqueur). Or enjoy the Ritz Cocktail, a Champagne concoction presented with a burst of flamed orange peel. It was one of the most popular drinks at Manhattan's Rainbow Room where DeGroff created it as a tribute to the Ritz cocktails of Paris and Madrid.

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In addition to the entertainment upgrades, Holland America is also investing in improvements to their suites, including new contemporary furniture, interactive televisions, premium duvets, Bose docking stations, espresso machines, and complimentary Mimosas with in-suite breakfasts. 

An Interactive Ride

The already upscale Azamara Club Cruises is redoing its ships in a "Reimagine Azamara" program that's transforming accommodations, updating technology, and creating more interactive, multi-use spaces. Among the technology improvements are the addition of interactive televisions, ship-wide Wi-Fi, and interactive tabletops that are specifically designed for social media surfing and also offer ready-made digital postcards to send to loved ones as well as a way to make art using the Scribble app.

The first ship to see these improvements, Azamara Journey, has just emerged from dry dock, where it was also upgraded with a pair of new spa suites featuring rain showers with ocean views and outdoor Jacuzzi tubs overlooking the ocean. Some staterooms were also upgraded with more contemporary décor, and communal areas also saw some changes: The poolside dining area has been re-imagined as The Patio, an elegant new alfresco dining experience with cloth-draped tables, candles, and occasional live music.

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 and Seatrade Cruise Review.