Published Dec.2, 1999
Going to extremes
Activity-packed super-ships dump boredom out at sea
By Gene Sloan, USA TODAY
ABOARD VOYAGER OF THE SEAS- Dennis Lieberman of Marlboro, N.J., has
never been rock climbing.
But here he is, wearing a helmet, strapped to a harness, pulling
himself up a four-story rock face in one of the most unlikely of places:
14 decks above the sea.
"You would never have found something like
this on a ship five years ago," says the 46-year-old pharmacist and
longtime cruiser, beaming after rappelling back to the bustling deck of
Voyager of the Seas, which launched last week. "This is exhilarating."
Besides the rock-climbing wall, the 142,000-ton vessel - the world's
largest - is home to a full-size basketball court, an in-line skating
track, nine holes of miniature golf and the first ice rink at sea. And
that's in addition to more expected features, such as dozens of bars,
three pools, showrooms, a casino and more.
Hellooo Miami! It's hard
to miss the Voyager of the Seas when it comes into port. (PRN/ Royal
Call it a sea change. Once known as sedate affairs, cruise ships are
morphing into floating fun zones that offer innovative diversions by the
Tired of shuffleboard? On the 2,002-passenger Norwegian Sky, launched in
August, you can shuffle into a cybercafe to surf the Web and sip
Hungry for more? The 1,760-passenger Disney Wonder,
also unveiled in August, has rotating dining (every night a different
room), as well as an adults-only, upscale Italian eatery.
that isn't music to your ears, consider Celebrity
Cruises' 1,950-passenger Millennium, whose first cruise is scheduled
for June. It will have the first music library, with personal listening
stations, as well as the first ocean-view glass elevators and the largest
spa at sea.
Voyager even has its own shopping mall, an indoor
boulevard four decks high and longer than a football field. Passengers
will find Hugo Boss clothes, Donna Karan sunglasses and Gucci watches. Royal Caribbean's
2,350-passenger Monarch of the Seas unveiled the first on-board Sharper
Image store in July.
"The lines want to counter the image that
they're boring and staid and formal," says Mike Driscoll, editor of
Cruise Week, an industry newsletter.
Studies show that
89% of Americans have never cruised. Cruise line executives say one of the
biggest things holding people back is the fear of being bored - and
confined. So cruise lines are building ships that are so big and have so
much to do that no one could be bored - or feel confined -
The research is clear, says Jack Williams, president of
Royal Caribbean. "People want the freedom to do a lot of things on
vacation. They want options."
|Home port: Miami
Itinerary: Western Caribbean.
Seven nights, departing Sundays, to Labadee, Haiti (Royal
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Prices:Inside cabins start at
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cabins with windows overlooking the Royal Promenade, $2,499. Suites
start at $3,949.
Information: 800-327-6700 or http://www.royalcaribbean.com/.
It's a notion that took a while to take hold. "Cruising traditionally
was very regimented," says Julie Benson of Princess.
"You would have dinner at a specific time, go to the show at a specific
time. We realized that this is not the way people like to vacation."
Like Royal Caribbean, Princess has made "options" its mantra. Last
year, the line launched the 2,600-passenger Grand Princess, until now the
world's largest ship. It offers four places to have dinner and three
places to see a show, plus a wave of cruising firsts, such as a wedding
chapel and virtual-reality games.
Some say it all may be going a
bit too far. To make room for all the new offerings, the ships have to be
big, and "the bigger ships are less personal," says Lieberman's wife,
Michele, a travel agent who sells cruises full time.
cruises used to be intimate outings in which clients would make friends at
the communal dinner table and get to know crew members by first name. Now
the ships are so big that you can go days without seeing a familiar
"It's hard to call (Voyager) a cruise ship," says Anne
Campbell, editor of the CruiseMates Web site (http://www.cruisemates.com/).
"There is no sensation of being at sea."
Campbell, who sailed on a
preview cruise for travel agents, says Voyager felt more like a mall than
a ship, a "hermetically sealed environment (with) little exposure to the
sea and sky." She quips that you need binoculars to see the water from the
Still, Campbell says the new big ships appeal to
first-time cruisers and families with children, groups that crave
If history is any indicator, Voyager, however
impersonal, will be a hit.
In the late '80s, many critics thought
upstarts Carnival and
Royal Caribbean were crazy when they launched a generation of 70,000-ton
"mega-ships" filled with entertainment. But vessels such as Royal
Caribbean's Sovereign of the Seas, the world's biggest when launched in
1988 but now just half the size of Voyager, were a huge success.
Now most vacationers won't board a ship unless it has cabins with
balconies, alternative restaurants and an elaborate health club - all
Driscoll says the newest, biggest ships with
the most unusual amenities command a premium price. And they've propelled
the unprecedented boom in cruising.
Last year, a record 5.4 million
people sailed the seas, nearly four times as many as in 1980, according to
the Cruise Lines International Association. The number is expected to grow
nearly 8% this year and at least that much in 2000, making cruising the
fastest-growing vacation activity.
To meet demand, the major lines
are churning out ships at record speed: More than 50 are on order, almost
a 50% increase in the North American fleet. And executives say the "more
options" refrain will continue to drive the designs.
Not every line
is following the trend, however. Cunard, which three weeks ago announced plans for a ship
bigger than Voyager, is looking to the past for inspiration, hoping to tap
the nostalgia for older vessels that the film Titanic inspired.
"I think it's safe to say you won't find an ice-skating rink or
rock-climbing wall anywhere on board," Cunard president Larry Pimentel
Space restraints may force other lines to hold off on new
options. Executives say ships can't grow too much more because the crowds
would become unmanageable and passengers would face unacceptable lines.
Some wonder whether Voyager is too big. Driscoll says the number of people
on board could overwhelm the Caribbean islands the ship visits.
"These aren't huge islands, and we've seen in the past two years
with the Carnival Destiny and (its sister) Triumph just what happens when
a lot of people arrive at once," he says. "It does erode the land
Thousands of eager vacationers disembarking at once
have begun to create chaos in small ports such as Charlotte Amalie, St.
Thomas, where crowds of tourists jam the streets and overload
And the problems on bigger ships could start before
passengers step onto land. Driscoll says one of the lingering questions
with Voyager is how quickly passengers will be able to disembark. "It's
not fun waiting for 30 or 40 minutes to get off the ship."
says not to worry. Royal Caribbean has made significant changes at its
ports, including a massive overhaul of its Miami terminal, to handle the
And he doesn't rule out an even bigger ship. "I
cannot imagine a reason to build a ship bigger than this," he says. "But
five years ago, I couldn't imagine building one this big."