Posted on 18 April 2011
By Gerrie Summers
I used to think of mega cruise ships as floating hotels. Now a better description would be floating destinations. With all that is being offered onboard, one doesn’t even have to leave the ship. In fact, a lot of frequent cruisers don’t. What could be better than having a pool or whirlpool mostly to yourself—or being able to read in a nice, quiet lounge that would normally be full of people? I wouldn’t miss a port of call. It’s the main reason I cruise. I enjoy getting a “preview” of a destination, before actually traveling there, with the convenience of single place to sleep and dine.
But it really seems like the cruise lines are trying to eclipse one another (and themselves for that matter) with over the top features in the quest for cruise passengers. For Celebrity, Royal Caribbean’s luxury line, it is the Lawn Club (with a real lawn) on the Solstice class ships, and ever-changing cultural, culinary and creative pursuits that stimulate the brain. Royal Caribbean’s popular feature has been a rock-climbing wall. Then the line introduced a wave simulator, so you could surf on deck. What could top that? A zip line of course. I often wonder if that might have been inspired by my telling RC president Dan Hanrahan about my zip line experience at a port of call on one of Celebrity’s cruises that gave new meaning to the phrase “tree hugger.” I doubt it, but at the time they had teamed up with a zip lining operation that made my experience pale in comparison, so a zip line on a ship seemed a foreseeable next step. What must these brainstorming meetings be like? Grass? Really?
I started considering the differences between the two fleets when Celebrity and Royal Caribbean showcased new ships in the same week, Celebrity Eclipse and Allure of the Seas, respectively. I see Celebrity as being for the sophisticated, seasoned world traveler, and Royal Caribbean more for the active/family traveler, though elements of these ships would appeal to both.
Last year, Celebrity postponed its launch celebrations for the third ship in the Solstice class, Eclipse, to assist UK vacationers who had been stranded due to ash clouds from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland. Not a bad consolation to canceled flights.
The first ship in the fleet was Solstice, followed by Equinox. In addition to the outdoor country club-ish Lawn Club where passengers can enjoy lawn games or wriggle their toes in to make sure it’s real (I saw that done several times), Solstice class ships feature the first Hot Glass Show at sea in collaboration with Corning Museum of Glass. Eclipse offers five guest glass artist cruises on the Caribbean sailings which include a meet and greet cocktail reception with the guest artist, lectures, presentations and an interactive session in which guests design something that the artist then creates out of glass.
There are 10 dining venues, including several designed by Adam Tibany and five of them are specialty restaurants. What’s new is Qsine, the brainchild of VP of Culinary Operations, Chef Jacques Van Staden. It features “uniquely unordinary” dishes like Sushi Lollipops and Meatball Trilogy. There’s design even in the presentation of the food and a menu that is a touch-screen device similar to an iPad, where you can view the cuisine (in case you haven’t figured it out, that’s how the restaurant name is pronounced) and wine selection.
Savor, the culinary and wine/spirits focused program, includes new Savor Your Destination themed cruises in which passengers interact with chefs, participate in cooking demonstrations with the guest chef, the ability to compete in a cook-off, and workshops to design and present your own food-and-wine pairing dinner.
And speaking of iPads, we were introduced to the first Celebrity iLounge, which has 26 workstations, an enrichment center where cruisers can learn movie editing, web design, how to make photo books, among other things, and retail space where customers can try out and purchase the latest Mac products.
As for onboard accommodations, there are fewer inside staterooms. 90% of the ship’s staterooms offer outside views and 85% of the staterooms have verandas. There’s also a new category of staterooms, AquaClass, designed for spa enthusiasts, with a number of features, including access to the Thermal Suite, Blu specialty restaurant, and in-room amenities from a pillow menu to a multiple head Hansgohe shower panel. I must admit this was the first time I’ve ever wanted to stay inside what is normally a claustrophobic person’s idea of a nightmare (i.e., a small narrow stateroom shower that causes black-and-blue elbows).
Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas
For a moment, upon walking into Deck 5 of Allure of the Seas, I wondered if I had actually entered a ship. It looked more like a boulevard with shops and restaurants. I’ve seen this on other RC ships, but I was always conscious of being onboard. Here, not so much. The ship is set up with neighborhoods—like Central Park and Boardwalk, with an open feeling that would appeal to those who suffer from cabin fever.
I would naturally gravitate towards Allure of the Seas Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness “neighborhood,” which has more square footage than some of the gyms I’ve been to in New York.
If finding your stateroom doesn’t provide enough exercise, the cruise line’s Vitality Program focuses on wellness and balance of lifestyle choices with onboard spa and fitness classes, shore side activities, special menus and take-home workout plans, virtual personal trainers and healthy recipes that guests can take with them at the end of the voyage.
The Vitality Spa features skin care therapies like microdermabrasian, resurfacing and collagen facials, massage therapies like Thai Herbal Poultice Massage, in which a poultice is heated and applied to the body at pressure points to relax the muscles and release tension, and Bamboo Massage which utilizes warm bamboo shoots and essential oils, body tune up therapies such as the cellulite reduction program and of course more traditional treatments like the Exotic Lime and Ginger Salt Glow (highly recommended). Spa-goers can relax before treatments in the Thermal Suite, which has sauna and steam chambers and heated benches.
There is also a teen and kid spa, YSPA, where kids can get a Fabulously Fruity Facial or Ice Cream manicures and pedicures with ice cream shaped bath products, massage and hair styling.
For men, there’s Men’s SPAce, wherein shaves might also be accompanied with deep cleansing or pro-collagen grooming. Or the spa guest can try an anti-aging mini facial, with cut and style, or simply a beard trim. Other offerings at the spa include acupuncture and Medi-Spa Cosmetic treatments (Restylane and Perlane Dermal Filler Treatments, Botox and Dysport wrinkle treatments) and teeth whitening.
The fitness center, which has a separate entrance from the spa, has 158 exercise machines, the latest cardio and resistance equipment, plus spinning, yoga, kickboxing, Pilates and gravity classes, personal training, Body Sculpt Boot Camp (four specially designed 45 minute workouts), nutritional consultation and metabolism tests.
If hanging out in the gym isn’t your idea of a fun or fulfilling workout, the Sports Zone has two FlowRider surf simulators (each larger than the single FlowRider on the Freedom class ships), a Sports Pool for lap swimming in the morning and afternoon water team sports (basketball, badminton and water polo.) The Sports Deck has a nine-hole miniature golf course, Sport Court (basketball, volleyball and soccer) and of course the zip line. It is the first zip line at sea and spans 82 feet sending participants across an open-air atrium suspended nine decks above Boardwalk.
I didn’t get a chance to try the zip line. There were long lines and the time on the ship was short. Such is life on an inaugural media cruise. Once you travel from the airport, go through security, hunt for your room, there’s only a day and a half left–not enough time to explore the ship and enjoy its many amenities and features. It’s not an experience you want to zip through.
Gerrie Summers has been writing professionally for over 31 years in the areas of entertainment, beauty, lifestyle, travel and wellness. A New York-based writer, she has been the Travel Adventures columnist for Today’s Black Woman and now writes the blogs Summers Retreat and The Tranquil Traveler.