The Ultimate Luxury Cruise

oasis of the seasJohn O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, June 12, 2013

It’s time to relinquish outdated notions about bland buffets, dull days at sea and cheesy cabaret acts. Discerning cruise passengers can now enjoy exceptional spa treatments, cuisine prepared by world-class chefs and enrichment programmes led by renowned experts. But while cruising has undoubtedly upped its game, still more could be done to encourage travellers to try this often maligned type of holiday. Here, we look at some of the best innovations and suggest how they might be used as a springboard to make cruising even more appealing.

1. The life aquatic
The Reflection Suite on Celebrity Reflection has a pioneering feature: a cantilevered, glass-walled shower suspended over the ocean. This month, when Princess Cruises launches Royal Princess, among the ship’s novelties will be the SeaWalk – a looped, glass-bottomed walkway hovering 128ft above the water. What we would like to see next, for guests sequestered in windowless cabins, are digital portholes broadcasting footage of the seascape surrounding the ship, with live feeds and documentary reels ensuring that no guest misses out on the sea life swimming by.

2. Virtual destinations
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas invigorated the cruise experience with Central Park, a green space with more than 12,000 trees, plants, vines and flowers. Dense with tropical foliage and seasonal blooms, it is an incongruous but welcome addition to the ship. Celebrity Cruises, meanwhile, employs full-time lawnkeepers on Solstice Class ships to groom and water half an acre of growing grass, on which guests can play boules, lounge on rugs and drink Pimm’s. Other companies should consider following suit with settings that surprise, delight and inform while breaking up the endless sea views. We’d like to see themed gardens in the style of the Chelsea Flower Show and habitats that replicate some of those visited for just a few short hours on land.

3. Personalised touch
Scenic Tours river ships feature inside-outside balconies which, using a one-touch control, can be converted into a covered lounging area should blustery weather strike. It’s a relatively simple way to make passengers more comfortable in their cabins, but we would like to see cruise lines go farther by introducing personalised comforts. How about in-room Kindles pre-loaded with those books guests have never quite got round to reading? A fingerprint-recognition keypad that does away with the annoyance of losing room cards? Or extras tailored to a guest’s tastes – a bouquet of favourite flowers, say, or a certain type of scented candle. These little touches should make passengers feel as though they have arrived at a home from home, and are travelling with a company that recognises and values their individuality.

4. Designer decks
On Solstice Class ships operated by Celebrity Cruises, the thoughts of diners inevitably turn to (ordering more) drink when they see the imposing two-storey wine tower designed by Adam Tihany, who created the interiors for the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, the Shangri-la in Singapore and Aureole restaurant in New York. Further partnerships with sought-after designers could help modernise the image of cruising and broaden its appeal. Why not follow the example set by airlines, with lounges and public areas conceived by high-profile interior decorators, or signature suites created by credible designers? Carpets updated by Christian Lacroix and bed linens by Karl Lagerfeld would be a hit.

5. Getaway vehicles
Even the most spacious cruise ship can feel constricting, so we would welcome more imaginative opportunities to explore beyond their perimeter. Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endeavour already entices adventurers with its ROV, a remote-operated vehicle that can descend to 1,000ft. Introducing miniature submarines which can dive for longer and accommodate more people could be the next step for cruise lines. Larger ships, meanwhile, should follow the lead of smaller vessels and add helipads. A private jaunt to a deserted island could be a popular extra with guests willing to hire an on-board helicopter – a memorable and intimate escape that would be perfect for anyone planning a proposal.