Baltimore Sun, October 2004
Ask someone who hasn’t taken a cruise in a while or someone who has never embarked on a cruise what first comes to mind regarding cruising and you’ll likely hear the same answers — relaxing by the pool, huge meals where you’re forced to sit with a group of strangers and, of course, shuffleboard. And while shuffleboard and relaxing are still found on today’s cruise ships, an array of intense fitness activities and a dizzying amount of dining options geared toward a younger demographic are commonplace.
Today’s ships are bigger than ever, and according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA, www.cruising.org), cruise lines offer guests the latest fitness facilities, trained consultants and an assortment of activities that rival any land-based resort and make it easy to maintain any physical fitness regime while on vacation. Top-notch equipment and popular classes such as yoga, Pilates, kick-boxing and aerobics make it impossible to get bored, as does the amazing scenery found while jogging around the ship and enjoying the sights of the sea.
“Today’s ‘mega ships’ offer more than just aerobics and shuffleboard,” says Molly Hurwitz, a travel agent at Burton Travel in Owings Mills. “Some ships, including Royal Caribbean’s ‘of the Seas’ line, have rock-climbing walls, ice skating rinks, miniature golf, self-leveling pool tables, full-length basketball courts and amazing fitness centers.” Some ships even have golf professionals on board with golf simulators to perfect your swing.
“Our fleet of 19 ships has expanded facilities with up-to-date exercise equipment, volleyball courts, basketball courts and popular classes such as spinning, Pilates and yoga,” says Jennifer De la Cruz, a spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines in Miami. “We also have padded jogging tracks, and there’s nothing like running outdoors in the sunshine and looking at the sea.” De la Cruz adds that most Carnival ships offer myriad dance classes such as swing and ballroom dancing to practice your footwork.
Of course if you’re looking more to relax, today’s ships have top-of-the-line spa facilities that offer aromatherapy, seaweed wraps, mud baths, facials, massages, thalassotherapy and herbal therapy.
For years, one of the major turn-offs for younger travelers was the inflexible dining schedule and the prospect of dining with the same people every night. However, the cruising industry has responded to the requests for flexible meal options and privacy.
“We recognized that people want choices, so we now offer many options including upscale dining, casual dining with no reservations necessary or dining poolside after a long day at port,” says Carnival’s De la Cruz. “Also, we recognized that many younger travelers do not want to get dressed up in a suit and tie every night, so we’ve relaxed our dress code. When you’re in an island atmosphere, most resorts will allow you to dress casual, so the cruise industry has responded to this trend.” De la Cruz adds that 30 percent of Carnival’s travelers are under age 35.
Hurwitz says that ships now have multiple restaurants to choose from — some cruise lines such as Norwegian have as many as nine restaurants on board while others have popular themed restaurants such as Johnny Rocket’s for younger guests. Most ships also offer Internet cafes.
Of course, after sunbathing all day and then dining on gourmet food, you’ll want to relax and be entertained and possibly enjoy a cocktail or two, and today’s ships will make it very difficult to choose which venue to spend the evening.
“Today’s ships are very large, which allow us to provide a large variety of bars and lounges,” says De la Cruz. “We still have amazing Vegas- and Broadway-style shows, which are always popular, but many younger travelers don’t want that type of entertainment. So, we now offer wine bars with wine tastings, jazz clubs, Top 40 bands performing live, club music in dance clubs, live country and western bands and quiet guitar performers.”
Hurwitz adds, “Cruise ships were notorious for bad disco music and limited music options that bored younger guests; however, they now have great performers and up-to-date music.”
While the endless activities on the ship will surely keep you busy, when your ship arrives at an exotic port, the fun continues. “Shore excursions have changed dramatically — boring escorted motorcoach tours are a thing of the past,” laughs De la Cruz. “You can now go kayaking, biking, snorkeling, hiking and scuba diving.” CLIA reports that other popular port activities include water skiing, wind surfing, tennis and horseback riding.
Cruise lines offer endless possibilities for destinations. The Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands and Key West are always popular, but you can also sample exotic destinations such as Belize, St. Lucia, Aruba, Curacao, Barbados, Panama, Cancun, Grand Cayman, Costa Rica, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as far-away destinations, including Tahiti, Rome, Venice, Barcelona and Russia.
Besides the great activities on and off the boat, another big draw to cruises for younger travelers is the low cost. “If you go to a resort, by the time you throw in hotel costs and meals, you can take a cruise for less and go to several amazing places,” says De la Cruz. Excluding airfare, Carnival offers some seven-day cruises for about $500. Cruises are even offered via Costco Wholesale where Costco members receive discounts through the company’s travel service.
According to CLIA, the cruise industry also has made traveling alone more attractive to singles, both economically and socially. Members of CLIA, which represents 24 cruise lines in North America, report as many as 15 percent more singles sailing over last year. If you’ve ever tried traveling alone — on a cruise or otherwise — you’ve inevitably encountered the “singles supplement” charge, which can sometimes almost double the cost of your vacation.
However, CLIA reports that some cruise lines have reduced the single supplement on select itineraries, others have eliminated it altogether on certain cabin categories and sailings and some lines offer a limited number of guaranteed cabins at a specially discounted single rate. Many cruise lines also offer a “guaranteed share” program where a single traveler can be matched with another single traveler and factors such as age and smoking preference are considered.
And if you’re traveling alone, cruise ships encourage a friendly, social environment that makes it easy to meet others if you desire. Most ships have a welcoming party early in the cruise where travelers can meet others, and many lines allow single travelers to dine alone or be paired with other single travelers. Additionally, solo female cruisers can request a male social host to partner for ballroom dancing, play cards with or offer conversation over dinner.