2008 is an exciting year for cruising with the addition of 8 new cruise ships to the booming market.
o April – P & O's Ventura, MSC Poeisa
o May – Independence of the Seas (Royal Caribbean)
o July – Carnival Splendor, Ms Eurodam (Holland America)
o Nov – Ruby Princess, MSC Fantasia
o Dec – Celebrity Solstice
Each ship is being built on the promise that it will be bigger and better than its current sailing rivals, with a heavy focus on innovations at sea. Already we have ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls, F1 simulators, self leveling pool tables, boxing rings, bowling alleys and 4 deck high water slides. So the big question everyone's asking is; what could possibly be coming next?
Well, the answer is grass. Real growing green grass.
Celebrity Cruises have proudly announced that their latest fleet addition, the Solstice, will feature a grassed lawn area where guests may "enjoy bocce ball and croquet, practice their putting, picnic with a basket of wine and cheese, or simply feel the grass between their toes, while sailing the oceans of the world ". And, if all the grass isn't too much excitement, you can go and watch the hot glass show, another industry first.
Clever, or just plain dull?
Is this really the best they can come up with? Or, are they taking a brave step outside of the current innovation trend box? In reality, the ice skating rinks are a little on the small side, the bowling alleys only have 4 lanes, and does anyone really want to go boxing?
It seems the cruise companies are measuring their success on the uniqueness of their ship innovations, but I wonder if that's what today's typical cruise passenger is really looking for.
Pre 1960's cruising was all about the destination, the ship simply providing comfortable accommodation. Then came more emphasis on the actual voyage itself, with the onboard experience becoming as important as the destination. It seems we may now be facing a u-turn, with more and more cruisers wanting to explore new, "undiscovered" places which offer a more intimate cruise experience which the mega liners just can't offer.
In spite of this, the cruise industry seems to be confidently striving forward with their bigger is better approach with Royal Caribbean's mind blowing Genesis project on the horizon. Building by far the largest ships at sea, 2009 will see a vessel that has a capacity of over 5000 passengers with a gross tonnage in excess of 220,000 tonnes, compared to the current largest, the Queen Mary 2 at a mere 160,000 tonnes, it's a pretty outstanding figure.
Surely there must be concerns over the damage a ship that large may cause. For a long time, cruise ship damage seems to have been ignored, when, in reality, they are one of the world's largest, uncontrolled sources of air pollution, and surprisingly, more damaging than flying. Sewage, oil contamination and coral reef damage are all becoming increasing concerns.
Royal Caribbean have recognized this and have stated that one of the most important priority for the new ships is energy efficiency and the minimization of waste to make the ship as environmentally friendly as possible.
What they can't control is annoying disembarkation queues, port over crowding and inaccessible ports. But, at least there is a boxing ring to let out all those frustrations, if it's not already been booked up …