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AAA World | Travel
How the Latest Cruise Ships Are Upping Their Game

TODAY’S SHIPS ARE TAKING THE CRUISE EXPERIENCE NEXT LEVEL WITH NEW RESTAURANTS, ENTERTAINMENT, ITINERARIES AND MORE

Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean

No question about it—the biggest cruise news, literally and figuratively, is the unveiling of Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, which set sail at the end of January. A whopping 20 decks can host a maximum of 7,600 passengers and feed and entertain them with six record-breaking waterslides, seven pools (one of them is the largest at sea) and more than 40 places to grab a meal, snack or drink. The whole shebang is serviced by more than 2,000 crew members.
  
Artist’s rendering of the Royal Bay Pool in the Icon’s Chill Island neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Royal CaribbeanArtist’s rendering of the Royal Bay Pool in the Icon’s Chill Island neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean
   

Since this is a new class of ship, the line has introduced several new experiences, designs and restaurants. For example, guests can wander five new “neighborhoods,” including AquaDome, offering wraparound ocean views during the day and live performances in the AquaTheater at night, as well as Royal Caribbean’s first food hall, with five casual eateries. The waterslides can be found in Thrill Island, while Surfside features spray grounds for the youngest kids. Meanwhile, familiar neighborhoods have received some upgrades: The green spaces of Central Park, for instance, are now greener, thanks to the addition of 50 live trees, and more varied, with a jazz bar and walk-up champagne and sushi windows.
    
Although it’s by far the industry’s biggest debut, Icon of the Seas is not the only one. Global cruise capacity is forecast to grow nearly 20 percent from 2022 to 2028, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. Here’s a look at more of what’s new.
  
Celebrity Ascent’s Sunset Bar, designed by Nate Berkus. Courtesy of Celebrity CrruisesCelebrity Ascent’s Sunset Bar, designed by Nate Berkus. Courtesy of Celebrity Crruises
     

CREATIVE CUISINES
The 3,200-passenger Celebrity Ascent, which launched late 2023, offers several new guilt-reducing choices among its hedonistic 30-plus food and beverage options. These include a suite of low-sugar cocktails made with fresh fruit at the Martini Bar and a plant-based tasting menu, including vegan wine pairings, at Eden Restaurant. Also new on board the ship is a revamped version of Daniel Boulud’s Le Voyage restaurant, with a design inspired by the lauded chef’s travels. This May, the debuting Queen Anne, with a capacity of 3,000 passengers, introduces two dining concepts new to Cunard. At Aji Wa, guests will find creative Japanese à la carte cuisine as well as afternoon tea or an omakase, a multicourse chef’s tasting menu. At Aranya, they can explore the rich spices of Indian regions from the endless bazaars of Delhi to the verdant pastures of Kerala. For simpler fare, The Pavilion, a new top-deck retreat that hosts a yoga and fitness studio, includes a café stocked with healthy dining options.
   
Aquamar Kitchen on Oceania’s Vista serves healthy options. Photo courtesy of Oceania CruisesAquamar Kitchen on Oceania’s Vista serves healthy options. Photo courtesy of Oceania Cruises
   

Luxury cruise line Oceania unveiled its newest class—its first in more than a decade—in May 2023 with Vista and will introduce the second of that class, Allura, in 2025. New food and beverage concepts aboard both 1,200-passenger ships include Ember for laid-back Sonoma style and elevated American cuisine and Aquamar for a Mediterranean-inspired menu favoring grains and greens. For midday breaks, coffee and fresh-baked pastries are always on hand at The Bakery at Baristas, and crêpes and waffles are made to order at Creperie.
   
The Sun Princess’ Wake View Terrace. Photo courtesy of Princess CruisesThe Sun Princess’ Wake View Terrace. Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises
   

ENTERTAINING IDEAS
As part of the “adventure” theme selected for the Disney Treasure, the 4,000-passenger family fun boat debuting December 2024, the line is bringing its blockbuster animated musical Moana to sea for the first time with The Tale of Moana, a Broadway-style show that follows the Polynesian hero of the title on a harrowing quest. 

Regent Seven Seas introduced its Art Deco-infused, 746-guest Grandeur in November 2023 in fittingly grand fashion: by debuting several new shows that celebrate the world’s most enticing music and dance. Pasión, an exploration of tango, owes its authenticity to the talents of Argentine creators such as choreographer Francisco Forquera and Broadway costume designer Alejo Vietti. For those who prefer full-on TV-glam, Ignite the Night promises to tap into the high-energy hijinks of shows like Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. And for lovers of classic covers, ICONS pays tribute to such acts as The Pointer Sisters, Hall & Oates, Adele and Céline Dion.

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Park 19, a new family activity zone, aims to put the fun in the 4,300-passenger Sun, Princess’ next-gen ship debuting this February. A soaring space located on the ship’s three uppermost decks presents thrilling experiences like Sea Breeze, a seated hang-gliding experience that’s new to ocean liners; Coaster Climb, which challenges guests with an obstacle-laden ascent and then rewards them with an effortless slide back down; and, in another first for Princess, a relaxing Hammock Area where guests can literally hang out.
   
Magdalena River. Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways/ShutterstockMagdalena River. Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways/Shutterstock
     

NEW DIRECTIONS
Later this fall, AmaWaterways becomes the first major river cruise line to explore the nearly 1,000-mile Rio Magdalena in Colombia, via the 60-passenger AmaMagdalena. Designed to maximize views of the mesmerizing lushness that so inspired the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the ship will offer seven-night itineraries between Cartagena and Barranquilla as well as include curated excursions like birdwatching tours and jazz performances. A sister ship, AmaMelodia, begins plying those same waters in May 2025.

Whether it’s fabulous food, snazzy shows or new destinations, cruise fans are guaranteed plenty of adventures on the seas.