Monday, 31 March 2014

River cruise lines up the ante with cabin designs

River cruise lines up the ante with cabin designs

By Michelle Baran
Aboard the Inspire and Savor, lower-deck cabins will have higher ceilings, larger windows and a raised platform seating area.With such limited space on river cruise vessels, river cruise lines have to get creative in order to evolve and differentiate their cabin designs. But this season, there will be no shortage of innovative stateroom concepts as river cruise operators roll out everything from tricked out lower-deck cabins to stunning suites.

River cruise lines often put a great deal of emphasis on their upper-deck staterooms, a showcase of competing balcony concepts, creative cabin layouts and sprawling suites. But one area of the river cruise ship that often gets neglected is the lower deck.

Because the lower deck dips partially below water level, the cabins on this level can usually only accommodate smaller windows that do not open.

But with its two new Inspiration Class ships, the 130-passenger Inspire and Savor (launching in April and June, respectively), Tauck has addressed the oft-overlooked lower-deck cabins with a new lofted lower-cabin design.

On both ships, eight of the lower-deck cabins will feature a raised platform seating area with a small table and two chairs and a raised ceiling that will accommodate a much taller window, the upper portion of which can be opened for fresh air.

The Category 3 cabins will be 225 square feet each, and the larger windows will measure 8 feet by 9.5 feet.

According to Tauck, suites are often the first class of cabins to sell, and other river cruise lines have confirmed a similar selling pattern on their vessels. But the lower-deck cabins are just as critical to filling the ships and achieving strong load factors. While they might not be as alluring as the more spacious suites or as upper-deck cabins that usually feature full or French balconies, they usually represent the lowest-priced cabins and thus open up river cruising to passengers who might be more budget-oriented, are traveling alone or are traveling with family.

The loft design is the strongest (if not the only) attempt to date at making these lower-deck cabins considerably more enticing and pleasant than they have traditionally been in the past.
Emerald Waterways Indoor Balcony designBoth ships will be 443 feet long with 22 suites at 300 square feet each, complete with two French balconies with floor-to-ceiling windows, a pullout couch, walk-in closest and bathroom with rainfall showerhead. There will also be 32 cabins at 225 square foot each and an additional 13 cabins ranging from 150 to 190 square feet. Four of the 150-square-foot cabins are being set aside for solo travelers.

Upper-deck developments

And while Tauck has made a big push to overhaul lower-level cabin design, developments are continuing throughout the upper-level staterooms on this year's forthcoming newbuilds.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's 159-passenger S.S. Catherine, which is being christened this week in the South of France, features a 410-square-foot Royal Suite that joins the ranks of the Viking Longships' 445-square-foot Explorer Suites as being among the few river cruise suites in Europe that top the 400-square-foot mark.

If preview photos of the S.S. Catherine are any indication, the Royal Suite (along with all of the vessel's cabins, for that matter) promises to be not only spacious but a feast for the senses, featuring Uniworld's trademark boutique hotel interiors that are designed by sister company Red Carnation Hotels. Think bold textiles, textured wallpaper and details galore.

Emerald Waterways, the river cruise line being launched by Australian parent Scenic Tours as a four-star alternative to the company's existing river cruise line, Scenic Cruises, will officially come to life next month when its two debut vessels, the 182-passenger Emerald Star and Emerald Sky, set sail.
Rendering of a bathroom onboard the Mekong Princess.The vessels' 180-square-foot Panorama Balcony Suite concept will feature an indoor balcony design, similar to a concept introduced by Uniworld several years ago, which involves a retractable window that with the touch of a button enables passengers to convert the room into an open-air balcony. The idea is to maximize limited cabin square footage.

Lastly, while it isn't launching in 2014, Haimark Ltd.'s 24-passenger Mekong Princess, slated to deploy in Vietnam and Cambodia in September 2015, is worth mentioning for its all-suite spa concept that will place an emphasis on luxury spa treatments, services and details throughout the vessel.

Early renderings of the suites indicate over-the-top Indochina glamour coupled with relaxing spa amenities.

Carnival and Costa see improvement in Q1

Carnival and Costa see improvement in Q1

By Jerry Limone
Carnival_BreezeCarnival Cruise Lines and Costa Cruises are doing better, according to Carnival Corp.’s first-quarter financial report this week (see bottom of report), but the company’s largest brands in the U.S. and Europe still have a steep hill to climb.

How steep? CFO David Bernstein said that based on the guidance of Carnival Corp.’s competitors, those companies are at or near 2008 levels for net revenue yield, a key cruise industry metric similar to revenue per available room (RevPAR) in the hotel industry.

Conversely, Carnival Corp.’s yield is down about 11% from 2008, Bernstein said.

Delving further, Bernstein said the company took a 10% hit from the global financial crisis of 2009, gained about half of that back by 2011, but lost those gains after the Costa Concordia accident in 2012 and the much-publicized stranding of the Carnival Triumph in 2013.

“Hopefully, as our brands recover, both Carnival Cruise Lines and Costa, we can recoup, getting back to 2008 yields,” Bernstein said. “Hotel RevPARs are also back to those levels, so we have every reason to believe we can get back there, as well.”

There were good signs from Costa and Carnival in Carnival Corp.’s first quarter, the three months ended on Feb. 28. Costa’s yield was up, Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said, aided by a 50% increase in booking volume.

However, Costa’s gain was more than offset by a yield decrease for the company’s other European brands, which struggled largely due to a stagnant economy in Europe. Carnival Corp. said that net ticket yield fell 3% for all European cruise lines.

Carnival, too, had strong booking volume. Donald referenced the brand’s single-month record for bookings in January, when 565,000 people reserved space on a Carnival cruise. Attractive promotions and increased advertising spending helped make that happen.
ArnoldDonaldDonald said the company will spend $600 million on advertising in 2014, a 20% increase over 2012. He said Carnival’s TV ads during the Sochi Winter Olympics and Princess’ first TV ad campaign in 10 years were vehicles to attract first-time cruisers.

But because of discounting, particularly in the Caribbean where most of Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships operate, Carnival Corp.’s yield fell 2.1% in Q1. The company forecasts that yield will fall 3% to 4% in Q2, compared with a year earlier.

The improved performance of Carnival and Costa “builds confidence that we are tracking to turn the corner beginning in the second half of 2014,” Donald said.

But until that corner is turned, discounting will continue. Donald said that increased capacity in the Caribbean industrywide puts pressure on pricing.

The company is “behind on both price and occupancy” in the Caribbean, Bernstein said, despite the Carnival brand’s record-breaking January.

The North America brands are best performing in Europe for their seasonal program, where they are “well ahead on price and occupancy,” Bernstein said.

Carnival Corp. beats expectations, reports Q1 loss

By Jerry Limone
Royal Princess shipCarnival Corp. said Tuesday that the company had a $15 million net loss for its fiscal first quarter, the three months ended Feb. 28.

The results beat the company's December guidance, thanks to ticket prices that were better than expected.

The loss compares with a $37 million net profit in the previous year’s first quarter.

Revenue was essentially flat at $3.59 billion. Carnival Corp.’s net revenue yield, a key metric for cruise companies that measures revenue generated per unit of available accommodations, fell 2.1%.

At the same time, operating expenses rose 1.9%, to $3.51 billion, driven by increased spending on advertising. Fuel prices declined 3.4%, to $654 per metric ton.

CEO Arnold Donald said first-quarter results exceeded the company’s December guidance because ticket prices were higherArnoldDonald than expected for Carnival Cruise Lines and the company’s European cruise brands, and due to the timing of certain expenses.

Looking ahead to the second quarter, Carnival Corp. expects that net revenue yield will fall 3% to 4% compared with the prior year.

The company also anticipates an increase in net cruise costs per available lower berth day (excluding fuel) of up to 3.5% because of higher selling and administrative costs.

Royal Caribbean's Quantum leap: No main dining rooms

Royal Caribbean's Quantum leap: No main dining rooms

By Rebecca Tobin
QUANTUM-AMERICANICONrenderRoyal Caribbean International is eliminating the main dining rooms on its two upcoming ships, the Quantum and Anthem of the Seas, in favor of five smaller restaurants that will offer specific culinary styles.

The five restaurants, to be included in the cruise price, will be among a total of 18 eateries onboard, in a concept Royal Caribbean calls "Dynamic Dining."

Royal Caribbean also introduced four new specialty restaurants.  Patrons will pay a cover to dine at these restaurants.

The specialty restaurants include Jamie's Italian, which was developed in co
QUANTUM-JAMIESrenderncert with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Michael's Genuine Pub will be a gastropub built on a relationship with chef Michael Schwartz. Devinly Decadence, designed by bestselling author and chef of NBC's "The Biggest Loser" Devin Alexander, will feature a low-calorie menu.

Also carrying an extra charge will be Wonderland, where chefs will "twist their culinary kaleidoscopes to invent a dreamscape of never-before-seen fare," Royal Caribbean said.

In addition, the ships will carry Royal Caribbean stalwarts Chops Grille, Izumi Japanese Cuisine and Chef's Table, plus casual eateries such as the Windjammer lido cafe, Sorrento's and Johnny Rockets.

Also on the casual side, the SeaPlex Dog House will be the first food truck at sea, Royal Caribbean said.

The line will use a new reservations system for the restaurants. 

In eliminating the main dining room, Royal Caribbean appears to be taking the next step in the evolution of cruise ship dining.

Norwegian Cruise Line's most recent ships, the Breakaway and the Getaway, each have three main dining rooms, but they are smaller and quieter than the traditional two-deck dining rooms on cruise ships. One of main dining rooms on the Breakaway and Getaway has a different menu than the other two.

Princess also has experimented with smaller main dining rooms and cuisine-specific restaurants that are included in the cruise fare. 
Still others have been working on new concepts within their traditional dining rooms, such as Carnival Cruise Lines with its American Table and American Feast.

The 4,180-passenger Quantum of the Seas, scheduled to enter service this November, will sail from Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, N.J. The Anthem is due to enter service the following spring.

Cruise industry must do more to boost numbers, Clia chairman says

Cruise industry must do more to boost numbers, Clia chairman says

Cruise industry must do more to boost numbers, Clia chairman says
The cruise industry is not doing a good enough job to drive forward the number of Brits taking a cruise, Clia UK and Ireland chairman Jo Rzymowska has told cruise lines.
Speaking at the Clia UK and Ireland AGM on Friday, the Celebrity Cruises boss said the industry needed to get across the array of variety offered on cruise ships - compared to what is offered by land-based holidays.
She said that while the UK was leading the way in Europe in terms of the number of people taking a cruise, numbers hadn't risen as much as hoped.
"Just under 22 million people every year are cruising with us (globally) - that has doubled over the last decade, which is significant," she said.
"And in the UK we are still leading the way from a European point of view with 6 million cruises and just over 1.7 million of those from the UK. However, that has remained fairly static as we know for the last couple years.
"We are leading the way, but there is a country snapping at our heels - the Germans. It's up to us collectively to not let that happen."
Rzymowska said land-based holidays didn't offer the same variety as cruises, and that ocean and river vessels offer great access to destinations, a better and more consistent level of customer service, and more choice to suit all needs.
She added: "Land-based holidays don't offer these to the extent we do, but still only 1.7 million Brits take a cruise. Quite frankly, as an industry we are not doing a good enough job and we need to do a far better job than we are today."
Clia UK and Ireland's three working groups - PR, consumer engagement and trade engagement - have been coming up with great ideas on how to take the industry forward, according to Rzymowska.
Globally 95% of the cruise capacity is a member of Clia, with 61 cruise lines. In the UK, US and Australia, Clia works with more than 50,000 agents and Rzymowska said Andy Harmer's team in the UK was leading the way.
"Our aim is to talk to agents even better and more effectively than we are today. The UK and Ireland, under Andy's leadership, is leading the way in doing that."

P&O Cruises beats record with Britannia bookings

P&O Cruises beats record with Britannia bookings

P&O Cruises beats record with Britannia bookings
P&O Cruises saw an 81% increase in bookings for Britannia on opening day compared to the launch of its last ship Azura.
Chris Truscott, sales and distribution support director, said there had been massive demand despite issues with the system which caused problems for agents and customers attempting to make bookings.
He said: "We were having problems with our systems the night before, and then they went down on the morning as we opened to bookings. It was a combination of problems with the system and bad timing, being the first day of bookings."
Truscott said bookings showed a 24% increase on the best ever ship launch for Ventura, and that the "vast, vast majority of bookings made been made by agents."
He said the systems went down and then eventually P&O was able to take bookings through its contact centre which is normally open to just consumers but was available to agents during the system failure.
He said agents made bookings through his method and then by 10.30 both systems were back up and running.
"It was a great success with really phenomenal demand," he added. "And that is down to the way we have been working with agents."
Truscott added: "We really appreciate the patience shown yesterday by our trade partners in the early part of yesterday when due to circumstances beyond our control they experienced difficulties making bookings with us. I can only apologise for the disruption caused and emphasise that we took immediate action to resolve the issues.
"However, I am delighted with the support agents have shown to our fantastic new ship which is demonstrated by the unprecedented demand. Britannia will display the very best of British in terms of design, dining and innate attention to detail in all areas. We can’t wait for the opportunity to show off Britannia to agents in just under a year’s time when the ship arrives in Southampton."

Friday, 28 March 2014

Cruise lines spot 'opportunity' after pension reform in Budget

Cruise lines spot 'opportunity' after pension reform in Budget

Cruise lines spot 'opportunity' after pension reform in Budget
Cruise lines are confident last week’s pension reforms announced in the Budget will prompt a boom for cruises.
The proposed changes will free up pensioners’ cash earlier in their retirement. While one minister’s suggestion that newly retired people might blow it on fast cars made headlines, commentators predicted they were likely to book that dream trip.
Cruise lines were careful not to suggest they would actively encourage pensioners to spend their money unwisely, but they are expecting to benefit.
Nathan Philpot, sales and marketing director at Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, said: “Traditionally, retirees have downsized their homes to provide additional funds. These proposed changes will empower those qualified to rethink how they spend their savings.”
Mike Bonner, UK general manager at Silversea Cruises, said: “For our target demographic it’s got to be an opportunity.”
Azamara Club Cruises commercial director David Duff added: “It can only be a good thing for a business like ourselves if people get more access to their pension. I would like to think it’s an opportunity, but we have to be responsible about it.”
Hopes that pension changes would spur demand came as Clia UK & Ireland announced its latest figures, which showed the UK market grew by 25,000 passengers, or 1.5%, in 2013.
It also revealed the proportion of late bookings – those within three months of departure – was the highest for a decade at 40%.
However, Clia said there were signs of momentum returning to the industry with the deployment of P&O Cruises’ Britannia, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas and Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess from Southampton in 2015.
Clia director Andy Harmer said: “The industry’s continued confidence in the UK market is demonstrated by the increasing number of ships that will sail from British ports.”

Google’s Dan Robb to join Tui Travel mainstream division

Google’s Dan Robb to join Tui Travel mainstream division

Google’s Dan Robb to join Tui Travel mainstream division
Tui Travel has appointed Google’s industry head of travel Dan Robb as the first digital marketing director for its mainstream sector.
Robb will join Tui on July 1 and will target driving the mainstream division’s digital marketing and “growing the group’s position as a leading digital business”.
Nick Longman, managing director of distribution and online for Tui’s mainstream sector, said: “Digital marketing is core to our digital and online modernisation strategy.  It is therefore important that we have the very best people in the business to make sure we capitalise on the opportunities available to us.
“Dan brings with him a wealth of experience and is uniquely placed to ensure we get the most out of our relationship both with Google and other leading digital companies.”
Robb said: “I am delighted to be joining Tui Travel. The group is at an exciting point in its digital journey and I look forward to bringing my experience to the team and helping to further drive its digital growth.
“While I will miss Google and the great team we have in Google Travel, this is a fantastic opportunity and I look forward to joining in July.”
Robb has worked at Google for the last nine years, leading the development and growth of the search engine giant’s travel team. Before that, he worked at Associated News for seven years.
Robin Frewer, director of travel and finance at Google, said: “Dan has made a fantastic contribution and has played an important role in educating the industry over the past nine years. This is an opportunity for him and also reflects Tui’s understanding that digital will become ever more important for their business.
“Dan will challenge the Tui business and encourage it to move at a greater pace.”
Frewer said that he had previously hosted Tui Travel chief executive Peter Long and mainstream managing director Johan Lundgren at Google’s head office in San Francisco, as the travel giant looked to develop its digital strategy.
And he confirmed that Ru Roberts had been appointed internally as Robb’s replacement: “There are always succession plans in place at Google, and Ru will be heading up our ‘holidays team’ and leading our relationships with the tour operators. Dan is a senior member of the team, but we have some excellent people in place and some new faces coming in to ensure there is a seamless transition.”

Cruise lines and tour ops cancel visits to Ukraine, Crimea

Cruise lines and tour ops cancel visits to Ukraine, Crimea

By Michelle Baran
Sevastopol's Monument to Scuttled ShipsAs Russia annexed Crimea and the Ukraine government began to withdraw its military personnel from the peninsula this week, travel suppliers began cancelling visits to Ukraine and Russia, as well as to Crimean destinations.

Cruise lines have begun altering some of their Black Sea sailings to bypass previously scheduled port stops in Odessa, Sevastopol and Yalta.

Windstar, Oceania, MSC, Regent Seven Seas and Azamara have substituted port calls in alternative countries, including Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.

Silversea canceled calls to the Crimean peninsula for the April 25 Black Sea sailing of the Silver Wind and for the July 21 departure of the Silver Spirit. However, should the situation in Crimea improve, the line said it would consider returning to its original itineraries.

Viking Cruises has a 12-day Footsteps of the Cossacks river cruise on the 196-passenger Viking Sineus, which sails from Kiev into the heart of the Crimean peninsula, with port stops in Sevastopol and Yalta. But its Ukraine departures begin in May, and the company has yet to decide if it will cancel any sailings.

“Though we know our passengers are paying attention to the developments on the ground, we have not yet seen significant cancellations,” Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing, wrote in an email.

During a speech earlier this month at a dinner event to celebrate the christening of its latest generation of river cruise ships, Viking Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen said that while nearly all of Viking’s river cruise capacity through the end of October was sold out, space was still available on its Ukraine sailings.

Many tour operators have already canceled either part or all of their 2014 tour itineraries that include stops in Crimea, offering affected passengers refunds or the option to rebook travel elsewhere.

Globus canceled all 2014 departures of its Ukraine and Crimea tour; Insight Vacations is no longer offering its 12-day Ukraine, Moldova and Crimea tour; and Intrepid Travel has canceled three Ukraine departures through mid-June.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Royal Caribbean to sail first Black Sea cruises

Royal Caribbean to sail first Black Sea cruises

By Tom Stieghorst
Royal Caribbean International said it will transfer the Rhapsody of the Seas in the summer of 2015 from Alaska to Europe to offer its first Black Sea itineraries.

Rhapsody will offer three roundtrip sailings, 10 and 11 days in duration, from Istanbul. It will make maiden port calls at Burgas, Bulgaria; Odessa, Yalta and Sevastapol, Ukraine; and Sochi, Russia, with overnight stays in Odessa, Sochi and Istanbul.

From July to mid-November Rhapsody will sail seven- to 11-day Greece and Turkey itineraries from Rome.

Replacing Rhapsody in Alaska for the 2015 season will be the slightly larger Jewel of the Seas, which will join Radiance of the Seas in that market.

In total, eight Royal Caribbean ships will sail in Europe for the summer of 2015.

Marine wildlife artist Guy Harvey to paint Norwegian Escape hull

Marine wildlife artist Guy Harvey to paint Norwegian Escape hull

By Tom Stieghorst
Norwegian Escape hull artMIAMI BEACH — Norwegian Cruise Line's next ship will feature a giant sailfish, stingray and other marine creatures on its hull, painted by conservation artist Guy Harvey.

Harvey unveiled his design in at a news conference Wednesday at the Cruise Shipping Miami event, saying he was "honored indeed" to be chosen for the job.

Norwegian's detailed and colorful hull paintings have become a defining feature of the brand. The two most recent vessels, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, have stylized representations of New York and Miami, respectively.

Escape will be based out of Miami when it debuts in November 2015. The port agreed to provide Norwegian with marketing support in exchange for a commitment to homeport the ship there.

Harvey is a marine wildlife artist and fisherman who has in recent years turned his efforts to preservation of the ocean and sea creatures. He has licensed many of his images for apparel and other uses and his name is used to co-brand resorts in Florida, the Bahamas and the Galapagos.

He lives in the Cayman Islands and is most closely linked to the Caribbean and Bahamas. "The maintenance of the ecology and aesthetics of the region are of the highest importance," Harvey said.

Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan said fees from apparel and other licensed goods to be sold on Norwegian ships will be channeled back to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which supports scientific research and education.

Sheehan said the 4,200-passenger Escape will sail seven-day eastern Caribbean itineraries that include Tortola, British Virgin Islands; St. Thomas; and Nassau, Bahamas.

Bookings open March 19 for agents with groups and March 26 to the general public.

How to Choose the Right Cruise line for You; Guide

How to Pick a Cruise Line
Sitting down to pick the right cruise for your next vacation is like going to a speed-dating event. You can't take all day getting to know someone, but you need to figure out whether your personalities match. In cruise parlance, that translates to the fact there are tons of lines from which to choose -- but who's got the time to winnow out the mismatches? While cruise lines try to persuade travelers they can offer an all-things-to-all-people onboard experience, we're increasingly seeing them carve out distinctive lifestyle niches. Celebrity is aiming at the spa and gourmet traveler, Carnival's focusing on mass-appeal food and entertainment, and Royal Caribbean is targeting active families.

Still, picking the perfect ship -- like choosing the perfect love match -- is tricky. Even if cruise lines seem similar at first, they all have their own perks and quirks. And even the same line can offer different experiences based on the age and size of a ship and the destination and time of year you're sailing.

Which line best matches your personality? Here's a cheat sheet to get you started. We recommend reading reviews, asking questions on our message boards and chatting with knowledgeable travel agents to further winnow down the choices.

Best for Romance

Windstar: Nothing says romance like a sunset sailaway … complete with billowing sails. Windstar's fleet of three intimate motor-sail-yachts offer luxurious touches (like L'Occitane toiletries and high thread-count bedding, personal service and fine dining) and port-intensive itineraries in honeymoon-worthy destinations in the Caribbean and Europe.

Paul Gauguin Cruises: The line's namesake ship sails in the idyllic South Pacific year-round. It's a favorite for romantic getaways, honeymoons and anniversary celebrations, perhaps due to itineraries stopping in remote islands and offering plenty of time to splash about in bathing suits or lie in the tropical sun. A second ship brings the romance to Europe and Caribbean.

Princess: The cruise line that owned the original Love Boat still clings to the notion that cruising is the ultimate in romance. While midsized and large ships might not be your idea of romance, Princess turns on the charm with alfresco balcony dinners for two, adults-only sun decks with spa-like atmospheres and several alternative dining venues perfect for date night.

Best for Seniors

Holland America: HAL's midsize ships appeal to mature travelers with their cruise traditions (afternoon tea, gentleman hosts, ballroom dancing), comfortable cabins and focus on enrichment with cooking and technology classes. In addition, its wide range of itineraries -- from family-friendly one-week sailings to weeks-long exotic journeys and world cruises -- appeal to retirees looking for multigenerational trips or long vacations to new places.

Cunard: Another great line for classic cruising, Cunard offers the only regular season of transatlantic crossings on its flagship Queen Mary 2, evoking the days of the great ocean liners. Onboard, you will be dressing up for formal dinners and ballroom dance parties, attending performances of well-regarded plays or jazz concerts, sipping Darjeeling and nibbling scones at afternoon tea, or playing lawn bowls on deck.

Best for Families with Little Kids

Disney: It's no surprise that Disney leads the pack for introducing the little ones to cruising. Its ships offer nurseries for babes as young as three months, themed playspaces for preschoolers and school-age kids, plenty of Disney character interaction (including dress-up princess teas and pirate parties), and cabins that cater to families with split baths (with tubs), extra berths, a room-diving curtain and childproof balcony locks.

Royal Caribbean: As Royal Caribbean rolls out toddler playspaces and nurseries with babysitting to more of its ships, it continues to solidify its reputation as one of the better family bets. The line has always been a leader with innovative kid programming and expansive youth facilities. Now partnerships with Barbie and Dreamworks are bringing the characters little ones love onboard with parties, parades and photo ops sure to please preschoolers and their parents.

Carnival: A kids' program that starts at age 2, onboard waterslides and aqua parks, and plenty of free, kid-appealing food options also makes Carnival a standout in the family department. Add in some of the largest standard cabins in the industry (plus family-specific staterooms), the interactive "Hasbro the Game Show," lots of homeport sailings and affordable cruise fares, and the family vacation has just found a new destination.

Best for Families with Older Kids

Royal Caribbean: The line's tricked-out mega-ships are a hit with tweens and teens, offering everything from rock-climbing walls and onboard surfing to DJ classes, zip lines, high-energy shows and late-night free pizza. Teen clubs feature the latest in video games plus disco and lounge space.

Norwegian: Older kids will appreciate Norwegian's "Freestyle" approach -- no set dining times or eating with strangers, no strict dress code (jeans are always acceptable) and plenty of choice for entertainment and food. Teen clubs offer gaming stations, exclusive parties, teen outings to see the Second City show onboard and late-night snacks. Plus, onboard facilities like video arcades, water parks, outdoor sports courts and cool musical venues and shows mean no one ever complains of being bored.

Carnival: The cruise line offers separate cool clubs for tweens and teens, and shore excursions just for 12- to 17-year-olds, chaperoned by the youth staff. Look for ships with outdoor movie screens, water parks with waterslides and soaker areas, ropes courses and mini-golf for all-day fun.

Best for Fitness Enthusiasts

Royal Caribbean: Boxing? Check. Ice skating? Got it. Surfing, rock climbing, basketball, jogging track and huge gyms with cardio machines, free weights and weight machines, and class space for Pilates, cycling and aerobics? It's all there. Add in active shore tours (kayaking, hiking and more) and plenty of space for dancing the night away, and you've got a fitness lover's dream cruise.

Norwegian: First it was onboard bowling in a funky disco setting. Then it was a rock climbing and rappelling wall and a two-story climbing cage. Now new ships are debuting ropes courses and group classes in TRX suspension training, Flywheel indoor cycling, bootcamp, Fight Klub and high-kicking exercise classes taught by Rockettes-trained instructors. Large gyms, sports courts and large-screen Wii tournaments round out the line's active offerings.

Best for Budget-Conscious Cruisers

Carnival: The Fun Ship line has always been king of the budget cruise offerings. A variety of short itineraries, frequent promotions and plenty of close-to-home sailings allow you to get a vacation at sea for less. Plus, the line is committed to making onboard amenities accessible to all, and many of its new entertainment and dining options are included in the fare (unlike on other lines, where every new feature seems to come with an extra fee).

Norwegian: Some of the lowest cruise fares we've ever seen have been on shoulder-season, weeklong Norwegian cruises. Eagle-eyed deal spotters with flexible schedules can save a buck or two sailing with this line. In addition to the offseason, look at short sailings and repositioning cruises for the best value. Just be sure to stick to free, rather than for-fee, dining options once onboard, or you might be tempted to blow your savings.

MSC Cruises: Pay attention, North Americans. MSC Cruises is making an effort to reach out to the U.S. market, positioning Divina in Miami and tweaking its European product for Yankee vacationers. To lure new-to-MSC cruisers aboard, the line is constantly offering promotions and low fares (including inside cabins starting at $40 to $60 per person, per night).

Best for a Splurge

Regent Seven Seas Cruises: This luxury line might be the most inclusive line out there. Its fares are astronomical, but they include pre-cruise hotel stays, nearly all shore excursions, gratuities, onboard alcohol and soft drinks, fine dining in main and specialty restaurants, attentive service and accommodations in suites (either with windows or balconies). If you want to splurge, you cannot go wrong with Regent.

Seabourn: Seabourn is pairing down its fleet to just its three most modern ships, which are 450-passenger havens of luxury. Indulge yourself at the two-level, 11,400-square-foot spa (complete with a spa pool and private spa villas); relax in a suite tricked out with marble bathrooms, high-end sound systems and upscale bedding; enjoy complimentary drinks and course-by-course in-cabin dining; and generally let the attentive staff cater to your every whim.

Norwegian's Haven: If you want an exclusive experience on a large, mainstream ship, splurge on a suite in Norwegian's Haven. Depending on which ship you pick, the Haven will feature a communal area only for top suite residents with a private pool, sun deck, fitness center, restaurant and/or lounge. You can choose from an array of spacious suites, all with butler and concierge service, but still enjoy Norwegian's big-ship amenities -- multiple dining venues, a plethora of watering holes and plenty of top-notch entertainment.

Best for Foodies

Celebrity: Celebrity is all over the specialty dining scene, devoting tons of square footage on its ships to a variety of onboard restaurants. Choices range from upscale French-continental cuisine to a creperie with sweet and savory options and a whimsical venue specializing in out-of-the-box international comfort food. Add in an Italian steakhouse and a grill-your-own-meat/bake-your-own-pizza eatery, delectable gelato and an alfresco soup and sandwich venue, and you might forget to stop at the cruise ship staple main dining room or buffet.

Oceania: You can't go wrong when Jacques Pepin is overseeing your onboard restaurants. All of Oceania's ships have superb cuisine in both main and specialty venues, but its newest and biggest ships have a wide array of dining venues. Go for fee-free Asian, Italian, steak and continental cuisine, or for a splurge, pony up for an exclusive dining event that pairs seven courses with an equal number of fine wines.

Crystal: Crystal doesn't go overboard with restaurants, but what it does, it does well. It partners with celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa to offer a sushi bar and pan-Asian cuisine in its Silk Road restaurant and with Piero Selvaggio, proprietor of Valentino's in Santa Monica and Las Vegas Prego, to serve up Northern Italian in its other specialty venue, Prego. But the regular dining options also shine, and poolside buffets and afternoon tea are always special treats.

Best for Enrichment

Crystal: Crystal made onboard enrichment a priority before other lines decided "edu-tainment" was cool. Its Creative Learning Institute offers computer skills training, language classes, golf instruction and art workshops, as well as cooking demos and music lessons. Guest lecturers are always on hand to speak about region-specific topics, as well as popular interests such as political science, current affairs, food and wine, astronomy, and art and antiques. Theme sailings bring in big names to speak or perform.

Cunard: With sea day-filled ocean crossings and other sailings, Cunard is experienced in finding top-notch enrichment programs to fill passengers' days. Its Cunard Insights speaker series and Cunard Book Club literary discussions are offered on all three ships, while flagship Queen Mary 2 offers even more programs. Embrace your inner thespian with Royal Academy of Dramatic Art acting workshops, gaze skyward with members of the Royal Astronomical Society, and get intellectual about your musical entertainment with Juilliard Jazz groups.

Oceania: Oceania is the up-and-comer in this category; its options aren't diverse, but what it does, it does well. Its newest ships, Marina and Riviera, each feature a Bon Appetit Culinary Center with ovens and two-person cooking stations. Hands-on cooking classes, demos and lectures on culinary topics all take place in the high-end center, while onshore, Culinary Discovery Tours take foodies on visits to artisan cheese-makers, chocolatiers, vineyards or fish markets. Budding artists can find their happy place in the Artist Loft, where artists-in-residence give instruction in watercolors, needlepoint, and arts and crafts.

Best for Night Owls

Norwegian: Norwegian ships have an array of watering holes, from the bordello-meets-bowling-themed Bliss Ultra Lounge to Epic's chilly Svedka Ice Bar and specialty venues focusing on beer, whiskey, cocktails or champagne. Norwegian's signature White Hot Party is the hottest dance party aboard, where cruisers come dressed in white and the entertainment staff, bedecked with angel wings, keep the fun going with line dances and the like. We've also heard some mighty impressive karaoke on these ships.

Carnival: It's no shock that the Fun Ships are ideal for night owls. Its piano bar just might be the happeningest in cruising (true night owls know the songs get raunchier after midnight), and karaoke is offered nightly. You're never far from a bar or dance club, and the casino is often in the heart of the action. Late-night 18+ comedy has always been a staple event -- more so now that George Lopez is helping to select performers for the line's Punchliner Comedy Clubs.

Celebrity: If high-end drinking is your thing, a Celebrity ship is the place to be at night. You can listen to jazz while sipping craft beers at Michael's Club, treat yourself to your own wine tasting from the enomatic dispensers at Cellar Masters or order creative cocktails at the Molecular Bar. Or let your hair down at the Martini Bar, where juggling bartenders pour colorful concoctions, and watch the moon rise at the outdoor aft Sunset Bar. There's always someplace to dance, whether it be a designated disco or another space co-opted for a party, and the casino is nearly always open to take away your hard-earned cash.

Best for Entertainment

Disney: Disney knows the entertainment biz better than anyone, and that shows in its cruise line offerings as well. Its onboard stage shows mix original productions with live versions of hit movies like Aladdin and Toy Story, but all feature catchy tunes, creative props and costumes, and favorite Disney characters. Its best known event is its once-a-cruise pirate-themed deck party, which combines an interactive musical show with dance parties and at-sea fireworks.

Royal Caribbean: This line loves to the push the boundaries of onboard entertainment options. It's the only line to offer ice-skating shows and water-based acrobatic shows. Plus, it was the first to bring Broadway to the high seas with condensed versions of "Chicago," "Hairspray" and "Saturday Night Fever." It utilizes every square inch of space onboard to keep the fun going, with toe-tapping parades along its indoor Promenade shopping and dining district and aerial performances in the atriums of its Vision-class ships.

Norwegian: Norwegian is RCI's competitor when it comes to innovative entertainment options. The line likes to partner with land-based brands, bringing Blue Man Group and Chicago's Second City comedy troupe aboard its ships. Its newest ships offer the unique Cirque Dreams and Dinner Show (part acrobatic show, part alternative dining venue), jazz and blues clubs, celebrity musician impersonators, dueling pianists and comedians.

Best for Exploring Onshore

Azamara: Azamara's catch phrase is "destination immersion," and its fleet of two small ships achieves this in several ways. Itineraries include less-touristed ports and cruise regions, and often feature late-night stays and overnights in port. Plus, nearly every cruise includes an "AzAmazing Evening," a complimentary shoreside event that presents the local culture in an intimate or exclusive setting. When possible, Azamara also tries to schedule its cruises around major destination events, such as Carnaval in Rio or the Grand Prix in Monaco.

Princess: With its variety of ship sizes, from 680 to 3,600 passengers and everything in between, Princess goes everywhere. Its "Exotics" brochure reads like your bucket list: Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, the South Pacific and South America. Plus, it usually offers at least one world cruise every year.

Celebrity: One of Celebrity's goals is to offer sailings to every continent, including Antarctica, with more overnight calls and more small-group excursions. (Clearly, it's following in sister Azamara's footsteps.) In 2014, it will introduce a Destination Concierge on every ship; these port experts will assist passengers in making the most of their time ashore, even going as far as creating individual excursions tailormade to your touring desires.

Best for Water Lovers

Windstar: Water lovers have two reasons to love Windstar. First, the line's masted sailing yachts have plenty of open deck space under billowing sails, giving that sea-wind-in-your-hair feel. Second, the ships offer complimentary water sports from a built-in onboard marina. You can borrow kayaks, windsurf boards, small sailboats, and inflatable boats and mats. Passengers have access to free snorkel equipment, and water-skiing is offered by the ship's staff.

Paul Gauguin: Paul Gauguin's namesake ship sails in the South Pacific, an ideal place for savoring water-based activities and scenic island views from the sea. The ship has a retractable aft marina used for complimentary water sports, such as kayaking, windsurfing and water-skiing. The ship also lends out snorkel equipment, but it can't be used from the onboard marina, and offers a scuba program with both recreational dives and certification classes. Water lovers will also enjoy beach days on a little island in Bora Bora and Motu Mahana, a tiny island off Taha'a complete with a floating bar offshore.

Seabourn: Another big name luxury line with a water sports platform is Seabourn. Its Deck 2 marina is stocked with all the toys: banana boats, kayaks, pedal boats, waterskis, windsurf boards and the "doughnut," an inner tube in which you sit while being pulled along by a speedboat. If you're excited about taking advantage of this option, choose your itinerary wisely -- cooler weather sailings and busy ports are not conducive to marina use.

Best for Solo Travelers

Norwegian: Norwegian's much acclaimed Studio cabins proved to the world that solo travelers aren't always overlooked. On Norwegian Epic, 128 solo cabins measure 100 square feet each and have a corridor-facing window, mood lighting and access to a shared social space with large-screen TVs, coffee-making facilities and a bartender. Norwegian Getaway has 59 studio cabins, with access to a two-deck lounge, complete with a 50-inch TV and a self-service wine bar, as well as a tea and coffee machine. Pride of America features just four studios, with a tiny communal living area.

Crystal: A popular choice for solo travelers, Crystal entices lone travelers with its wide range of onboard activities, singles get-togethers, gentleman hosts and low solo supplements. Many single cruisers choose the line's set-seating option to meet new friends over dinner, while its Table for 8 program matches solo travelers for group meals at the specialty dining venues. The onboard atmosphere is communal and social, so no passenger needs to feel lonely.