If you're like us, there are certain things you don't bring on vacation. Cell phone, gym clothes, grand ambitions to diet or be more productive — all should occupy minimal mental and luggage space.
But more cruise passengers have been bringing all of the above onboard, and more. Cruise vacations have started to look a lot less like respites and a lot more like turbocharged opportunities to catch up on everything that gets sidelined at home.
Passengers are staying in touch with family and friends via high-tech onboard business centers, complete with wireless internet and cell phone service — a new innovation since 2005. Sea-faring spas and gyms are no longer enough — cruise companies are adding sophisticated fitness classes, figure-friendly spa cuisine and more active shore excursions to accommodate passenger demand. And don't think guests spend the odd quiet minute flipping through a book. Instead, they are attending lectures by Shakespeare scholars, taking cooking classes or studying French. And they're willing to pay for it.
Professionals in the cruise industry, which generated $32.4 billion in 2005, can't afford to ignore the sea change in the way cruise passengers are behaving onboard. Instead, they are rushing to accommodate the new demands.
"The high-tech trend is something we've noticed and taken action on," says Sarah Scoltock, public relations manager for Windstar Cruises, the upscale subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines-owned Holland America. "People want to be connected. The world we live in today, people are still working on their vacations."
Passengers also are taking better care of their health onboard than ever before. One example is the new Wellness Program launched last April at Silverseas Cruises, a luxury cruise line that enjoys a reputation for white-glove service and top-notch dining. The Wellness Program comprises exercise and nutrition classes, spa treatments, fitness classes including yoga and Pilates and a specially designed selection of low-carb menu options. Lighter options are cropping up in other cruise ship kitchens, too: Crystal Cruises' Serenity ship features a sushi restaurant designed by Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
"Travelers today are more health-conscious. They want healthy mind, body and soul options available no matter where they go" — even if that's in the middle of thousands of miles of ocean, says Brad Ball, director of corporate communications at Silversea. "Cruising today is no longer midnight buffets and endless eating. It's a perfect opportunity for travelers to enjoy a total physical and emotional rejuvenation while at sea."
And when it comes to satisfying customers' intellectual appetites, there are plenty of new options. Cunard Line, another upscale unit of Carnival, has introduced a program called "Oxford Discovery," which brings aboard guest lecturers from the British university to speak about everything from creative writing to political science. Alumni of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art even conduct onboard acting workshops. And Silversea offers passengers the chance to rub shoulders with real live intelligentsia; the company's world cruise next year will feature Walter Cronkite and William F. Buckley, Jr., as guests of honor.
"They were asked to join this cruise because travelers today want to be enriched on their vacations," Ball says. " Since these are two of the most famous and notable figures in their fields, they are a perfect fit for our well-educated and literate guests."
While onboard, Cronkite and Buckley will deliver guest lectures. Even better, the two will "mingle and socialize" with Silversea guests throughout the cruise. Now that's networking.
We've once again assembled our annual list of the most expensive cruises, and found that the priciest were the ones offering the most in terms of technology, healthy dining and learning opportunities. As in previous years, we sleuthed out the most expensive routes by dividing the per-room (not per-person) rate for one of each ship's best rooms and dividing it by the number of nights on board. That way, the rankings wouldn't be skewed towards longer voyages. In case of a charter or multiple-person suite, we indicated the price per night for one.
© 2012 Forbes.com