Debbie Snow
Culinary choreography at the Crown Grill aboard the Crown Princess.
By
updated 10/12/2007 12:59:32 PM ET 2007-10-12T16:59:32

All manic all the time: Liberty of the Seas, Royal Caribbean
Like everyone else, I’d seen the TV ad a thousand times: fast-paced shots of trim, wisecracking people rock climbing, ice skating, jogging and mock-surfing aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, all synched to an infectious Iggy Pop beat. So I boarded my western Caribbean cruise on the 21-ship line’s newest, Liberty of the Seas, bound and determined to damn the torpedoes, seize the day — you name it. I’d show Mr. Pop a “Lust for Life”!

With 21 ships sailing the Caribbean from 12 U.S. ports, Royal Caribbean’s strategy is clearly one of flooding the zone. Liberty, the latest vessel to claim the title of world’s largest cruise ship (a designation shared with its sister, Freedom of the Seas), is nearly four football fields long, boasts 15 decks and can fit 4,375 passengers. As I scanned my pocket-sized ship map, an entire world of frenetic motion seemed to unfold before me.

I homed in on the action taking place aft on Deck 13, where passengers flocked to the FlowRider surfing simulator, Royal Caribbean’s most recent (and much-publicized) onboard innovation. Most people braved it flat on their bellies, boogie-board-style; a few made it onto their knees. No one managed to stand, but the crowd cheered nonetheless. At the rock wall nearby, kids scampered up with the effortless grace of Spider-Man, their red-faced parents gamely trying to keep pace.

Nearly exhausted simply from spectating, I wandered over to the fitness center (at 12,000 square feet, the largest one afloat) for a talk about acupuncture. The lecture series is part of the line’s new wellness program called Vitality, which also features a low-calorie menu, exercise classes, health-oriented shore excursions and spa treatments. I browsed the afternoon’s fitness schedule: Tai chi, meditation, yoga and spinning all sounded stimulating. But I decided to pass up New Age in favor of old-school: real boxing in a full-sized ring. The instructor hooked us up with red gloves and paired us with a partner to practice our uppercuts. Turns out I wasn’t quite rumble-ready, but it was a vigorous workout.

In the evening, activity gravitated to the Royal Promenade, a four-deck-high retail, restaurant and entertainment hub that’s a cross between Main Street and the mall (this is a floating city, after all). Cruisers browsed the boutiques, chatted at “outdoor” cafés, even grabbed a quick trim at the barbershop. I opted for the Champagne Bar, where happy hour was in full swing. Later I’d savor a mojito at Bolero’s Latin Lounge before returning to the main drag and the Hoof and Claw, an English pub with dark wood décor, dim lighting and pints aplenty. Across the way, families gathered at Sorrento’s pizza, the kids’ hair still strewn with glitter and confetti from the Promenade’s afternoon parade. I took it all in and reflected on the day. I’d survived a few rounds in the ring, found my pressure points and gone bar hopping. Ice skating, the gym and a go at the FlowRider topped the next day’s agenda. Somewhere, Iggy was smiling.

From $499 per person for double occupancy on a seven-night Caribbean cruise; www.royalcaribbean.com

Must do
Directionally challenged? Invest in an MP3 audio tour of the ship. For $10, it’s yours for the duration of the cruise.

Debbie Snow
Cruisers can dally with Lady Luck at Liberty of the Seas’ Casino Royale with 19 tables and more than 300 machines.
Don’t miss the irresistible novelty of ice skating in the Caribbean. The rink opens for a few hours daily; lessons available.

Check out the rollicking Ever After, a Broadway-style evening revue featuring adult interpretations of classic fairy tales.

New on Royal Caribbean for 2008
The next-in-line “largest ship in the world,” Independence of the Seas, launches in May, sailing six- and eight-night Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale.

Voyager of the Seas cruises the Caribbean from its new home port, Galveston, Texas, through April.

Sweet indulgence: Crown Princess, Princess Cruises
A soft-spoken steward escorted me to my chaise. Draping a towel over the plumped cushion, he smoothed an errant crease. Hushed conversation and faint strains of meditative music were the only sounds I heard as I inhaled the salty air. Blissfully immersed in relaxation aboard Princess Cruises’ Crown Princess, I was simultaneously in my own world and floating somewhere between Brooklyn and St. Maarten. Built in 2006, the 113,000-ton, 3,070-passenger ship is the latest addition to a line known for delivering personalized service even as the size of its vessels increases.

Debbie Snow
The adults-only pool on Crown Princess.
Huge as it is, Crown Princess still has lots of places to escape to, the best of which is the Sanctuary, an adults-only enclave on the uppermost deck. Ten dollars for a half-day ($20 full) gains passengers entry to this cocoon of tranquility far from the pool games and associated ruckus, where they’re free to nap, read or otherwise unwind. Settling in, I sipped a glass of fruit-infused water and previewed the menu of light fare.

Come evening, the Sanctuary closed and passengers primped for dinner. The line’s Personal Choice Dining offers traditional early or late seating in the main dining room; “anytime dining” at a reserved table in either of two other dining rooms; casual meals at a variety of buffets; or dinner in one of two specialty restaurants, Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill (which charge covers of $20 and $25, respectively). This night I chose Sabatini’s, a trattoria where waiters kept the wine flowing as I studiously worked my way through a seven-course meal. By the time I polished off my espresso and limoncello, three hours had passed in a gastronomic procession of grilled lobster, pumpkin risotto and zabaglione. After dinner I strolled around the piazza-style atrium, a faux-Venetian-cobblestone hub for shops, bars and an art gallery, and had a nightcap at Vines wine bar.

The next morning, promptly at 7:30, Romeo from room service whispered a greeting as he set down my standing breakfast order: coffee, fruit and a croissant. The spa manager, Lisa, was expecting me for an aroma seaweed massage, but I vowed to first check out the gym, in the vain hope of working off last night’s pasta. There I joined a Pilates class and did some cardio-atonement, followed by a steam in the thermal suite, which features a fragrant steam room, two tropical rain showers and a sauna. My body melted into a heated chaise as I waited for Lisa to whisk me away for my massage.

Moments later, slathered in warm seaweed paste, my muscles uncoiled, and any last vestiges of tension evaporated. Once the green goo dried, I rinsed and returned to the table for a full-body massage that calibrated my mood to “total surrender.” For an hour, I was aware of nothing but the therapist’s ministrations. But as she finished and I reluctantly came to, a happy realization dawned: I had five more days of this to go.

From $599 per person for double occupancy on a seven-night Caribbean cruise; www.princesscruises.com/

Must do
Grab a chaise and some popcorn and watch a “Movie Under the Stars.” Feature films, sports and concerts appear each evening on a 300-square-foot LED poolside screen.

Lose the crowds and ogle the sunset at Skywalkers Nightclub. It’s usually empty until clubbers start drifting in around 10 p.m.

Catch the entertaining culinary presentations. Pans clatter, knives flash, chefs ham it up and you may even learn a trick or two.

New on Princess Cruises for 2008
Caribbean Princess, a slightly larger ship, will be redeployed from Fort Lauderdale to New York May through August, offering nine-day cruises from Brooklyn.

The 3,070-passenger Ruby Princess debuts next November, sailing western Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale.

Fun on tap, wine by the glass: Carnival Liberty, Carnival Cruise Lines
Anticipating a bite-sized confection, I ordered dessert. When it arrived, however, my meal’s finale comprised not one but three chocolate temptations, artfully presented on Versace china. Already sated from an exquisite sushi appetizer, a spinach-and-mushroom salad with warm bacon dressing, and a generous platter of seared Caribbean lobster tail and grilled USDA prime steak, I had little choice but to recruit reinforcements from the convivial table of 12 next to me.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Given Carnival’s “Fun Ship” credo, I was as surprised as the next skeptic to learn that Harry’s Supper Club, the $30-a-head specialty restaurant aboard the cruise line’s two-year-old Carnival Liberty, could hold its own with any high-end steakhouse you’d find on land. In an elegant space with décor inspired by Harry Winston’s sparkling jewels, the restaurant bore no resemblance to the perfunctory buffets and burger joints for which I’d steeled myself.

Liberty’s other dining venues proved eye-opening, as well. Chefs trained by three-Michelin-starred Georges Blanc (with whom the line partnered in 2005) turned out flavorful “signature selections” for lunch and dinner, served in a two-story dining salon adorned with gold leaf and Murano glass chandeliers. Every menu featured Spa Carnival fare for the calorie-conscious, vegetarian selections and a pasta dish — a popular choice among the Italian ship officers with whom I dined on formal night.

On the lido deck, there was a Taste of the Nations international buffet, a Mongolian Grill Stir-Fry and Fish and Chips, a sophisticated take on the British perennial accompanied by spicy bouillabaisse, ceviche and fried oysters. Most evenings I’d savor a roll and sake from Origami, the sushi bar on the promenade deck, and watch the unofficial fashion show as fellow passengers made their way to dinner. Back in my cabin, more unexpected amenities awaited: a bathrobe in the closet, an illuminated magnifying makeup mirror, a spacious sitting area and plenty of storage space.

Make no mistake: Carnival’s compulsory-fun factor was still very much in evidence, as unflinchingly bubbly cruise directors drummed up participants for synchronized swimming, an Austin Powers dance class and the apparently unsinkable Newlywed Game. But there was also room on the ship for a quiet game of cards in the library or afternoon tea accompanied by a classical trio. I spent most evenings listening to jazz in the nine-story atrium, enchanted by the stunning, 20-foot-wide handcrafted iron chandelier suspended over the cavernous atrium’s hub. Surrounded by art nouveau Murano glass and fine sculptures, I gave in to a pleasant sensation. Could it have been the buzz of expectations exceeded? From $499 per person for double occupancy on a seven-night Caribbean cruise; carnival.com

Must do
Liberty’s pastry chefs spend hours creating towers of extravagant dark-, milk- and white-chocolate desserts for the late-night Chocolate Extravaganza. Not to sample the results would be downright rude.

Debbie Snow
A vintage pour at Harry’s on Carnival Liberty.
Watch hypnotist Glenn Miller convince passengers that they’re Victoria’s Secret models or Shirley Temple — or hold out for his bawdier, adults-only late-night act.

New on Carnival for 2008
An adults-only deck, new resort-style pool areas and water parks will debut on the line’s eight Fantasy-class ships.

Beginning September, the remodeled Carnival Imagination will sail three- and four-day cruises from Miami.

Everything you need to know about booking a cruise … but didn’t know whom to ask (Thank us later.)

More than 12.5 million people are cruising this year, according to Cruise Lines International Association, or CLIA, which represents 23 companies. The majority of them headed for the Caribbean, still the most popular destination. Here’s how to smooth out your itinerary long before you set foot to gangplank.

Hire an agent
Even in the age of point-and-click, it pays to consult a travel agent who specializes in cruises. Finding one who has cruised on many lines will likely pay off when it comes to deciphering cabin categories, scoring upgrades and snagging exclusive deals. Reputable agents will also honor the lower fare if the price drops before you board. CLIA’s Web site, offers a useful affiliated-agent locator.

Start digging
The Internet offers plenty of places to research ships, lines or ports of call. Check the lines’ Web sites or visit cruisecritic.com, smartertravel.com or cruisediva.com Ted Scull's "100 Best Cruise Vacations" (Globe Pequot, 2006) is also an informative resource.

The sooner the better
High-demand itineraries and cabin categories sell out early, so book well in advance for the best selection and lowest fare. (Most passengers book between four and six months out.) You may also be able to reserve shore excursions, specialty restaurant seating and spa appointments in advance, either online or through an agent. If not, make them as soon as you board — yes, even before you hit the sail-away party.

Price? Which price?
As with ever-fluctuating airfares, cruise tariffs are sensitive to demand. Popular itineraries during peak times command premium prices three months out, but the same cabin booked nine months in advance (or even earlier) may be priced to sell. Knowing just when to fork over your deposit can be tricky — another good reason to use an experienced travel agent. (Also note that many cruise lines offer a discount if you book your next cruise while onboard.)

Fall into savings
Caribbean cruise fares often drop considerably during hurricane season. Rish-takers might consider sailing between Thanksgiving and mid-December. (Keep in mind, though, that bad weather could force a change in your ship’s itinerary.) Purchase travel insurance to protect yourself in case of foul weather or a medical emergency. Buy a policy through the cruise line or from a third-party insurer, whose coverage may cost less and cover more. Compare rates at www.insuremytrip.com.

Low and inside
If you plan to spend most of your sea days on deck and all your shore days on excursion, consider booking an inside cabin. Your accommodations will be smaller — way smaller — than Joe and Sally Spendalot’s in the owner’s suite. But so will your fare.

Power packing
Most lines now offer onboard Wi-Fi and cell service, even out at sea. But your cabin may not have sufficient electrical outlets to charge all your gadgets. Bring along a power strip and you’ll be good to go. — Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments