Image: Soumen Banerjee, aboard the Carnival cruise ship "Imagination"
David Adame  /  AP file
While the typical cruise ship remains a vessel of vast food overindulgence fueled by 24/7 buffets, pizza stands, and ice cream parlors around every corner, many cruise lines have added more gourmet fare for the more sophisticated palate.
By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 3/10/2008 7:21:18 PM ET 2008-03-10T23:21:18

Cruise entertainment used to come down to three things: bingo, shuffleboard and shtick entertainment. Today, cruise lines are going all-out to entice younger, more adventurous and curious travelers to their ships by upgrading their shipboard activities and entertainment offerings. Here are three better things to do with your time on your next cruise.

Enrich your mind
Many cruise lines now offer informative shipboard talks by famous lecturers on a variety of topics. Seabourn offers cruises with veteran broadcast journalists Hugh Downs and Bernard Kalb, who talk about world events and today’s media. Silversea Cruises has a “John Cleese Film Festival,” hosted by John Cleese, who introduces the movies and discusses his life in the entertainment world.

But it’s not all show business. Many premium and luxury lines also invite arts and culture specialists to lead educational programs. For example, Princess Cruises offers a program called ScholarShip@Sea, a range of courses that includes Web design, advanced digital photography, maritime history and pottery. Similarly, Crystal Cruises offers its “Creative Learning Institute,” which includes music classes (in partnership with Yamaha) and language classes (in partnership with Berlitz), as well as workshops in acting, art history, calligraphy, and cabaret.

Get active and healthy
Cruising used to be a lazy vacation: Eat lots of food, drink lots of champagne, then sleep it all off in a deck chair. Not any more. Cruise lines have incorporated more comprehensive fitness options into their shipboard offerings, including larger pools, putting greens with golf simulators, and gyms with state-of-the-art equipment that offer popular workout programs like aerobics, Pilates, circuit training and yoga.

A typical wellness day on a Silversea cruise might include a sunrise chi walk and yoga class followed by a late-morning seminar on nutrition that explores the pros and cons of several popular diets. The afternoon might offer a seminar on healthy backs and abs, followed by a circuit workout with weights. Guests could wind down their day with exercises to stretch and relax their bodies, under the careful guidance of their professional fitness instructor.

Royal Caribbean has built a vast sports program that includes its famous 43-foot-high rock-climbing wall, which is featured on most of its ships. Beginners can get one-on-one training, and more experienced climbers can face off in speed-climbing competitions. Royal Caribbean also has ice rinks on most ships, as well as an in-line skating route and a full-size boxing ring. On the line’s biggest ships you’ll find the FlowRider, a wave simulator on which passengers can surf or body-board.

Happily, the evolution from shuffleboard to grunt-and-sweat activities is balanced by the total relaxation guests find in modern shipboard spas. Indulgences include such treatments as an exotic coconut rub, body wraps, soothing scalp massages, facials and relaxing deep-tissue massage. These are just some of the many therapeutic options available should you wish to turn your cruise vacation into a complete health makeover at sea.

Go gourmet
While the typical cruise ship remains a vessel of vast food overindulgence fueled by 24/7 buffets, pizza stands, and ice cream parlors around every corner, many cruise lines have added more gourmet fare for the more sophisticated palate. Many lines host regular food-and-wine festivals and invite chefs and wine experts to lead seminars and tastings. Holland America Line and Silversea Cruises have gone a few steps further, offering a “Culinary Arts Center” and “Viking Cooking School,” respectively. Each includes a theater-style venue in which the visiting chefs demonstrate their culinary skills and pass on their tricks of the trade.

Most lines also have alternative dining venues where, for an additional fee, guests can indulge in premium fare. Carnival has its Sun King supper club; Princess Cruises offers Sabatini’s Italian trattoria; and Norwegian Cruise Line offers its French-inspired Le Bistro, to name a few.

For diehard foodies, nothing beats cruises aboard Silversea and Crystal Cruises. Silversea makes the most of its partnership with luxury hotel-and-restaurant brand Relais & Châteaux by offering onboard gourmet restaurants, Saletta and Le Champagne. For $200 per person ($30 per person without wines) guests can indulge in a series of rare wines and culinary creations. On Crystal guests can dine on the “Ultimate Vintage Room” dinner option, in which for $1,200 per person guests enjoy an eight-course dinner teamed with some of the world’s rarest wines.

With all the educational, health, exercise and epicurean offerings available on today’s cruise ships, you no longer have to count the hours between bingo and a evening of impersonations in the Shtick Theater. Enriching the mind, spirit and palate is the new wave in cruise vacations.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column. And check out her blog, ExpertCruiser.com.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

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