All the fun of the fair – in the middle of the ocean

The biggest thrill on a cruise used to be a seat at the captain’s table. Not these days. Kate Simon reports on what’s new in 2010

So you thought you needed a bus pass to go on a cruise. Truth is the industry has been working hard to shake off its senior image for some time to persuade more of us, across the generations, to come aboard.

And it seems to be paying off, according to the Passenger Shipping Association, which reports the numbers of Britons taking a cruise is increasing year on year. Its latest figures, for 2009, show passenger numbers up by 4 per cent to 1.53 million despite the tough economic climate.

They won’t be disappointed with 2010’s offerings, which are bigger and bolder than ever, from the new multimillion-dollar cruise terminal that opened in Dubai in January to some of the floating behemoths about to hit the waves.

The largest of the 14 ships to launch this year is Allure of the Seasfrom Royal Caribbean International (royal caribbean.com). Allure is an exact replica of its sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, accommodating 5,400 passengers, more than any other vessel of its kind. Its design is as remarkable as its size; the 16-deck vessel divides into seven themed areas, or “neighbourhoods”, including the Boardwalk, with its full-size carousel, and Central Park, an open-air version of New York’s famous green lung that’s the size of a football pitch. The ship also has plenty to entertain the young at heart – or in spirit – such as FlowRiders and the first zipline at sea.

Competing with Allure in the novelty stakes is Costa Cruises’ (costacruise.com) new ship Costa Deliziosa. It may take fewer passengers – 2,062 per voyage – but its aim toplease is similarly grand. A Grand Prix racing simulator, roller-skating track and 4D cinema are among the diversions for guests. And NieuwAmsterdam, from Holland America Line (hollandamerica.com), is also attempting to catch the eye of the modern sailor by branding its offerings with world-beating names. So the computer room is also known as “The Digital Workshop, powered by Microsoft Word”, and the place to grab a morning coffee is the “Explorations Café, powered by The New York Times”.

Other new outings this year include Celebrity Eclipse from Celebrity Cruises (celebritycruises.com), which launches this month, hosting 2,850 guests in surroundings reminiscent of a country club – there’s even a manicured lawn on the top deck. Norwegian Epic, making its maiden voyage in June for NCL Freestyle Cruising (ncl.com), carrying up to4,200 guests. At the other end of the size scale, Yachts of Seabourn’s (seabourn.com) Seabourn Sojourn will accommodate just 450 passengers in its top-end all-suite vessel fromJune. And Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises. com) will offer wheelchair accessible rooms across the categories for the first time in its debut bespoke ship, the 1,252-passenger Marina.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages (cruiseandmaritime.com) entered the market, too, this year with two traditional-style ships for 800 passengers, the Marco Polo and the Ocean Countess. And Disney (disneycruise.co.uk) started running full-length cruises out of Dover.

But it’s not all about new ships and novel concepts. Fine dining has always been a big draw for cruisegoers and it’s something the big companies have been working on in recent years, signing up Michelin-starred chefs to create restaurants on board. P&O (pocruises.com) has restaurants by Gary Rhodes on Arcadia and Oriana, and by Marco Pierre White on Ventura. This year Atul Kochhar,of London’s Benares restaurant, will open Sindhuon its latest ship, Azura.

Other starry chefs at sea include Aldo Zilli on Thomson Celebration, Todd English with Cunard (cunard.com), and Nobuyuki Matsuhisa on Crystal Cruises (crystalcruises.com). Chefs coming aboard for special events include Martin Blunos with Holland America Line and Tom Aikens with Crystal Cruises.

Spas, too, are pulling in the punters. Regent Seven Seas (rssc.com) has opened a Canyon Ranch SpaClub on its latest ship, Seven Seas Navigator, and Costa Deliziosa will feature a Samsara Spa. But the biggest story is reserved for the autumn, when the launch of the latest Queen Elizabeth, is sure to hit the news headlines. Cunard’s successor to the QE2 will carry 2,092 guests on its first tour, calling at ports including Lisbon and Las Palmas.

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