What's new for cruising in 2015: New ships, new onboard activities, and even a 'new river'

Try a robotic cocktail waiter, says Caroline Hendrie

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The Independent Travel

This year there are plenty of firsts for even the most seasoned cruisers.

Launching in April, Anthem of the Seas (0844 493 4005; royalcaribbean.co.uk), based in Southampton, is aiming to appeal to tech-savvy twenty- somethings. The huge American "smart ship" will brim with technological innovations such as cocktail-shaking robots and simulated skydiving. Meanwhile P&O (0843 374 0111; pocruises.com) has tapped into the nation's obsession with MasterChef and The Great British Bake Off by installing a cookery school and guest celebrity chefs such as James Martin and Marco Pierre White on board its new ship Britannia, sailing from Southampton from March. Both these new ships carry around 3,600 passengers.

Norwegian Escape sets sail on Caribbean cruises from Miami in November (0845 201 8900; ncl.com). The 4,200-passenger mega-ship will have the largest aqua park and ropes course at sea – three decks high – and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle miniature golf course. A week's cruise of the eastern Caribbean costs from £1,410pp for a 13 November departure and from £2,116pp, departing on 18 December. Both prices include flights from Heathrow and pre-cruise hotel stay.

"The focus for 2015 is on the on-shore experience," said Andy Harmer, director of the Cruise Lines International Association UK & Ireland. "Cruise lines are now offering more overnight stays to allow total immersion in destinations."

One new, destination-led ship will be the 930-passenger Viking Star, the first ocean vessel from river cruise company Viking. Two-week, port-intensive cruises will have at least two overnight stays in cities such as Barcelona and Venice. Advance bookings have been so intense it is sold out for this year already. However, a 14-night cruise of Scandinavia and the Baltic on Viking Star is available, departing on 22 May 2016 from Stockholm. Fares start at £3,899pp in a deluxe veranda cabin, including 11 excursions, drinks with meals, and flights (0800 319 6660; vikingcruises.co.uk).

The River Loire is offered for stay-aboard cruises for the first time thanks to improved paddle-wheel technology. New MS Loire Princesse, with three decks and 48 cabins, will be able to navigate the river's shallow waters on six- and eight-day itineraries starting in April. A six-day round trip from Nantes, up the River Loire, calls at Ancenis, Bouchemaine, and Angers with excursions to chateaux, and costs from £1,001pp, including drinks with meals (travel to France extra) with CroisiEurope (020 8328 1281; croisieurope.co.uk).

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