Wrapped from neck to toe in seaweed and covered in plastic, I am being lowered into a waterbed to baste slowly for 20 minutes. Afterwards, I will be slathered in oils and pummelled, pulled and pounded, before flopping on a deck chair.
I am in the upmarket Canyon Ranch Spa. Not in a far-flung five-star resort, but rather on board Cunard's 2,590-passenger Queen Mary 2. Spas are just one way that luxury cruising is looking to match, and surpass, the offerings in land-based resorts.
State-of-the-art technology, gourmet dining and exotic destinations are among the attractions that the industry hopes will keep cruise fans coming back for more and hook the next generation. Read on for the latest news from the world of cruise.
These days, cruise ships are attracting younger holidaymakers, and this new generation of cruise-goer is having an influence on the very itineraries being offered.
The "time poor" nature of these guests is fuelling a trend for shorter cruises, particularly evident on Mediterranean itineraries. For example, Crystal Cruises is planning three- and four-night "taster" voyages as well as seven-night Mediterranean cruises for next year. And Seabourn Cruises will be positioning its entire fleet of six ships in the Med next summer on mainly seven-night cruises.
This new constituency might soon be influencing routes, too. In a recent poll by YouGov for the Passenger Shipping Association, one in five British adults voted New York City as the top cruise port, ousting the perennially popular Venice into second place. Interestingly, New York might hold on to this crown because it was voted the firm favourite by more than a quarter of respondents aged between 18 and 34.
Technology continues to be big news for cruising in the coming year, with gadgets, gizmos and inventive attractions all laid on.
A second Aqua Duck roller coaster – clear tubing wrapped around the ship's funnel that projects over the sea and propels guests on inflated rafts – is planned for Disney's new 4,000-passenger ship, Disney Fantasy, due to launch on 31 March 2012. Celebrity Cruises' new Celebrity Reflection will offer its 3,030 passengers sophisticated technology such as iPad menus in its Qsine Restaurant and Apple products in its iLounge.
Arriving in early 2013, Princess Cruises' 3,600-berth Royal Princess plans to entice guests with SeaWalk, a glass-bottomed enclosed walkway on the ship's top deck which will extend more than 28ft beyond the edge of the vessel. Port side, the cantilevered SeaView bar will offer the same type of experience and views.
Carnival Breeze, a 3,690-passenger vessel, with its debut planned for June 2012, will attract families on board with a SkyCourse ropes experience, and Carnival Waterworks, a water-park that features two huge slides.
The newly launched 450-guest Seabourn Quest has opened The Spa at Seabourn, which features a Kniepp Walk water therapy system, involving alternating baths of hot and cold water to encourage the circulation.
The Crystal Spa, on the 940-passenger Crystal Symphony, is the first floating spa to incorporate feng shui principles. Treatments include aroma stone therapy and Japanese silk booster facials.
And the spas on identical twin ships, the 110-guest SeaDream I and SeaDream II, have introduced La Prairie pure gold radiance facials and new Thalgo facials, terre and mar.
Due to demand, Silversea Cruises has announced that it will acquire a new vessel for expeditions as a sister for the 132-guest Silver Explorer. Its popular expedition cruises to remote destinations, including both of the world's polar regions, sell out each year.
Meanwhile, Costa Cruises' 16th ship, the Costa Fascinosa, which will carry 3,000 guests, is due to launch on 2 May 2012. And the company has just ordered the largest ship ever to be constructed for an Italian cruise line, weighing 132,500 GT, with 1,854 cabins and capacity for 4,928 guests.
Interesting use of space on board will be all the rage for 2012. Celebrity Cruises' guests will be able to relax with their own iPad technology (or a good book) in the Hideaway, with its cosy rattan "nests" and stylish egg-shaped chairs, on the Celebrity Silhouette, which launched this July, and also on the forthcoming Celebrity Reflection. Both vessels will have the Lawn Grill Club, where guests can barbecue steaks and burgers, and The Alcoves, private cabanas that can be rented for intimate outdoor gatherings.
On Seabourn Quest, the Seabourn Square won't just be the place to book excursions; it will also house a library, computer centre and coffee bar. MSC Cruises has created the Yacht Club, an exclusive area of the ship where every suite has butler service and is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including Nintendo Wiis.
NCL's awarding-winning The Studio, introduced on the 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic, features solo studio cabins and its own lounge, a facility that it claims is already proving enormously popular, especially with women travelling solo. Its two new ships, due to arrive in 2013 and 2014, will feature the concept.
Foodies should book on Oceania's new ship Riviera, due to launch in April 2012, which will have 10 dining venues and six gourmet restaurants. The 1,250-guest Riviera is planning a French restaurant called Jacques.
P&O says Marco Pierre White's Ocean Grill will be added to the Oriana and Arcadia in 2012 after being featured on P&O's new ship, the 719-berth Adonia. P&O is introducing masterclasses entitled "Spice" to be hosted by Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar in his restaurant, Sidhu, on board the 3,100-berth Azura.
The special events
You can now plan your cruise to coincide with important events and anniversaries, the most notable for 2012 being the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. The Titanic Memorial Cruise on Fred Olsen's 1,350-passenger Balmoral is due to arrive on 14 April 2012 at the exact spot where the tragedy took place. A remembrance service will be held.
Orion Expedition Cruises reports increased bookings for Antarctica in 2012 to mark the centenary of the death there of Captain Robert Scott. Paul Gauguin Cruises also reports significant interest in its Society Islands itinerary, sailing in June 2012, which will coincide with the Transit of Venus, when the planet passes directly between the Sun and Earth.
On 3 July 2012, P&O will celebrate 175 years since the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company won the contract to carry mail for the British Admiralty, by having all seven ships in Southampton Harbour for the first time – a piece of maritime history that will be marked with marching bands and sail-away parties. Cunard is also set to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in June 2012 by sailing its ships Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2 into Southampton simultaneously.
The Passenger Shipping Association predicts a record 1.7 million UK residents will cruise next year, with a 10 per cent increase in passengers departing from UK ports. Yet, more challenging voyages are also becoming increasingly popular.
Star Clippers will debut a new itinerary to the Baltic, ensuring a chance to visit some of the world's greatest ports on its fully crewed square rigger, the four-mast, 170-passenger Star Flyer. The ship will also sail on an itinerary between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and invite the naturalist Steffi Adels on board. The ship will call at the National Park of Santa Rosa and National Reserve of Curu.
Royal Caribbean International Cruise Lines is entering a strategic relationship with the Xiamen municipal government and China World Cruises to charter Legend of the Seas for four months in 2012 for three- to eight-night sailings to Xiamen, Shanghai, Tianjin and Hong Kong.
RCCL's Voyager of the Seas will be based in the Far East next year to explore China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Seabourn Odyssey is heading to Australasia in late 2012 to operate an array of cruises to Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.
Voyages to Antiquity has announced sailings to the Far East for 2012 on its mid-sized 380-passenger ship Aegean Odyssey, with a focus on history and archaeological treasures, travelling to the heart of Bangkok, Rangoon and Ho Chi Minh City.
Sea Dream Yacht Club has announced plans to return to the Amazon in 2013. Ports of call will include Parintins and Manaus in Brazil and Leticia in Colombia, with a naturalist providing specialist knowledge on board. Seabourn Cruises will be offering two new Amazon itineraries in March 2012, when guests will sail nearly 1,000 miles upriver to the heart of the vast forest and witness Amazon village life on the Curua Una and on Devil's Island off French Guiana.
Who said cruises were for the unadventurous?
Regent Seven Seas (rssc.com)
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The fastest-growing section of the British cruise market is river cruising, which increased by 8 per cent between 2009 and 2010. River cruising is growing in popularity because vessels can take you right to the front door of your chosen destination.
Europe's medieval villages and towns are based right on the river's edge because water provided the safest route for transport for many centuries. Hence, Viking River Cruise's "Cities of Light" 12-day voyage on Viking Legend includes the Moselle, Rhine and Main rivers, with stops in Paris and Prague.
Unique modes of transport are creating waves of excitement on the river cruise front. European Waterways' luxury barges can help re-create BBC television's Rick Stein's French Odyssey with a leisurely trip down the Canal du Midi in southern France. Anantara, famous for its land-based luxury spa resorts, has just launched two-night cruises on Bangkok's Chao Phraya River to be taken on one of two refurbished 100-year-old rice barges, the Anantara Song and Anantara Dream, which have both been painstakingly rebuilt and restored.
Other river-cruise specialists are looking to the Far East in 2012. Ewaterway's Pandaw Cruises will sail on the Rajang River, Borneo, the Irrawaddy in Burma, and the Mekong in Cambodia. Assam Bengal Navigation offers expeditions down the Brahmaputra River in India on the 24-passenger Charaidew.Reuse content