Carnival is undertaking a $300 million program to add emergency generators to ships, upgrade fire safety and improve engine rooms. The changes will create redundancies so that if one power source fails, others will be available.
Carnival has also added consumer-friendly offerings like Seuss at Sea, a branded children's program, and Carnival Live, a just-announced series of onboard concerts that begin this spring featuring big names like Jennifer Hudson, LeAnn Rimes, Daughtry, Jewel and Lady Antebellum.
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com, says river cruises are "just exploding with new ship launches by Viking, Uniworld, Avalon, AmaWaterways and others."
Viking Cruises christened 10 new river ships last year and launches a dozen more this year. American Cruise Lines has commissioned four new riverboats. And the newly refurbished American Empress makes its maiden voyage in April on the Pacific Northwest's Columbia and Snake rivers.
River cruises are offered around the world, from the Danube to the Mississippi to the Yangtze, but Spencer Brown says this year's "hot places to watch" include Myanmar and France's Bordeaux region.
More cruise lines are banning smoking on balconies in addition to cabins. After all, if you're a nonsmoker, you don't want smoke from the neighboring verandah blowing back into your room. Disney, Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Crystal are among the lines that no longer permit balcony smoking; Cunard will join them later this year.
But most ships still offer some designated smoking areas onboard, which may include decks, casinos and select clubs.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
Cruise lines keep expanding culinary offerings with more celebrity chef-designed menus and variety, from ethnic food to vegan and gluten-free dishes. Specialty restaurants also continue to be added, some charging extra and some covered by the basic cruise price.
Norwegian's Getaway and Breakaway feature menus from Geoffrey Zakarian and bakeries by "Cake Boss" star Buddy Valastro. Crystal Cruises' Serenity has an onboard herb garden where chefs can harvest fresh ingredients. Carnival is introducing a new contemporary upscale restaurant, the American Table, on two ships. Oceania Cruises offers more than 20 classes in its Bon Appetit Culinary Center onboard the Marina and Riviera ships, from regional cuisines to pasta-making.
Jim Berra, head of marketing for CLIA, says the industry is working on improving technology by upgrading networks and expanding bandwidth. New apps under development will allow guests to keep track of events onboard and stay in touch with each other via text, just like they do on land,without "sitting there dreading that roaming charge." The improvements won't be felt for awhile, though: "We're in our early innings but there's a lot more to come," Berra said.