Trips for young players
So much for quoits and shuffleboard: one of the world's newest cruise ships has a real manicured lawn on its top deck, where guests play croquet while others lounge on a picnic blanket with wine and cheese.
Meanwhile, on the Celebrity Solstice, adventurous types learn glass blowing from a Corning Museum of Glass representative.
If that sounds unexpectedly cool, you haven't made the acquaintance of the contemporary cruise industry. Most of the world's cruise lines are finding new ways to attract younger, funkier customers, while inspiring experienced cruisers to return.
Sweet spa treats
The Costa ships began the trend and now spa "immersion" is a big deal on the high seas.
The Carnival Splendor and Carnival Dream offer spa suites with private access to the Cloud 9 Spa and special privileges.
Cunard's Queen Mary 2 has a Canyon Ranch spa with a vast menu of therapies and treatments beyond what is usually offered at sea.
Crystal's spas are designed for feng shui and have sun decks attached.
On the newer Seabourn ships, the spa includes elaborate wet areas and private villas designed for those who want to make their cruise as much about wellness and rejuvenation as vacationing.
Dodgy cabarets are (mostly) a thing of the past. Now, it is common to have circus acts, full music theatre productions and wandering film characters.
At the top of the entertainment pile is Norwegian Epic, with entertainment including Cirque du Soleil acts under the Spiegeltent, Blue Man Group and, for more adult fun, a Svedka vodka ice bar.
The Disney ships host full Disney musicals, while Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas has featured a full production of Chicago. Afternoon pastimes have well and truly surpassed the bingo, bridge and napkin-folding days. Enrichment on board can include language, dance and cooking classes. Some ships offer on-board food and wine "festivals" with celebrity chefs and sommeliers.
Crystal is regarded as one of the best for these activities. The ScholarShip@Sea program includes pottery classes, wine appreciation and book-club events attended by big-name authors.
Hipper shore options
Cruise itineraries are changing to include less-obvious, sometimes hard-to-get-to destinations.
For example, Crystal Cruises includes Kuwait City, Bandar Abbas in Iran, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Sevastopol in Ukraine. Princess Cruises is going to Abu Dhabi, Tangier and Xiamen, on the coast of China.
While there, shore excursions and activities are upping the ante for more adventurous, independent and mobile types. Crystal's adventures include extended land programs, with stays in some of the world's top, or most exotic, hotels. Shore excursions include sea kayaking on the Adriatic coast off Dubrovnik and mountain biking in Corfu. There are also bespoke cooking classes in Tuscany or Mediterranean sailing on a private yacht.
Major attractions for minors
In 10 years, the number of children on board Carnival Cruise Lines ships has increased from 100,000 to 600,000 a year, while P&O says the number of children they're welcoming has quadrupled in seven years.
With growth like that, cruise lines are continually developing new ways to attract families. Some of the big trends include activities that cater to various developmental stages, with some teen-only programs going as far as spa treatments and mocktail parties.
Many lines are also introducing family and adjoining suites but it's the basketball courts, rock climbing, zip lines, surfing, ice skating, designated kids' pools and big movie screens that make cruises fun for kids.
Royal Caribbean's newer ships, such as Freedom of the Seas, have partnered with DreamWorks to include movie-related characters, shows and activities in the same vein as Disney cruises, the most elaborate of the kid-friendly lines.
P&O Cruises, with its Australian-based Pacific Sun, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Jewel, is a value-seeker's ideal. It offers savings in both money and time because the cruises are competitively priced and they don't involve expensive flights from Australia. (Children under 12 often cruise free when in a cabin with two adults.)
In October next year, the Australian family market will include the Carnival Spirit. At about 86,000 tonnes, it will be the largest ship based in Sydney Harbour. Carnival's ships are famous for their huge water slides, karaoke, treasure hunts and pool parties.
Further afield, the Norwegian Epic, which sails the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Atlantic, gets accolades for its climbing wall, trampoline and "spider web" climbing cage.
Sydney Morning Herald