New ships, new year, new cruises
This year is shaping up to be another big one for the cruise industry, with five huge new ocean ships and 29 river ships scheduled to launch. The first new ship to set sail in 2014 is NCL's 4000-passenger the Norwegian Getaway, which started its inaugural cruise out of Rotterdam this month.
Princess Cruises' the Regal Princess makes its debut in May. The 3560-passenger ship will be very similar to the Royal Princess, which was christened by the Duchess of Cambridge in 2013.
The Regal Princess will cruise the Mediterranean until October, when it leaves Barcelona on a 29-day cruise to Miami.
TUI Cruises, a joint venture between Royal Caribbean and German company TUI AG, is launching its first-ever new-build, the 2500-passenger the Mein Schiff 3, in June.
Costa Cruises is launching the Costa Diadema (Italian for "tiara") in October. The Diadema will be the biggest ship in the line's 15-strong fleet, with 1862 cabins and a maximum passenger capacity of almost 5000.
Expect lots of glitz, over the top styling, a massive spa and a two-storey laser and video games area. The vessel will sail on its maiden voyage in November 2014 from Venice to Savona and will be based in the Mediterranean.
Royal Caribbean's the Quantum of the Seas launches in November - the first of three in the new Quantum class. All three Quantum vessels will showcase several notable "first at sea" features, including a sky-diving simulator, bumper cars and a London Eye-type viewing capsule that rises to 100 metres above the sea.
The Astor features a number of entertainment options.
Quantum of the Seas won't be the line's biggest ship; that's coming in 2016 and at approximately 227,700 GRT (gross register tonnage), it will be the world's largest cruise ship.
Kiwis joining cruises in Australia this year will find a smorgasbord of upmarket dining choices on mainstream ships. If you fancy a change from the fare in the main dining room and buffet and don't mind paying extra for top-quality menus and service, you can treat yourself to some memorable meals at sea.
P&O Cruises' latest brochure includes a 16-page food magazine called Fresh Thinking, which features a guide to the dining options on board the Pacific Jewel, the Pacific Pearl and the Pacific Dawn.
If you haven't had dinner at Salt grill by Luke Mangan, put it on your to-do list; it costs $42 a head, which is a fraction of what you'd pay in one of the high-profile Aussie chef's restaurants.
La Luna, an Asian fusion restaurant on board the Pacific Jewel and the Pacific Dawn, offers a multi-course extravaganza for a cover charge of $27; and if you really want to push the boat out, book the Chef's Table "dining experience" in the attractive, bottle-lined Wine Room.
For $101 a head, a group of up to 14 passengers will enjoy a degustation menu paired with selected wines, presented by the executive chef.
Dinner at the Chef's Table on board Royal Caribbean's the Rhapsody of the Seas is impressive. The executive sous chef and his entertaining sidekick, Ronnie the sommelier, take guests through five exquisitely prepared dishes and a delicious selection of wines. The evening is well worth the $81 cover charge.
Although cruising with kids can be lots of fun when it's with your own beloved offspring, you don't necessarily want to be surrounded by hordes of other people's over-excited under-18s when you're looking for a grown-up holiday.
Most large resort-style ships have adults-only deck space and pools, so you can escape from the kids - and loud music - when you're underway. Some offer massages, private cabanas and a dedicated crew to hand you chilled towels, serve drinks and healthy snacks, or spritz you with Evian water. Naturally, you pay a fee for most of these services.
P&O Cruises' Australian ships have a child-free Oasis area; the Carnival Spirit and the Carnival Legend offer the Serenity Retreat; Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises' ships have the Solarium; Holland America Line's ships have the Retreat. All these ships have extensive spas and gyms which don't tend to welcome children (unless it's for a mother-daughter/father-son treatment).
Premium and luxury cruise lines are not as family friendly as the bigger resort-style lines. However, the luxurious Cunard queens do offer excellent childcare facilities, but if you book into the Grill class accommodation you'll have access to exclusive lounges, bars and a private outdoor terrace that are not child-appropriate.
If you don't want to even catch sight of children on board, there are a few adults-only ships such as P&O Cruises World Cruising's the Arcadia, the Adonia and the Oriana.
Sunday Star Times