Mary Dooley from West Virginia recently sailed on Holland America's MS Oosterdam with a group of five family members and friends. "We all thought that taking a cruise together would be a fun way to see and experience Europe," Dooley said. "It's a great way for us to catch up and visit with each other, and visit a unique and beautiful city like Venice."
Children have become valued cruise customers, too. Royal Caribbean has a range of programs tailored to children of all ages: from Crayola art camps to a Fisher-Price preschool program, to surf school, to a supervised teen's lounge. Club HAL on Holland America Line offers programs for kids from 3 to 17, including pizza parties, arts and crafts classes, teen disco and karaoke. Club HAL also offers kids-only shore excursions on some of their cruises.
They don't have to be. Most cruise lines have taken note that people want to eat healthier at sea. Carnival Corp., the largest cruise line in the world, offers lighter dishes, with menus listing nutritional stats, such as calorie and fat gram counts. Healthy cruising on Norwegian Cruise Line includes dining, fitness and sports.
Courtney Recht, a spokeswoman for Norwegian Cruise Line, said, "Norwegian Cruise Line promotes a healthy lifestyle to all its guests through various healthful culinary options on board and the broad range of activities that are available daily. Our dining rooms feature menus with dishes that are low in calories and fat, with the content of each printed directly on the menus. A healthy cruise on Norwegian is also possible with a workout in our modern fitness centers."
Cruise ships have also become more responsive to special dietary needs, offering low-sodium, low-cholesterol, low-fat, Kosher, vegetarian, gluten-free and vegetarian options, as well as meals designed for diabetics. Holland America's Stephen Schuetz, manager of culinary operations, said that nearly a third of the guests on a recent Mediterranean cruise aboard the MS Oosterdam made special dietary requests in advance through their travel agents at the time of booking.
"We've got their standing orders on the computers in our galley kitchens," he said.
Ah, the best laid plans . . . When it's just too hard to pass up that fabulous dessert, there's always a visit to the beautiful Greenhouse Spa and three laps around the deck, which equals a mile on the MS Oosterdam.
Those days of napkin-folding classes and Bingo have been enhanced by rock climbing, ice skating and first-run films in state-of-the art screening rooms. On Royal Caribbean Line's new ships, you can even go body boarding or surfing while at sea. On our cruise, passengers loved a free Microsoft seminar, during which they learned to create their own Web sites and edit their trip photos. Another favorite was the free cooking class with celebrity guest chef Lee Hillson in the Culinary Arts Center, presented by Food & Wine magazine.