Editor's note: This story is from the Cruise Critic Archives. Content was up to date at time of publication.
Cruise ship makeovers, or refurbishments, have become multi-million-dollar events, with big-name lines angling to upgrade older ships in lieu of building new ones. Well in excess of $100 million will be spent on adding burrito and burger joints, ice-topped martini bars and fancy "spa" cabins to the nine patients detailed below. It's almost enough to make cruise fans forget about the dearth of prototypes due out in 2012 (with a couple notable exceptions, you'll have to wait until 2013 for the really new stuff). There are some pitfalls to refurbs -- many lines take the opportunity to add more "revenue opportunities." In other words, for-fee restaurants often replace fee-free spaces. But, as with anything else, the new options are just that ... optional.
So strap on a pair of those nerdy looking safety goggles and check out nine mega-ships heading in for major surgery in 2012.
The Makeover: While not as comprehensive as other "extreme" refurbishments, what's intriguing about Carnival Spirit's "Aussification" is how much effort the cruise line made to tweak ship features to appeal to its new source market. (Beginning in October, the ship will be based in Sydney.) The big eye-catcher is the Green Thunder waterslide, a 180-foot-long twister that begins with a near-vertical drop. Serenity, Carnival's signature adults-only retreat, was also added. And, once the ship arrives at its new homeport, passengers will enjoy some unusual twists for the brand -- including a new top-deck barbecue venue; improved coffee for notoriously picky Aussies; more draught beers, in a nod to regional preference; and more cabins with interconnecting doors (cruising is incredibly popular with Australian families).
The Makeover: Over the past half decade, Princess Cruises has been busy standardizing its eight Grand-glass ships -- adding poolside jumbotrons (Movies Under the Stars), "Piazza-style" atriums and adult-only deck spaces (the Sanctuary) initially found only on the line's newest vessels, Crown (2006), Emerald (2007) and Ruby Princess. Sapphire emerged from a month-long refurbishment in February 2012, gaining said signature features -- and the makeover couldn't have come soon enough. The formerly dull atrium has been transformed into the effervescent Piazza, a public area with a wine and tapas bar, bakery, pizzeria and performance space. And after years of dedicated service, the rest of the ship benefited from the refit, too. Throughout Sapphire, passengers will find new bar countertops, tiling, teak decking around the main pool, furniture in the casino, an upgraded buffet and a new top-deck "lawn court" (artificial grass) for putting, bocce and croquet.
Date & Location: October 2011 - February 2012, Genoa
The Makeover: The refurbishment was so ambitious that Costa Cruises renamed the ship. The 18-year-old Costa Romantica spent 3.5 months in dry-dock, from which it emerged with a slew of new cabins, features and interior design, and a new(ish) name, Costa neoRomantica. Two half-decks were added on the bow-side, comprising 111 new accommodations. Throughout the ship, the number of cabins and suites featuring balconies grew to 160, and total passenger capacity went from 1,697 to 1,800. New spaces include a wine and cheese bar with 100 vinos and cheeses from around the world; a coffee and chocolate bar; an Italian pizzeria; a cabaret lounge; a nightclub; and the beach club-styled Lido Bar Monte Carlo. The line also added a 45,000-plus-square-foot wellness area to neoRomantica. The space features a gym, thalassotherapy pool, treatment rooms, sauna, Turkish bath, 50 spa cabins and six suites, and a special spa restaurant.
The Makeover: Minerva's overhaul was the 350-passenger vessel's first update since its original conversion from a military "spy ship." The refurb saw massive balconies added to 32 cabins, an upgrade of all 181 en suite passenger cabin facilities and the creation of new public areas. Specifically, among a host of more minor updates, a new main lounge called Orpheus was added to the promenade deck (pictured). The new lounge features panoramic views through floor-to-ceiling windows and a sprawling dance floor. Under the hood enhancements were also made to improve efficiency and environmental performance.
The Makeover:The 15-year-old Rhapsody, one of six "mid-size," 1,998-passenger Vision-class ships, gained a number of features found on Oasis and Allure of the Seas. New dining venues added include Izumi (Asian), Giovanni's Table (Italian) and the Park Cafe, a bistro concept borrowed from Oasis and Allure -- minus the park setting found on those ships.
There are some non-Oasis twists, too. The massive hanging sculpture was removed from Rhapsody's 60-foot-high, seven-deck Centrum to make way for cirque du Soleil-style aerial performances, and the Centrum's Champagne Bar became the 60's-style R Bar, complete with iconic furnishings and signature cocktails. Royal also addeda pair of lounges for its top past passengers and those staying in suites (one lounge for "Diamonds," one for "Diamond Plus" and suite pax). On a more controversial note, an outdoor movie screen was installed near the ship's main pool. Finally, note the integration of a slew of new technology-based amenities, including digital signage and iPads in every cabin.
The Makeover: The 11-year-old Celebrity Millennium will be the final ship in its namesake class to get sliced up in Celebrity's hard-to-pronounce, $140 million "Solstice-ization" program. The goal is to take the quirky Millennium quartet, known for their whimsical art (see Rubanesque nudes by the indoor pool) and colorful spaces, and make them look more like the line's newer, sleeker, more amenity-laden (read: more for-fee options) Solstice-class ships.
Millennium will emerge with 100 new or redesigned AquaClass spa cabins, which feature massage showers, aromatherapy products and passes to the spa's thermal suites; a 24-hour wine bar (the "enomatic" dispensing system makes that work); an ice-topped martini bar featuring juggling servers; a trio of alternative restaurants; and a gelateria. The new dining venues include Qsine ($40 per person), where patrons order whimsical dishes off of iPads and presentation -- think sushi lollipops or spring rolls served in springs -- is the focus; Bistro on 5, a creperie ($5); and Blu, the AquaClass-passenger-only restaurant serving "clean" Mediterranean cuisine (lots of broiled seafood). Millennium will also gain an iLounge, where iEverythings (except iPad 2's) will be on sale at onshore price points. Finally, and less favorably for passengers, the ship will get more crowded; 60 new cabins will be inserted throughout.
The Makeover: In June, luxe line Crystal Cruises will spend almost $1 million a day to spruce up its 922-passenger Crystal Symphony. Rather than putting cash into new for-fee restaurants or theme bars, the line is focusing on reinventing the ship by redesigning lounges and public spaces. These include the jazz-era-style Avenue Saloon, the Galaxy Lounge (main theater) and the Bridge Lounge (the spot for card players). When you're dealing with teak, mohair and marble, the cost adds up.
One example of what's in store: The Avenue Saloon, said Crystal in a statement, will gain a plethora of fancy new seating, including "antique-style, brass-tack couches, a large red wall sofa, and embossed-leaf barstools." Look around and you'll also find hand-tufted carpets, textured wall upholstery and edge-lit glass shelves behind the bar.
It's not all about pleasing Crystal's affluent 60-plus set. A new layout for both the Fantasia kids play area and Waves teen video arcade is also on tap. Grandchildren of that 60-plus set will have access to bean bag chairs, an "interactive" white board and video game stations.
Cost of Surgery: Not revealed, but part of the $500 million Fun Ship 2.0 program
Date & Location: October 14 - 28, N/A
The Makeover: Fun Ship 2.0 sounds a bit year 2000, but we won't begrudge the name of Carnival's multi-year, 14-ship, $500 million refurb program, which covers eating, (a lot of) drinking and laughing. In late October, Carnival Conquest 2.0 will emerge with a pair of new fee-free casual dining venues, Guy's Burger Joint, a beef-and-bun venue associated with self-promotion machine Guy Fieri, and the Blue Iguana Cantina, a taco and burrito venue.
Conquest will also get four new theme bars, including one celebrating rum drinks (RedFrog Rum Bar), tequila drinks (Blue Iguana Tequila Bar), drinks made by a pharmacist/wizard (Alchemy Bar, with it's multitude of mixed cocktails) and drinks to be consumed while watching the big game (EA Sports Bar). For those wishing to flex their funny bone, Conquest will re-debut with the "Punchliners Comedy Club & Brunch Presented by George Lopez."
The Makeover: Like sister ship Radiance of the Seas, which enjoyed a $20 million Oasis-style upgrade in June 2010, Serenade will gain eight new dining venues culled from the game-changing Oasis-class duo. Among the new restaurants -- complimentary and for-fee -- are Giovanni's Table, a "family-style" Italian restaurant with a $15 cover charge for lunch and $20 for dinner; the Park Cafe, a fee-free addition specializing in paninis and salads; and Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse (dinner-only, $25 per person).
The ships will also gain cabin upgrades throughout -- as with Rhapsody, the line is making iPads a standard in-room inclusion -- a jumbotron installed near the main pool and a Royal Babies and Tots Nursery space, which is open to children ages 6 months to 36 months at a cost of $8 per hour.
That omnipresent Wi-Fi and digital signage will be post-November experience, too.