After spending a night onboard Monday, we can attest that the kid facilities onboard rate highly, Marco Pierre White's onboard eatery will be too popular for its own good, and Cirque Ventura, the ship's circus skills-school, will be fun for all ages.
And yet, the question obsessing most of the folks onboard was this: How much more innovative can cruise ships become in the future?
Believe it or not? Way more.
In "Celebrating 50 Years of Travel by Sea," a commemorative booklet jointly produced by the Passenger Shipping Association, which supports the cruise industry and travel agents, and Lloyds Cruise International, there are interesting futuristic ideas out there that haven't come to fruition. The booklet was left in cabins onboard Ventura.
Take a look at where it anticipates cruising will go:
You've heard of Royal Caribbean's Genesis-class ships, right? This pair of 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger ships -- to be the largest-ever by more than 40 percent over the current title holder (Freedom of the Seas) -- launches in 2009. But rumors are afoot that an even more massive ship, a design put forward by an unnamed Japanese company, calls for a 370,00-ton, 8,400-passenger ship called Princess Kaguya. Alas, it could be a pie-in-the-sky project; no details are available.
Ironically, Royal Caribbean just today unveiled some details about its Genesis-class ship. Major? The ships will feature a Central Park-style lawn, complete with real trees and vegetation; restaurants, like Chops Grille, will feature outdoor seating.
U.K. cruise ship designer John McNeece is featured as noting that something "radical and innovative" would emerge at some point in the not so distant future and he gives one example. Some ships, he noted in the booklet, could have three interlocking parts. The "mother ship" would the main venue with mobile pods that could disengage -- and take passengers to different ports. Again, nobody's giving specifics but it could be a fantastic idea for places like Naples (one pod could go to Capri, another to the Amalfi Coast and the big ship to the city itself) and St. Thomas (same goes -- one pod to St. John, another to Virgin Gorda and the mother ship to Charlotte Amalie).
We have heard, incidentally, something along the same lines being put forward in the design of river boats. Because these vessels are limited in length by the size of the locks on the rivers they cruise, a larger ship could be divided into three parts and each could enter the locks individually.
Finally how about having a "Design Cruise Ship" exclusively designed for entertainment-- such as watching a haute couture catwalk show or an exclusive rock concert? That's another idea floating about, but again no one has yet come up with a prototype -- but aren't we getting close to this already? For example U.K. band Scouting For Girls are due to fly in by helicopter and perform onboard RCI's Independence of the Seas later this month.
Going back to the present day, here are some initial thoughts on the 115,000-ton, 3,100-passenger Ventura:
First impression? There's a lot of the wood look. This may not make sense until you are actually onboard but to me it felt like a lot of the interior was full of different wood paneling - from light pine on the walls leading to the cabins to dark mahogany in the main Baytree dining area.
Definitely the kids facilities are fantastic. The entire aft section of deck 16 is awash with colour (very bright) as it is completely dedicated to the young passengers. There are soft toys, a playhouse, computers and general adult free zones such as Toybox, Tumblers and The Den for the masses of youngsters booked onboard this summer. It seriously rivals Disney.
Lounge rats will have a blast. Yes, there are a dozen bars -- about what you'd expect on a ship of this size. But there's literally a style for just about every taste. If you want to get really comfortable with a pint (or two) then head to Exchange, the traditional British pub. The Red Bar's energy will undoubtedly come from its colours as much as the libations. The Havana, Ventura's Cuban-themed nightclub, was the "cool kids" place; people were packed onto the dance floor all night long.
The Oasis Spa feels special. Spacious, definitely. The adjacent Oasis Pool, with its raised seating area offering privacy away from the masses, looked like an ideal place to spend the afternoon lazing in the sun or shade. To me it had a kind of Grecian feel to it.
Marco Pierre White's The White Room was, incongruously, very dark in ambience.
Ventura will be officially christened on April 16 (Wednesday) when actress Dame Helen Mirren will do the honours before the ship then embarks on its maiden Mediterranean voyage. Stay tuned to Cruise Critic news for coverage of the christening and a sneak preview review.
--by Kelly Ranson, Associate Editor and Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief