Cruise News Shorts: Royal's First Virtual Balconies, a Steel Cutting, Top Chef Takes to the Seas and Other Cruise News

February 7, 2014
(2:20 p.m. EST) -- Every week we catch wind of so much cruise news, we don't always know what to do with it all, but a few standout bits sometimes catch our attention. Here are some interesting cruise tidbits we think you might like to know about.

A Texas-Sized Makeover
Everything is bigger in Texas, including Texas-based cruise ship makeovers. Case in point: Royal Caribbean's Galveston-based Navigator of the Seas, which just returned from a monthlong dry dock. Among the shiny additions are a new FlowRider surf simulator and the official debut of Royal Caribbean's Virtual Balconies in 81 interior cabins. The Virtual Balconies comprise wall-sized high-definition TVs displaying real-time views of the ocean and the ship's ports of call. Also new are panoramic oceanview cabins with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, as well as a new dining venue, the Mexican specialty restaurant Sabor.

A "Dam" Steel Cutting
Shipbuilder Fincantieri has cut the first steel for Holland America Line's new-build, nearly a year after the line announced details of the first in its new Pinnacle Class of ships. The unnamed vessel, just shy of 100,000 tons, will surpass its fleetmates in size. Construction continues at Fincantieri's Marghera shipyard in preparation for the ship's February 2016 launch.

Ahoy Top Chef
Celebrity Cruises has hooked up with cable TV channel Bravo for a "Top Chef at Sea" program that will offer passengers culinary experiences like Quickfire cooking challenges and "Top Chef"-inspired menus onboard 10 Celebrity ships beginning in July 2014. Additionally, the line will offer four cruises featuring former "Top Chef" contestants, plus cooking demonstrations, interactive Quickfire cooking challenges and more.

A Taste for the Suite Life
Three new suite ships just weren't enough for Avalon Waterways, so the riverboat operator will add two new all-suite ships to its fleet in 2015: Avalon Tranquility II and Avalon Tapestry II. Following the addition of three new all-suite ships this spring -- Avalon Impression, Avalon Poetry II and Avalon Illumination -- the line will bring its total count of all-suite ships to 10.

Mississippi? Check. Columbia? Check.
American Cruise Lines has confirmed what most of us already knew: The first of its currently-under-construction paddlewheel riverboats will be deployed on the Mississippi River, while a second will be placed on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Both as yet unnamed boats are scheduled for launch this year, with the Mississippi vessel coming in March.

--By Dori Saltzman, News Editor; Gina Kramer, Associate Editor; and Brittany Chrusciel, Editorial Assistant