Innovations not seen on the high seas before ... Celebrity Solstice.
For many people, a trip to the spa is an indulgent treat, a place to have tired muscles massaged, or to give your complexion a boost with a facial. Today's spa experiences extend beyond mere pampering.
Many land-based facilities offer alternative therapies such as acupuncture, cosmetic treatments such as teeth whitening, and if you fancy taking a few years off your face with muscle-relaxing injections, you can do that, too. Spas at sea are no different, with larger ships building impressive spaces.
Take Holland America, for example. I've just returned from a New Zealand cruise on Oosterdam in its maiden season, and the ship's Greenhouse Spa & Salon is a good example of a modern-day cruise spa experience, with highlights including a hydrotherapy pool, a Turkish bath-style heated ceramic lounge, and a menu of treatments for weight loss, problem skin and more.
Chillax ... MS Oosterdam spa.
On some ships, however, the spa concept extends beyond the norm. When Celebrity Solstice makes its debut in Sydney in early December, it will introduce Australians to new spa experiences such as a hammam, a space where muscles and joints can be loosened by lying on a heated stone slab. Its AquaSpa also has a DIY Scrub and Salt Bar, where you can create your own scrub cocktails.
NCL's Norwegian Breakaway, which makes its debut early next year, will have a vast Mandara Spa occupying more than 2000 square metres, and the first salt room at sea. For the uninitiated, salt-room therapy is used to relieve respiratory and skin ailments, strengthen the immune system and improve sleep. And when Princess's latest new build, Royal Princess, launches in June, it will have an unusual spa space, the Enclave. This includes the Caldarium, a steam ceramic chamber inspired by the Romans, and the Laconium, a warm, dry chamber to help with detoxification.
Natural paradise ... Sir Bani Yas Island. Photo: Alamy
Package of the week
A new 37-night package is available from ecruising, taking in Alaska, North America and the Panama Canal, with a cruise on Norwegian Jewel. Departing on September 12, the holiday begins with a two-day stay in Seattle before a 29-night cruise to New Orleans, with ports of call in Alaska, Canada, California, Mexico, Costa Rica, a transit of the Panama Canal, and Colombia.
At the end of the cruise, you enjoy a three-night stay in New Orleans, followed by another three-night stay, in Las Vegas, before flying home. Priced from $6959 a person, twin share, the package includes flights, cruise and all hotel accommodation. Must be booked by November 30. 1300 369 848, ecruising.travel.
Oceania Cruises has enhanced its loyalty program, starting from January, with a new membership tier allowing guests to start earning rewards on their first cruise. Among the perks on offer are savings on internet access, shore excursions and drinks packages, with higher tier levels earning free cruises and spa treatments.
Norwegian Cruise Line has ordered a new ship, set for delivery in October 2015, with the option of a second in 2017. At 163,000 tonnes and with about 4200 guest berths, the new vessel, named Breakaway Plus, will be larger than the line's Breakaway ships under construction at present.
Singapore's impressive new Marina Bay Cruise Centre was officially opened recently. The 2601-square-metre site can handle the largest cruise ships in the world, including Royal Caribbean's Oasis class. The centre doubles Singapore's cruise passenger capacity, cementing it as south-east Asia's cruise hub.
LAUNCHED 2008. PASSENGERS 2850. REGULAR HAUNTS Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. BEST FOR Couples and families. THE DETAILS An 11-night Tropical Queensland cruise, a round trip from Sydney departing on March 28, is priced from $1595 a person, twin share, including a double upgrade from an interior to a balcony stateroom. 1800 754 500,celebritycruises.com.au.
Need to know
1. Solstice was the first in a new class of ship for Celebrity. It was the largest ship in the fleet at its launch, introducing innovations not seen on the high seas. The fifth and final Solstice ship, Celebrity Reflection, launched last month.
2. Unusual design elements include environmentally friendly solar panels, and a hull design and paintwork that boost fuel efficiency. It also has a top-deck Lawn Club with real grass and a putting course.
3. Accommodations fall into six categories, from inside staterooms to multi-room suites with European butler service. There are also spa accommodations with perks including unlimited access to the spa's Persian Garden, and a specialty health-food restaurant, Blu.
4. Solstice has an impressive line-up of specialty restaurants besides its primary dining room, The Restaurant. Top picks including the elegant Murano, the Tuscan Grille, and the Asian-inspired Silk Harvest.
5. Other facilities include a large AquaSpa by Elemis for a spot of pampering, the Cellar Masters bar for wine tasting, the Sky Observation Lounge for cocktails with a view, a theatre, a main pool and the solarium indoor pool for adults only.
Port Watch: Sir Bani Yas island, UAE
Need to know Sir Bani Yas is one of eight natural islands comprising the Desert Islands and has started to appear on some Arabian Gulf itineraries, world cruises and repositioning cruises between Europe and Asia. Possessing a lush, green landscape, it is about 250 kilometres from Abu Dhabi city. Ships anchor offshore and use tender boats to transport guests to a pier on land.
Do not miss The island is a natural paradise and, beyond enjoying the walking trails, it's best to take a tour. The main attraction is the Arabian Wildlife Park, which occupies nearly three-quarters of the island, and is home to free-roaming animals including one of the world's largest herds of Arabian oryx. Other experiences to consider include four-wheel-drive guided tours of the park, mountain biking or hiking, kayaking through the island's lush mangroves for birdwatching, and snorkelling to spot resident dolphins, dugong and turtles.