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Crystal Serenity's new pool deck. (Ian Schemper)
Crystal Serenity's new pool deck. (Ian Schemper)

Cruise lines update old ships with new tricks Add to ...

Ice bars, spa decks, multiple alternative restaurants, brewpubs and WiFi access everywhere. Even nearly new cruise ships have to play catch-up with ever-changing technology and multiple choices available on the newest generation of ships. Cruise lines are investing hundreds of millions over the coming months to keep their fleets state-of-the-art. Here's the lowdown on what's coming to many classic ships:

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Crystal Cruises

Aboard the newly renovated Crystal Serenity, I scarcely recognized the pool deck, which was completely rebuilt and now features bed-like lounge furniture. The $25-million (U.S.) renovation also upgraded staterooms with new cabinetry, upholstered walls and such gadgetry as reading lights that fold out from the headboard. The upgraded WiFi access was as fast as my high-speed service in Toronto and is remarkable for a ship at sea. A formerly sedate piano bar has also been expanded to a bubbly cabaret whose dance floor is now busy late into the night.

Sister ship Crystal Symphony is set for an upgrade as well: Expect a supper-club ambience in the show lounge, as traditional theatre seats are replaced with mohair-covered chairs and couches. In another twist, the upper deck palm court lounge will get what is being dubbed a “spiral dance floor,” with intricate patterns of wood in the dance floor creating a swirling effect that will be reflected by metal palm fronds decorating the ceiling.

Carnival Cruise Line

Over the next three years, most of the Carnival fleet will add features to match those coming this summer on its new mega-liner Carnival Breeze.

Six-year-old Carnival Liberty is the first to emerge with the new look, including a complete overhaul of many bars and restaurants. One pool bar has become the kind of beach shack you would find in Mexico, featuring tequila drinks and south-of-the-border beer. Another seems straight out of rural Jamaica, specializing in rum and Carnival's own RedFrog brew. A former snack bar has become a California drive-in styled Guy's Burger Joint, designed with the help of the Food Network's connoisseur of comfort food, Guy Fieri.

A sophisticated new Alchemy Bar is a cross between Harry Potter and realist painter Edward Hopper: It looks like an antique pharmacy with mixologists in lab coats concocting love potions and elixirs. Nearby, the refit has added Punchliners Comedy Club, featuring stand-ups signed through a new booking company run by comedian George Lopez.

Celebrity Cruises

The most popular features on Celebrity's newest Solstice-class ships are now popping up on the line's older Millennium-class ships. Staterooms are being transformed, and one deck of AquaClass rooms will have direct access to the spa. In addition to ice bars, the ships will get Q-sine, a “menu-tainment” restaurant featuring iPad menus as well as a crêperie and gelateria. The Millennium-class Infinity was first to get the new look in December; sister ship Summit gets the redo this winter and Millennium in the spring.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Seven Seas Voyager was the first of three ships to get “Signature Initiative” renovations that include new carpeting, curtains and balcony furniture, as well as iPads in penthouse and higher suite categories. The Compass Rose and La Veranda restaurants were expanded, and the menus now feature cuisine of the regions the ship is visiting. Seven Seas Mariner and Voyager were upgraded last year, Seven Seas Navigator will complete the trio in May.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

Splendour of the Seas is the first to emerge with an extensive upgrade that doubles the number of dining options. Among them are the Asian Izumi restaurant, the Chops Grille steak house, the Boardwalk Dog House hot dog counter and the Park Café deli-style restaurant. The refit is part of long-range revitalizations that will see Rhapsody of the Seas get the same treatment in March, Grandeur of the Seas in May and Serenade of the Seas in November.

Windstar Cruises

Sailing ships Wind Star and Wind Spirit will undergo complete refurbishments of staterooms and public spaces, including the main restaurant, veranda, lounge, spa, library and pool bar. After the completion of work in April, both yachts begin seasons of cruises in the Mediterranean. The larger Wind Surf will get a similar upgrading in the fall.

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