There was a time not long ago when cruise ships didn't have a phone guests could use, let alone wi-fi access in their staterooms.
Fast forward to 2013, however, and ships are a haven of high-tech gizmos. Celebrity Cruises was the first to partner formally with Apple, launching the first Celebrity iLounge and Apple Store at sea on Celebrity Eclipse in 2010, and one of its alternative restaurants, Qsine, uses iPads as menus.
Cruise lines aren't just upping the ante for guests; they're also using the web and social media to win new fans, hold competitions and feature cruise experiences.
Take MSC Cruises, which is launching Preziosa on March 23. Not only is the ship being launched by the glamorous silver screen diva Sophia Loren, the event will be filmed, then broadcast through YouTube, Facebook and its website. MSC already has a YouTube channel, launched in January, featuring a catalogue of videos including a tour of MSC Divina (youtube.com/user/MSCCruiseLines).
A huge part of social media, however, is blogging, and savvy cruise lines are quickly recognising its potential. Luxury operator Regent Seven Seas Cruises has launched a new blog, Luxury Goes Exploring (rsscblog.com), celebrating the "tastes and traditions of the places that the all-inclusive line visits".
Princess Cruises also has a new blog, Linked by the Sea (linkedbythesea.com), featuring stories of past and present relationships which began, or were rekindled, on the high seas.
If you're an avid blogger yourself, however, consider a blogging theme cruise. Fans of Carnival's legendary cruise director, John Heald, can join the famous high seas blogger on his seventh bloggers' cruise, a Caribbean round-trip from New Orleans departing on February 16, 2014. Guest will enjoy Q&A sessions, game shows and the popular "Tea Time with John", while brushing up on their skills.
Package of the week
Tauck has combined a cruise with on-land explorations of Hong Kong and Singapore in this 16-day package. The Treasures of South-east Asia includes an 11-day cruise on Compagnie du Ponant's Le Soleal, launching midyear and calling at Vietnamese ports including Haiphong, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City.
Either side of the cruise are luxury two-night stays at the Kowloon Shangri-La in Hong Kong and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, both with guided sightseeing.
Priced from $9990 a person, twin share, there are three departures; Hong Kong to Singapore on October 28 and November 19, and a reverse itinerary on November 8. 1300 950 622, traveltheworld.com.au.
Holland America's private island in the Bahamas, Half Moon Cay, is celebrating its 15th birthday with a few new enhancements, including a 290-guest glass bottom boat for reef cruises, an updated look for the island chapel, and five new two-story Beach Villas for hire by guests, complete with hot tubs.
The American Queen has had a makeover in New Orleans. The paddle wheeler has new gold, pearl and platinum-toned wallpaper in public areas, a marble and granite entry to its dining room, comfortable empire-style dining chairs, new artwork throughout, and mahogany plantation shutters on outside staterooms.
LAUNCHED 2005 PASSENGERS 2016 REGULAR HAUNTS The Mediterranean, the Baltics, world cruises BEST FOR Couples THE DETAILS A 15-night cruise from Sydney to Singapore, departing February 26, 2014, is priced from $1739 a person, twin share. 13 24 28, pocruises.com.
Need to know
1 Exclusively for adults, P&O's Arcadia has a number of unusual design features, including 3000 pieces of specially commissioned artwork from 80 British artists and expansive exterior glass elevators.
2 The ship is set to head into dry dock later this year, ahead of its world cruise, completing P&O's fleet-wide upgrade. Planned enhancements to the ship include additional single staterooms as well as a new nightclub called The Globe.
3 Basic accommodations are compact with all mod-cons and have a simple decor, with plush furnishing and blonde wood adding a sense of space and elegance. There are a large number of balcony staterooms with comfortable sitting areas and a decor marked by bold splashes of colour.
4 Besides a two-level main restaurant, there are two alternative highlights. The Orchid Restaurant combines panoramic views with Asian fusion cuisine, while the new Ocean Grill by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White offers classic Italian fare.
5 Facilities include a luxurious 30-seat movie theatre, The Screening Room, the Oasis Spa featuring a thermal suite, and two pools. Pick of the bars includes the Rising Sun pub and the elegant Piano Bar.
Port watch: Bonifacio, Corsica
Need to know
Situated at the end of a narrow inlet and surrounded by white cliffs, Bonifacio is a charming port of call with a history dating back to the 9th century. Located on the southern half of the island, it's just 12 kilometres from Sardinia. Ships dock in the heart of town at a small cruise terminal; you'll only need a taxi if you want to venture further afield.
Do not miss
Bonifacio has two sections; the picturesque old town on the lower level, and the upper city above, dominated by an imposing citadel. Enjoy walking its cobbled streets and photographing the many old buildings, including the unmissable Eglise Ste-Marie Majeure. If you don't fancy the steep walk up to the citadel, you can take the petit train. If you want to take a tour, opt for a boat trip that explores the stunning coastline, including the rocky inlets.
Offer of the week
Cruise Express Save $2000 a couple on two Celebrity cruises in Europe. Includes return flights, a three-night stay in Amsterdam, a 12-night Baltic cruise, a flight to Venice and a 12-night round trip Mediterranean cruise. Priced from $7990 a person, twin share, for a July 3 departure. 1300 766 537, cruiseexpress.com.au.
CruiseGuru Be the first to enjoy Pacific Princess's new Tahiti cruises. Departing from Sydney on February 25, 2014, the 16-night cruise to Papeete is priced from $2534 a person, twin share, and includes a bonus $85 shipboard credit and a $100 wine voucher from United Cellars. 13 13 03, cruiseguru.com.au.
Silversea Cruises Book by March 31 for special fares on three Mediterranean cruises on Silver Spirit. Options include a 16-day cruise from Venice to Barcelona, departing October 24, priced from $12,739 a person, twin share in a Silver Suite. (02) 9255 0600, silversea.com.
Cruiseabout Book by March 31 to enjoy a circumnavigation of Australia on the Queen Mary 2 and save $1000. The 23-night cruise, a round trip from Sydney, departs on February 19, 2014, priced from $5689 a person, twin share. 1300 450 133, cruiseabout.com.au.
I am visiting Athens on a cruise later this year and would love my relatives there to come aboard and see the ship. Is this possible?
- A. Perdikaris, Sans Souci.
Unfortunately this is highly unlikely. Security surrounding visitors has increased dramatically since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and usually only official visitors such as dignitaries and customs and immigration officers are allowed on board when a ship is in port.
You can always write to the cruise line in advance to ask, if your relatives are interested in cruising on the ship later, or if you have a special reason to celebrate. You never know, they might say yes!