On the cruise ships of yesterday, passengers who wanted to see where their ship was going looked out a stateroom porthole.
On the cruise ships of tomorrow, passengers will push a button and the floor-to-ceiling windows in their stateroom will slide out of sight, leaving only a glass railing between their living room and the ocean.
Tomorrow is only three months away.
Celebrity Cruises will launch its vessel Edge, the newest member of its fleet, in November. Among the bells and whistles: Infinite verandas, balconies that bring the outdoors inside. The resulting design is similar to the look of an infinity pool (the name plays on that) because the cabin appears to extend to the edge of the ship.
"When we were designing Celebrity Edge, we wanted the staterooms to be more outward facing so passengers would see more of the sea," said Brian Abel, a company vice president.
"We also thought the balconies were not being utilized the way they should be. Infinite is our answer."
The whiz-bang Infinite feature is the latest salvo in an escalating cruise line war focused on winning a larger share of the booming passenger market.
In the past decade, the number of people who cruise has grown from less than 18 million annually to more than 27 million, industry statistics show. To be competitive, cruise lines have built bigger, more luxurious ships that offer more fun and games on board, sophisticated meals, better excursions and bigger and better views.
The balcony battle has revolutionized stateroom design by making verandas commonly available. Most brands have added as many balconies as possible on their new ships; on mega ships, that can mean nearly 1,000 balconies.
Passengers want access to a water view, which is why cruise lines are adding balconies, said Beth Butzlaff, a cruise expert with Virtuoso, a luxury travel network. "We see more and more positioning of cruise lines as resort hotels at sea,” Butzlaff said. “They want passengers to be able to say they have a waterfront view."
One unintended benefit: lower cost. Generally, a small balcony will increase your cruise price by about 25%, but the proliferation of balconies means that such a cabin may be cheaper to book.
Most of these verandas are modest, 40 to 50 square feet, but some brands are going for bigger and better.
Royal Caribbean also offers private balconies that overlook entertainment venues.
Its new Symphony of the Seas, currently the world's biggest cruise ship, has balconies facing outward — toward the sea — and others pointing inward that overlook the ship’s Central Park and Boardwalk neighborhoods. Balconies throughout the ship range from 52 to 772 square feet.
The line has virtual balconies for its inside cabins on some ships — high-definition 80-inch screens connected to a live camera with audio outside the ship so passengers in inside cabins can enjoy the same sights and sounds as someone with a balcony.
For the most part, the bigger-is-better balcony trend is aimed at high-end travelers. And there are extra amenities to sweeten the deal.
Oceania Cruises, which offers balconies with 80% of its newer cabins, has owners' suites that have 2,000 square feet of space and balconies with whirlpool tubs, flat-screen TVs and plush, cushioned lounges.
Elaborate balconies may be relatively new to oceangoing ships, but they've been commonplace for a decade with river cruise lines. You can find full, step-out balconies, French balconies, which have railings that prohibit stepping outside, and hybrid combinations that turn the stateroom into a giant open-air balcony.
Luxury line Crystal Cruises offers expansive views on its river ships with windows that are operated by remote control.
Avalon Waterways has wall-to-wall windows that stretch almost the entire length of its Panorama Suites. The bed was designed to face the window. Just settle back and watch Europe pass by.
Now that's what I'd call a room with a view.