Crown Princess Cruises
Credit: Courtesy of Princess

What’s new at sea? Boatloads, from redesigned ships to souped-up technology (finally, free Wi-Fi!). We’ve also got the scoop on river cruising—one of the year’s hottest trends.

New river ships, around the globe

Interest in river cruising is peaking thanks to a wave of sleeker ships in Europe, Southeast Asia, and the United States. “Our river-cruise business has tripled in the past five years,” says travel specialist Ruth Turpin, who is on T+L’s A-List of top advisors. “People are looking for an in-depth experience of a country.” In Europe, Viking River Cruises has 12 ships launching, while Avalon Waterways, AmaWaterways, Scenic Cruises, and Emerald Waterways are christening two ships each, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, one. A pioneer of luxury cruising on the Amazon, Aqua Expeditions is turning its attention to the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia with the 205-foot Aqua Mekong. Stateside, American Cruise Lines’ Victorian-inspired paddle wheeler, American Eagle, will begin plying the Mississippi in March.

More itineraries to far-flung destinations

T+L A-List advisor Mary Ann Ramsey says cruisers today don’t need to sacrifice comfort to visit a seldom-seen port. Silversea’s expedition ship, Silver Discoverer, makes its second journey to Australia’s northwestern Kimberley Coast, stopping at the 400-square-mile Montgomery Reef, known for its dramatic tides. Sanctuary Retreats’ new 21-suite Ananda will bring serious style to Myanmar’s rivers with teak floors, silk upholstery, and rain showers. For the time-crunched, Hurtigruten’s refurbished Nordstjernen kicks off six-day Arctic voyages to Spitsbergen, Norway.

Enhanced technology

Given today’s 24/7 world of Instagram and Twitter, cruise lines are making connectivity a big priority. “People don’t want to wait until they’re at home to share—they want to share in real time,” says Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association. Viking Ocean Cruises, the river-cruise company’s first foray into sea travel, will offer complimentary Wi-Fi to all guests on the 930-passenger Viking Star when it launches in April. Regent Seven Seas Cruises provides this perk for those in concierge-category suites and above, and sister brand Oceania Cruises will roll out a similar program this fall. Royal Caribbean International’s new satellite network delivers faster Wi-Fi and large bandwidths for video streaming on its Quantum- and Oasis-class ships. Other tech upgrades on the Quantum class include tracking for luggage via the Royal IQ app and RFID bracelets that manage purchases and act as room keys. For staying in touch with family and friends who are also on the ship, Princess Cruises’ app now lets you text over its network for free.

Find out When to Cruise Where in 2015 »

Extreme on-board adventure

The company that brought ziplining to cruising, Royal Caribbean, is unveiling even more over-the-top amenities on its latest ships, Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. Get ready for a skydiving simulator and an indoor sports facility for bumper cars, roller-skating, and trapeze lessons.

Next-level excursions

Recognizing that most travelers want to experience a place like a local, cruise lines are offering multiple nights in port and activities that go deeper into a destination.

VIP Access: Celebrity Cruises
Signature Event sailings give guests one-of-a-kind experiences, like VIP seating for the Samba Parade during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, plus screenings and parties in Cannes, France, during the city’s star-studded film festival.

Food Tours: Azamara Club Cruises
The line’s latest program, “Cruise Global, Eat Local,” takes passengers to such beloved restaurants as Hong Kong’s Jade Garden (renowned for its dim sum) and Osteria del Contadino—a Tuscan institution just outside Livorno, Italy, that serves outstanding prosciutto.

Site Running Tours: Crystal Cruises
For those who like to stay active, Site Running Tours combines exercise with exploration. These 5- to 10-kilometer jogs, escorted by fitness pros, bring landmarks like St. Petersburg, Russia’s Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to life.

Multi-generational groups on luxury lines

Don’t assume the high-end ships aren’t kid-friendly. T+L A-List advisor Anne Morgan Scully says luxury lines are doing more all the time for families—particularly extended ones that need to keep both grandparents and toddlers happy. She recently saw a group of 30 on a Regent Seven Seas voyage. Crystal Cruises’ summer voyages have children’s activities and chefs who will turn fresh produce into baby food.

Jane Wooldridge is the cruise editor at Travel + Leisure.