In the competition among cruise lines for best budget cabins, Norwegian Cruise Line is taking a leap on its newest ship, the Norwegian Epic, which is scheduled to sail into the Caribbean in the spring.
Clustered around a large, two-story living room will be 128 inside cabins, designed as a series of crash pads for young cruisers or perhaps several extended families.
The cabins - Norwegian is calling them "studios" - will be tiny by today's standards, at 100 square feet compared with typical inside cabins on new ships of 150 to 180 square feet. They will have 32-inch flat-screen TVs; pillows and bolsters that turn the king-size bed into a lounging place; lighting that includes a "love setting" for romantic evenings; a big, round window looking toward an interior corridor; and the living room, available only to studio passengers.
Inside cabins typically carry the lowest rates on cruise ships. Windowless and sometimes dreary, they usually are not highly prized, except by passengers on a budget. Cruisers who book inside cabins figure: We won't spend much time in the cabin anyway - we will be eating, sunning, and watching the entertainment with everybody else.
Budget-conscious travelers sometimes book inside cabins on the best ships, instead of an outside cabin on a lesser ship, to get better food and entertainment for the same bucks.
Cruise lines, competing with one another and with land resorts for travelers' vacation dollars, are looking for ways to jazz up the interiors of their new ships and appeal to young budget travelers.
So far, the most innovative inside cabins belong to Royal Caribbean, which built an indoor mall of shops and food stops on its massive ships, then placed windows in some inside cabins that look into the interior mall. A caution - the action on Royal Caribbean's interior malls sometimes continues deep into the night.
Norwegian, whose ships sport an East Coast-edgy attitude and neighborhood-bar-hopping style, began the cruise trend of floating mealtimes in main dining rooms and alternative restaurants, instead of the traditional style of eating at the same table every night, with the same tablemates, at the same hour. Now, nearly every ship offers alternative dining choices and times.
Norwegian also is a leader in what it calls "a ship within a ship," starting with its high-style, high-priced courtyard villas in an exclusive area not accessible to other passengers.
On the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic, with a dozen restaurants, an ice bar - inside, you will be surrounded by ice - and daily shows by the Blue Man Group, the company wanted budget cabins for young people who have never cruised.
"We were asked to appeal to a younger age group," says Paul Priestman, who designed the studios and the living room on the Norwegian Epic. He is known as the designer of the hip budget Yotels in Europe.
Priestman's communal-living idea is that a group of young friends would be comfortable with small bedrooms and a large living area. Studios have a king-size bed, which can be split into two beds. A sink slips behind a sliding door. A shower, in the corner, is behind frosted glass. The toilet is behind a regular door.
The studios are connected by corridors to the living room, which will be 1,000 square feet - about the size of two 20-by-25-foot family rooms in a modern house. It will feature a bar, room service, two large TV screens, and a concierge.
"It's like a little village," Priestman says. "Maybe you leave the door open, the window blinds up."
You can imagine life in the living room will be like life at college, abuzz at 3 a.m. and littered with pizza cartons - and, unlike college, cleaned by the ship's staff by 8 a.m.
Studios will be priced for budget travelers, at the typical price for an inside cabin, Norwegian says. On Norwegian's Web site last month, seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruises next summer started at $679 per person for two, but discounts were available from travel agents and on the Internet.