SHE will cost upwards of $300m and feature on-board bumper cars and a sky-diving ride.

Without doubt, Quantum of the Seas, the latest ship to be unveiled by Royal Caribbean Line (RCL), will be the most imaginative vessel afloat when she sets sail next year.

With a 300ft London Eye-style crane ride taking guests out over the ocean and virtual reality windows in every inside stateroom, Quantum brought gasps of delight and bursts of applause when she was revealed to an audience in New York this week.

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For RCL it meant taking the wraps off their biggest secret since the launch of Oasis of the Seas two years ago (still the largest cruise ship in the world and scheduled to finally visit Southampton in 2014).

With an on-board zip-wire ride and covered Central-Park style garden, Oasis and her sister ship Allure of the Seas were considered by some to be the pinnacle of cruise creation. “How will the company – indeed the industry – top that?” was the question being asked not just by RCL fans but other cruise companies.

For, almost uniquely in the business world, the cruise sector relies on the innovation of all parts of the industry to help drive growth and bring more passengers to what has remained the most buoyant part of an otherwise depressed tourism world.

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Quantum will have dodgems on board

Cruise passenger figures have continued to rise, both in Britain and globally, over the last few years despite the world economic downturn.

Industry insiders put the success down to savvy holidaymakers looking for all-inclusive deals which are the basis of cruise travel, but also the investment and innovation from the industry as a whole which continues to pump hundreds of millions of pounds into launching new ships with increasingly innovative on-board experiences.


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An artist's impression of a Quantumn cabin

It all leads to stiff competition between cruise companies – something that they all seem to appreciate.

“Basically we see the launching of a new cruise ship as growing the whole industry,” commented Royal Caribbean’s UK Associate vice-president and general manager Royal Jo Rzymowska at this week’s launch in New York.

“Cruising still only accounts for a reasonably small percentage of the holiday market, so there is a large number of travellers that are still to be attracted to us. There’s plenty of scope for growth.”

More passengers than ever before are visiting Great Britain through the country’s 52 cruise ports.

Figures released by CruiseBritain last month revealed that in 2012 more than 100 ships visited the UK, bringing a record 723,000 passengers on day calls – a rise of 11 per cent.

Last year also saw 962,000 passengers begin their cruise at a UK port, a ten per cent increase on 2011, with 84 per cent of passengers being British.

A total of 47 different cruise lines tied up in a UK port in 2012.

‘The growth in both cruise ship visits and passenger numbers is a continued testament to Britain’s value as a cruise destination’ commented CruiseBritain chair Kate O’Hara “Since 2004 we have seen the number of visiting passengers more than double and the number of different cruise ships calling has gone from 76 to 105, a rise of 38 per cent.”

This month sees the arrival in Southampton of the latest ship to be launched by Norwegian Cruise Line and will be packed full of new initiatives.

Norwegian Breakaway will feature the cruise line’s familiar blend of informal dining options and on-board waterpark, as well as state of the art stage shows and entertainment, including the Broadway and West End smash show Rock of Ages.

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A drawing of inside Quantum's theatre

Other initiatives include New York City’s revolutionary high-energy indoor cycling studio, Flywheel Sports and master baker Buddy Valastro, star of the popular TLC television series Cake Boss and Next Great Baker will open an extension of his family business, Carlo’s Bake Shop, on Norwegian Breakaway.

And the ship will feature weekly firework displays on all cruises.

Carnival’s latest creation, Royal Princess, part of the Princess Cruise Line, arrives in Southampton in June to be named by the Duchess of Cambridge and will boast the line’s largest pool deck, as well as such innovations as a water and light show and enhanced spa and fitness facilities.

Norwegian Breakaway, which arrives in Southampton on April 29, will be based in New York, as will RCL’s new Quantum of the Seas, the first of a new class of ships from the company.

The Quantum class of ships will, RCL’s hopes, introduce a number of game-changing “firsts at sea”, such as the skydiving experience RipCord by iFly and the North Star, an engineering marvel, takes guests to new heights with a jewel-shaped, glass capsule, transporting them on a spectacular journey more than 300 feet above the ocean and over the sides of the ship to deliver aweinspiring 360-degree views.

When she launches in November of next year, Quantum will include cutting- edge “transformative” venues, including the largest indoor sports and entertainment complex at sea with bumper cars, roller-skating and more, and the cruise line’s largest and what RCL claim are the most advanced staterooms ever.

“We are excited to be introducing major advancements in ship design and offerings on Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas,” said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International.

“The innovative spirit of our brand is alive and well, and with Quantum class, we will deliver more unexpected activities in the most extraordinary spaces. Our guests should prepare to be wowed.”

Ironically it may be a smaller-scale innovation on board Quantum that will have the most impact on cruise travelers of the future.

The virtual reality balcony screens to be fitted to all inside, cabins giving guests a real-time view of the ocean outside seems certain to become an industry staple.

It’s difficult to predict where the cruise industry will go next. But one thing seems certain – when it comes to investment and innovation, we may not have seen anything yet.