Image: Emerald Princess
Princess.com
Among the megaships taking to the seas in the coming months is the Emerald Princess. It will be able to host 3,100 passengers. The ship will offer a mix of 12-day itineraries in the Greek Isles and Western Mediterranean.
By Travel writer
Special to msnbc.com
updated 8/24/2006 12:44:01 PM ET 2006-08-24T16:44:01

Looking to try something new on your next cruise? You’re in luck. With several mega-ships currently under construction — and even more either on order or on the drawing board — there’s a veritable fleet of new ships heading this way.

At least four “newbuilds” — from Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean — are expected to hit the water over the next eight months. Some will offer new itineraries; others, new onboard activities, but all will definitely have that new cruise ship smell. Operators, as they say, are standing by.

Norwegian Pearl: If you’re a regular cruiser, you’ve probably already hit the links in an onboard golf simulator or tackled a climbing wall high above the waves. Maybe you’ve even taken a spin on an at-sea skating rink. But have you ever gone bowling on the ocean?

Starting this December, you’ll be able to in Bliss, a sports bar/nightclub on the Norwegian Pearl, the newest arrival from Norwegian Cruise Line. With four full-length lanes, flat-screen TVs, and an ultra-lounge ambience, the world’s first at-sea alley will appeal to anyone seeking a little ten-pin action. Even better, you’ll have a ready-made excuse when you hook one into the gutter three feet from the foul line.

Bowling alley aside, the 93,000-ton Pearl will echo the size and style of her sister ship, Norwegian Jewel, with 10 restaurants, 14 bars and lounges, and accommodations for almost 2,400 passengers. She’ll sail various Caribbean itineraries through mid-April 2007, before spending the summer cruising between Seattle and Skagway, Alaska.

Carnival Freedom: Thirteen decks high, 1,160 feet long, and 110,000 tons hefty, the newest addition to the Carnival fleet — part of the aptly named Conquest class — will carry almost 3,000 passengers when it debuts in March 2007.

Like other new Carnival ships, Freedom will sport an eye-popping decor in which each public area evokes a different era. London circa 1880 in the Victoriana Show Lounge. 17th-century France and the court of Louis XIV in the Sun King Supper Club. Going back even further, the ship’s casino will recall ancient Babylon — think Hanging Gardens and the Ishtar Gate — by way of the Vegas Strip.

Sure, it’s a bit over the top, but considering the ship’s proposed schedule, the journey-through-the-centuries motif actually makes some sense. Launching from Civitavecchia, outside Rome, on March 14, Freedom will offer 12-day Mediterranean and Greek Isle cruises that include visits to history-rich cities from Istanbul to Barcelona.

Emerald Princess: Looks like it could be a busy spring in the Mediterranean as Princess Cruises’ newest ship is also expected to set sail from Civitavecchia in April 2007. Like Carnival Freedom, Emerald Princess will offer a mix of 12-day itineraries in the Greek Isles and Western Mediterranean.

The 113,000-ton vessel will feature amenities similar to those on her sister ships, Crown Princess and Caribbean Princess. From a piazza-style atrium to a nightclub 15 decks above the waves, her 3,100 passengers will have access to 11 restaurants, at least as many bars, and dozens of other public spaces. Some, no doubt, will need all 12 days just to learn their way around.

Other amenities will include an Asian-style spa, Gatsby-themed casino, and Princess’ signature Movies Under the Stars program, which offers nightly movies on a 300-square-foot outdoor screen above the pool. Add in a fitness center, jogging track, and five pools, and you may just need a vacation after your vacation.

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Liberty of the Seas: Currently under construction in Turku, Finland, Liberty of the Seas is expected to make her debut in Miami in May 2007. When she does, the 160,000-ton, 3,643-passenger vessel will share “world’s biggest cruise ship” honors with her sister ship, Freedom of the Seas.

I mean, we’re talking huge, as in longer (1,112 feet) than the Chrysler Building is tall, wider (185 feet) than the White House is long, and heavier than 32,000 adult elephants, according to the folks at Royal Caribbean. Offering seven-day Caribbean cruises, the ship will apparently be only slightly smaller than some of the islands it’ll visit.

Then again, a ship would have to be big to have a five-story theater, two-story disco, and 20-odd places to eat, drink, and be merry. And don’t forget the climbing wall, boxing ring, and indoor skating rink. There’ll even be a FlowRider surf park, which uses a high-powered stream of water to create a continuous wave custom-made for hanging ten.

Of course, this being the cruise industry, no ship remains the “world’s biggest” for long. Royal Caribbean, for one, has several more ships on order, including one simply known as Project Genesis. At a gargantuan 220,000 tons, Genesis will be nothing less than a floating resort for its 5,400 passengers. Alas, you’ll have to wait until fall 2009 to climb the gangway.

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