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Emerald Princess
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updated 10/17/2006 5:57:54 PM ET 2006-10-17T21:57:54

If 2006 was a middling year in terms of new ship launches, 2007 is proving to be even more so, with only one truly new design and a paltry seven debuts (eight if you count the 680-passenger Royal Princess, which is Swan Hellenic's reconfigured Minerva II, and nine with Norwegian Pearl (which is actually debuting two months ahead of time, which moves its launch from February 2007 to December 2006).

April is the busiest month of 2007 with three new-builds plus Royal Princess hitting the seas.

With the exception of Cunard's Queen Victoria, all of the brand new ships launching in 2007 are copies of ships already at sea -- so the buzz and excitement over anything new and daring could be as stale as yesterday's room service croissant. But cruise line executives know how to add innovative twists to otherwise identical siblings -- so stay tuned.

It's interesting to note that the smallest new-build to launch in 2007 (again, Cunard's Queen Victoria) holds a whopping 2,014 guests. The largest, Royal Caribbean's 160,000-ton Liberty of the Seas, has a passenger capacity of 3,634 -- just like its sister, 2006's Freedom of the Seas. Even though the luxury sector (Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea, Crystal and Seabourn) is enjoying unprecedented growth in passenger bookings, we still haven't heard a peep from them regarding new-builds. Sure we've been hearing whispers for a couple of years now (mergers? new ships?), but there's nothing concrete to report for 2007. And we're still hearing rumors about Oceania acquiring yet another R-class ship to add to its successful and beloved fleet of three, but so far rumors are all we have.

On the big ship cruise line front, only Celebrity has announced plans for newly designed ships, but you'll have to wait until 2008 for its first (and bigger-than-big) 118,000-ton, 2,850-guest Solstice-class vessel.

Some of this information will change over the next several months (it always does!), so keep checking back. We'll also post additional facts, figures and other relevant material as soon as it crosses our desks.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE'S NORWEGIAN PEARL

Will Launch In:
December 2006

Backstory:
Utilizing the platform of its highly popular and successful Dawn/Star duo, this ship, like its sisters Norwegian Jewel and Pride of Hawaii, adds the innovative Courtyard Villas to its already impressive list of suite accommodations.

Quirks and Highlights: Quite apart from the 10 restaurants and 14 bars and lounges this Freestyle ship offers, the newish Courtyard Villas allow for a more exclusive cruise experience without springing for one of the two massive (and exponentially more expensive) Garden Villas. Surrounding a private courtyard pool and filled with goodies like state-of-the-art cappuccino and espresso makers, these 10 suites, like those on 2006's Norwegian Jewel and Pride of Hawaii, are not-quite-budget-busting exquisite digs.

The most quirky addition is the regulation-sized 10-pin bowling lanes found in the sports-themed Bliss (which turns into a dance club at night). Thanks to the marvels of modern cruise ship engineering, the ball should "roll true" except in the wildest of seas.

Itineraries: Pearl will alternate five-night (Western) and nine-night (Southern) Caribbean cruises out of Miami, and in the summer offers roundtrip Alaska cruises from Seattle. In between will be necessary trans-canal repositioning cruises in between that include Panama Canal, Southern Caribbean and Pacific coastal sailings as well.

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES' CARNIVAL FREEDOM

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Will Launch In: March 2007

Backstory: Carnival Freedom represents the last 110,000-ton, 2,974-passenger Destiny-class behemoth. A relative newcomer to the summer-long European cruising market, Carnival will position Freedom to sail from Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) during the summer; the ship will homeport in Miami starting in November.

Quirks and Highlights: This ship will feature a relatively new Carnival tradition -- the Carnival Seaside Theater (inspired by Princess Cruises' Movies Under the Stars); the big screen (12 ft. high by 22 ft. wide) over the big pool will feature movies, sporting events and concerts. Other than that, this newest "Fun Ship" offers few dazzling innovations (though it will continue with other regularly recent introductions such as bow-to-stern WiFi and a supper club -- but Joe Farcus' (Carnival's designer and ship architect) always-interesting concepts are sure to create some buzz. By the way, the theme for Freedom isn't "freedom" at all, but rather "a journey through the centuries by decade." How the names of the two main dining rooms -- The Chic and The Posh -- fit into that theme is yet to be discovered. Other highlights include a 1970s disco, a 1950s-themed sports bar and a casino inspired by Ancient Babylon.

Itineraries: This is the first Carnival ship to offer a Greek Isles/Turkey itinerary; The European portion includes 12-night Mediterranean and Greek Isles cruises. Carnival Freedom will then move to Miami, where it will sail alternate Eastern and Western seven-night Caribbean itineraries.

COSTA CRUISES' COSTASERENA

Will Launch In: May 2007

Backstory: Piggybacking on the success of CostaConcordia, which debuted in July 2006, Serena will enjoy many of the same attributes, including its size (112,000 tons and 3,004 passengers), the fabulous Samsara spa, and a high ratio of balconied cabins. Using a slightly extended version of Carnival's Destiny-class platform and sharing Carnival's designer, Joe Farcus, this ship will nonetheless have its own imprint, "cruising Italian style," as Costa's tagline suggests.

Quirks and Highlights: Adapting the same technology that Formula One race car drivers use in their own racing simulators, CostaSerena will feature a Grand Prix simulator with "real-time vehicle modeling," including peripheral-vision screens, and accurate braking, accelerating and G-force simulations. CostaSerena also offers the Samsara Suites; these special accomodations, which originated on Concordia, spotlight spa-oriented amenities, from room service cuisine to proximity to the facility itself (via a private staircase).

Itineraries: CostaSerena will begin its service sailing seven-night cruises from Venice to Eastern Mediterranean ports of call such as Dubrovnik, Istanbul and Katakolon.

PRINCESS CRUISES' EMERALD PRINCESS

Will Launch In: April 2007

Backstory: This ship follows its closest sister -- Crown Princess -- in ambience and orientation. We know that the 116,000-ton, 3,110-passenger Emerald Princess will, like Crown Princess, featured already-classic attributes such as a casual lobby-level wine bar, an international coffee and pastry cafe, and a sunny/shady adults-only retreat (the Sanctuary) located forward on the Sports Deck.

Quirks and Highlights: The spa has been enhanced and expanded, the lobby/atrium area, known here as the Italy-inspired Piazza, features fabulous (and often wacky) artistic performances -- and is also a gathering point due to the coffee bar/bakery (which has on-the-spot pastry chefs and galley and which, as a result, produces the most marvelous warm-and-melty chocolate chip cookies in all of cruise-dom). Sabatini's has been refreshed and redesigned and now sits at the stop of the ship -- with glorious views and a lovely terrace for al fresco dining.

Itinerary: Emerald Princess will spend spring and summer (and early autumn) in Europe alternating 12-night Mediterranean and Greek Isle cruises; it will move to Fort Lauderdale in October where it will alternate Eastern and Southern Caribbean itineraries.

PRINCESS CRUISES' ROYAL PRINCESS

Will Launch In: April 2007

Backstory: Although it isn't a newly built ship like the others on our list (Princess picked up this 30,000-ton, 680-passenger ship, sister to Pacific Princess and Tahitian Princess from Swan Hellenic, where it will sail as Minerva II through March. We're including the "new" Royal Princess (an homage to the much loved original Royal Princess, a circa 1990s ship that has gone to a new home in the U.K.) because it is a welcome addition to Princess' intriguing sub-fleet of "boutique" ships. Formerly R8 in the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises family, this small ship offers an intimate ambience for Princess guests who prefer to avoid the big ship environment but who still want to enjoy Princess' brand of service and dining. Royal Princess is an almost exact replica of the line's existing boutique vessels -- Tahitian Princess and Pacific Princess. Indeed, all three were part of Renaissance's specially commissioned R-series of ships.

Quirks and Highlights: Royal Princess' cabins are significantly smaller than those found on most Princess vessels, but the air of intimacy and country club decor make up for the tight spaces. Princess has configured the dining areas to include Sabatini's and a 24-hour Lido Deck cafe; the library will boast over 4,000 titles, making it one of the best-equipped at sea.

Itinerary: Royal Princess will start service in Europe, with one seven night and then 12-night voyages in the Mediterranean, Greek Isles and Holy Land, and will transition for 14 night Southern Caribbean/Amazon cruises throughout the winter.

MSC CRUISES' MSC ORCHESTRA

Will Launch In: April 2007

Backstory: Orchestra, a sister ship to MSC's 90,000-ton, 2,550-passenger Musica, which launched in June 2006, is the second new-build for MSC Crociere to boast over 800 staterooms with verandahs, the latest trend in European cruising. A third ship in the Musica class, MSC Poesia, will launch in 2008, and there's an option for a fourth.

Quirks and Highlights: Few details have been revealed about this ship, other than the fact it will be a virtual replica of sister vessel MSC Musica. That means it will feature a massive pool-area movie screen (particularly important for MSC's Euro-centric crowd during soccer's World Cup), specialty restaurants, a sushi bar and a very generously sized Bali-influenced spa.

Itinerary: MSC Orchestra's will sail Eastern Mediterranean cruises from Venice during its maiden (spring/summer) season.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN'S LIBERTY OF THE SEAS

Will Launch On: May 26, 2007

Backstory: Royal Caribbean took the plunge when it launched Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas' older sister, in May 2006. Although at 154,407 tons each, these two ships -- expanded versions of Voyager-class vessels -- come in just higher than Queen Mary 2, until then the biggest ship to ever sail. While size matters, 7,000 tons isn't really significant, but the Freedom and Liberty twins have another distinction: They each hold a small city's worth of guests: 3,634 ... or about 30 percent more than QM2 at double occupancy.

Quirks and Highlights: Freedom of the Seas generated a year's worth of buzz with the announcement of the first surf park at sea, the FlowRider. Look for the same on Liberty, as well as the unique and nifty hot tubs cantilevered over the ocean, an expanded spa, and new stateroom amenities including enhanced bedding and flat-screen televisions. The H20 Zone, a new water park feature, will be replicated as well.

Itineraries: Liberty of the Seas will homeport in Miami, offering seven-night alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE'S NORWEGIAN GEM

Will Launch In: October 2007

Backstory: This is the fourth ship in NCL's lovely Jewel class, which blends big ship features with smaller ship options (others in the class include Norwegian Jewel, Pride of Hawaii and Norwegian Pearl). The 93,500-ton, 2,376-passenger ship has all the hallmarks of NCL's signature Freestyle Cruising initiative, including 10 restaurants and 13 bars, 6 hot tubs, 2 pools, kids and teen centers, and colorful decor.

Quirks and Highlights: Not a whole lot is known about Gem as yet -- and we anticipate a new twist or two! -- but bank on a large proportion of balconied staterooms, exquisite suites (including the exclusive Courtyard Villas and the two 5,750 square ft. -- each -- Garden Villas), private karaoke rooms, a "sports center," which will include a regulation-sized 10-pin bowling alley, and outdoor delights such as the corkscrew pool slide and bungee trampoline.

Itineraries: Norwegian Gem will homeport in New York, offering 7-, 10- and 11-night cruises to the Bahamas and Caribbean beginning November 3.

CUNARD'S QUEEN VICTORIA

Will Launch In: December 2007

Backstory: Originally slated for debut in 2005, the Queen Victoria that was being built at the time was moved to P&O Lines and renamed Arcadia. The current 90,000-ton, 2,014-passenger Queen Victoria is a modified version of Holland America's Vista-class ships. But it's very modified, with ceilings that have been raised on public room decks and so on. It's by no means a copy of a Holland America Vista-class ship. As well, Queen Victoria will have a sleek, "ocean liner"-style profile.

Quirks and Highlights: Those who bemoan the loss of true ocean liners to modern times (and feel that Queen Mary 2 is just too big) and quite excited about the debut of Queen Victoria. Purists won't be disappointed in the Cunard class system, which will be alive and well. Elaborate, opulent Queens Grill suites offer the rarified atmosphere of "the olden days," with private lounges and butler service. Princess Grill suites are smaller and cozier, but also offer a range of services not available to so-called "regular folk" in balcony, oceanview or inside staterooms.

Look, too, for the exquisite oak-paneled library, complete with circular staircase to a second story; Cunard's fabulous enrichment programs; and an expanded children's facilities and spa.

Itinerary: In January, and in what is quite an honor for a ship in such mind condition, Queen Victoria will sail a world cruise; at one point Queen Victoria will join QE2 for a 106-day world cruise with a unique tandem crossing with QE2 from Southampton to New York.

San Diego-based Jana Jones, is the creator and editor of lodging Web site Sleeping-Around.com, as well as one of Cruise Critic's stalwart ship reviewers.

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