Video: Cruise away for the holidays

By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 12/18/2008 10:59:51 AM ET 2008-12-18T15:59:51

At this time of year, just about everyone devotes a column to predictions for the year ahead. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you the shape of things to come on the high seas in 2009: no fuel supplements (for now), massive tonnage, new luxury, greener ships, ship makeovers and — would you believe? — zip-lining and a carousel.

Ship class of 2009
Eight new ships will be ready for their close-ups next year, with one being the largest cruise ship ever launched. Here’s a summary for the Class of 2009, in order of the month they debut.

May: Costa Cruises 92,700-ton Costa Luminosa will carry 2,828 guests and will homeport in Amsterdam for the summer of 2009 with sailings to the Baltics. The ship will transition back the Mediterranean for the winter.

June: Costa Cruises is yet again receiving another vessel. The 114,500-ton Costa Pacifica, 3,780-passenger will sail seven-night sailings year-round from Rome (Civitavecchia) in the Mediterranean.

June: Seabourn is launching its first new yacht in eleven years. The ultra-luxury 32,000-ton Seabourn Odyssey will accommodate 450 lucky guests. The yacht’s itineraries will begin with sailings through the Black Sea, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean before it embarks on its 108-day world cruise where it will visit 42 ports in five countries.

MSC Cruises’ 133,500-ton, 3,300-passenger MSC Splendida is the second ‘Fantasia-class’ vessel to enter the fleet. The ship will sail year-round in the Mediterranean.

August: Celebrity Cruises’ 122,000-ton Celebrity Equinox is the line’s second ‘Solstice-class’ ship to be launched. The 2,850-passenger vessel will sail ten-, 11-, and 13-day sailings in the Mediterranean before crossing over in early November to sail 10- and 11-night Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale.

October: The 130,000-ton, 3,652-passenger Carnival Dream is Carnival Cruise Lines biggest “Fun Ship” to date. Carnival Dream will set sail with a few 2009 Mediterranean itineraries and will then cross the Atlantic Ocean to New York, finally making its way to its homeport of Port Canaveral, Florida to sail 8-day Western and Southern Caribbean itineraries.

November: Spanning 16 decks and weighing 220,000 tons, the Oasis of the Seas will be the world’s largest ship to-date. The ship will carry a whopping 5,400 guests at double occupancy and 6,300 maximum capacity when all upper and lower berths are occupied. Oasis of the Seas will sail year-round from Fort Lauderdale offering 7-day alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.

December: Ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises will launch its first newbuild ship in eight years. The 36,000-ton, 540-passenger Silver Spirit will transport guests in the style of 1930s art deco period. The vessel will sail in South America in early 2010 and will return to the Mediterranean for the spring and summer.

Old ships get facelifts
It’s not easy being an older ship in a sea of newbuilds. Many cruise lines are finding they must modernize older vessels to keep pace with the newer ships vast offerings and expanded on-board activities.

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Slideshow: Awful airlines Holland America is sending the Rotterdam and Veendam to dry dock to receive a series of the line’s “Signature of Excellence” enhancements to cabins, pool decks and entertainment options. Carnival’s “Evolutions of Fun” makeover of the line’s Fantasy-class ships continues. The Carnival Paradise, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Elation, Carnival Ecstasy and Carnival Fascination will get major pool deck upgrades along with stateroom enhancements. Princess Cruises’ is upgrading Caribbean Princess with a Crown Grill steak and seafood venue, adults-only Sanctuary, and adding seven suites. Additionally the Atrium will be transformed into the now-signature Piazza. Sea Princess will receive the new adults-only Sanctuary area.

Silversea Cruises’ Silver Wind and Silver Cloud will receive major upgrades where all suites receive new bathrooms and the vessels will gain a new lounge, enhanced spa, and eight additional suites. Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner will get an updated look with new casual dining options near the pool. In addition, every area of the ships will be refurbished with new furniture, fabrics and colors, carpeting, wallpaper, upholstery, light fixtures, and drapes.

New at-sea thrills
Oasis of the Seas will have seven distinct neighborhoods including Central Park, the Boardwalk, and the Royal Promenade. The ship will also feature two at-sea firsts: A zip-line and authentic carousel. The MSC Splendida and Costa Luminosa will offer 4-D cinemas with sound, lighting, images and special effects that combine to create a multi-sensory experience unlike anything ever found on a ship.

Greener machines
The cruise industry is making great strides in lessening its carbon footprint around the world. Celebrity Solstice is the first cruise ship to use solar power and sister ship Celebrity Equinox will follow in August 2009. There are 216 solar panels throughout the ship and energy collected becomes part of the ship’s power grid — enough to operate 7,000 of the vessel’s 25,000 energy efficient LED lights. Additionally, Solstice and Equinox’s hull design and coating make the ship more fluid dynamic, which means less fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

MSC Fantasia and MSC Splendida will feature and Advanced Water Treatment system for the treatment of gray and black waters. This system filters all the water on board and ensures that any that is released into the sea is clean and has an almost zero pollution level.

Burning diesel fuel to generate electricity when a ship is in port generates unnecessary pollution, so a number of ships are converting to an Alternative Maritime Power (AMP) system that allows vessels to plug directly into shore power while at port. Seattle, Juneau and Los Angeles offer this to cruise ships and Civitavecchia, Italy is set to become the first Mediterranean port to provide shore power to cruise ships using electricity generated from renewable resources like photovoltaic and wind power.

Fuel supplement limbo
Cruise lines began adding fuel surcharges a year ago when oil prices first spiked to $100 a barrel. Needless to say the practice stirred up a lot of controversy among passengers and the travel agent community. It also caught the eye of the law when the Florida attorney general’s office opened an investigation into possible cruise line collusion when the lines set the extra charges and another into the legality of assessing the fees retroactively. Carnival ended up refunding about $40 million in retroactive fuel supplements to passengers, and Royal Caribbean refunded $21 million.

Fortunately tanking fuel prices have been a bright spot for cruise lines whereby the majority recently suspended their fuel supplements. Still cruise lines cautioned that they reserve the right to reinstate fuel surcharges should the price of oil again rise above $65 per barrel.

Up the river without a paddleboat
The saddest cruise story this year was Majestic America Line going out of business. The line’s seven paddlewheel boats are now in extended drydock across the country awaiting their fate. Some parts of the fleet might be sold off piecemeal and could sadly end up overseas. They are truly a piece of Americana and a product of a by-gone era. I hope a dynamic investor can swoop in to save these boats.

2009 sure looks to be an interesting and fun year in cruising.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column. And check out her blog, ExpertCruiser.com.

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