By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 12/18/2009 3:54:48 PM ET 2009-12-18T20:54:48

Cruise lines are scrambling to find new ways to top each other in the innovation stakes. Bigger ships and never-before-seen features are the shape of things to come on the high seas in 2010.

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Class of 2010
Fifteen new ships will be ready for their close-ups next year, with one being the second largest cruise ship ever launched. Here’s a summary for the Class of 2010, in order of the month they debut.

January
Costa Cruises 92,700-ton Costa Deliziosa will carry 2,828 guests and will homeport in Dubai for the winter with sailings around the Middle East. The ship will transition back Europe in May to cruise the Baltics during the summer and the Mediterranean for the rest of the year.

February
AIDA Cruises, Germany’s largest cruise line, (owned by Carnival Corporation) will launch its seventh ship in 2010, the 68,500-ton, 2,050-passenger AIDAblu. The vessel is the sister ship to AIDAdiva, AIDAbella and AIDAluna and will cruise European waters year round.

March
The MSC Magnifica will be MSC Cruises’ 11th ship. The 93,330-ton ship will carry 2,518 passengers. The ship will feature its MSC Yacht Club, exclusively for suite guests. The ship will be based in Venice where it will sail year-round seven-night cruises.

Avalon Waterways is the fastest growing river boat cruise line in the world. The company will launch two new vessels this year bringing the fleet size to 10 riverboats. Carrying just 138 passengers Avalon Felicity will ply the waters of the Rhine until the winter season.

April
The Celebrity Eclipse will be Celebrity Cruises’ third ship in the Solstice-class. For summer 2010, Eclipse will cruise from Southampton, England — the first time a Celebrity ship will based in that port. The ship will be 122,000-tons and carry 2,850 passengers. In November the ship will transition to the Caribbean.

P&O Cruises’ 116,000-ton Azura will carry 3,100 passengers. The ship will sail alternating 7- and 14-day European itineraries from Southampton, England.

May
Compagnie du Ponant Yacht Cruises will launch its first new vessel in a decade, the 264-passenger Le Boréal. The luxury French line’s new vessel will sail various European itineraries year round.

California-based AMAWATERWAYS is an upscale European river cruise company that was launched in 2002. The company will launch the MS Amabella bringing its fleet to 11 boats. The Amabella is sister ship of the MS Amacello and carries just 148 passengers. Itineraries for the new vessel have not been disclosed.

June
The Seabourn Sojourn is the second of three new ships for the Yachts of Seabourn. The ultra-luxury 32,000-ton Seabourn Sojourn will accommodate 450 lucky guests. The yacht’s itineraries will begin with sailings around Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and Caribbean before it embarks on its 111-day world cruise from Los Angeles.

The most anticipated ship launch of 2010 is Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) Norwegian Epic. It will be NCL’s largest and most innovative ship to date, featuring an Aqua Park, an ice bar, wavy staterooms, and the largest private villa complex at sea. The 153,000-ton ship will carry 4,200 guests and sail alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.

July
Holland America Line’s 86,000-ton Nieuw Amsterdam is the second of the line’s “Signature Class” vessels. The ship, which will carry 2,104 passengers, will sail 12-day sailings around the Mediterranean. In mid-October, Nieuw Amsterdam will head to Fort Lauderdale for the winter season sailing seven-day Eastern Caribbean sailings.

August
Avalon Waterways will launch Felicity’s sister ship Avalon Luminary in May. Like Felicity, Avalon Luminary will carry just 138 passengers; however, it will cruise year-round on the Rhine River.

October
Cunard Line launches the new 90,400-ton, 2,092-passenger Queen Elizabeth, sister ship to Queen Victoria. The ship will sail round-trip from Southampton on various Mediterranean itineraries. In January, the ship will begin its 103-day world cruise.

November
When Sea Cloud Cruises launches the Sea Cloud Hussar it will be the largest three-mast passenger ship ever built. The 69 exterior cabins offer space for 136 passengers, who are looked after by a crew of 90. The ship will sail routes in the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. And, like its sister ships it will be sailed in the traditional way — by hand.

December
Allure of the Seas is the sister ship to the Oasis of the Seas, and thus is the second of two of the world biggest ships. At 222,000-tons it will carry 5,400 guests (6,300 max) and 1,650 crew members. Like Oasis, Allure will offer distinct neighborhoods, unique interior staterooms, and a zip-line. Allure will sail year-round from Fort Lauderdale offering 7-day alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.

Inspired by the original ice bars and ice hotels in Scandinavia and one of only 14 ice bars in the world, Ice Bar on Norwegian Epic will be the ultimate chill. This frozen chamber of iced vodka is set in changing hues of blue, green and purple LED lighting that simulates the Northern Lights and creates a distinctive arctic atmosphere. The centerpiece is a giant ice cube that glows and changes colors to the beat of the music. The venue will accommodate 25 guests who will be given fur coats, gloves and hats to keep them warm, since the room’s temperature will not rise above 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dinner in a circus
Norwegian Epic will offer the only “big top” at sea in an intimate 265-seat theater-in-the-round. Dubbed “Cirque Dreams and Dinner”, this one of a kind interactive theatrical dining experience will be performed in the air, while juggling dinner courses, with music, mayhem and acrobatic imagination. During the two-hour show, guests will marvel in amazement and become part of a celebration of spectacle and fantasy. The entire experience will be unlike anything else at sea.

Stylish staterooms
Norwegian Epic incorporates several new types of accommodations – the curved New Wave staterooms; the largest ship-within-a-ship suite complex at sea, comprising 60 suites and villas on two private decks at the top of the ship; a new category of inside staterooms for the value-conscious traveler — The Studios and Living Room; and spa and family-friendly accommodations.

More kids invade Europe
Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and thousands of American kids are headed back to Europe. In April, the Disney Magic will return to Europe, where it first sailed in 2007, only this time with a few new itineraries. The Magic will offer its first-ever 10,11, and-12-day cruises to Scandinavia, Germany and Russia, in addition to a lineup of Mediterranean itineraries that include calls at three new ports. And in each port Disney will add its magic touch to enhance the family touring experience.

Less Alaska
Alaska’s 2007 imposition of a head tax on cruise passengers has caused a tsunami of cruise ship defections from the state’s waters. Carnival, Princess, Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have reduced capacity in Alaska significantly for 2010 and more are scheduled to leave in 2011.

Rick Meadows, executive vice president of marketing, sales and guest programs, for Holland America says the change reflects the rising demand for Europe itineraries. “Our guests are finding a cruise to be the best value for their money in Europe, and interest in Mediterranean and Northern European itineraries continues to grow,” he said. With fewer ships sailing Alaska’s waters cruise fares are bound to go up, which means less bargains for cruise travelers.

Given the bounty of new ships, changing destinations, and wacky amenities, 2010 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for cruise travel.

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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