Just like last year, the debut of brand-new cruise ships falls in the middlin' category - there is just a handful, and, barring any unforeseen delays, they will all be launched by summertime. This is of course a far cry from the boom the cruise industry saw in the early part of the 21st century (seems so long ago) - but we're also right around the corner from another boom (2007 and 2008 look very strong; click here for a list of future ship orders).
As was the case last year, there's really nothing new trend-wise. Royal Caribbean's new Freedom of the Seas, measuring 20,000 tons more than its predecessor Voyager of the Seas (and owning a slim 10,000 ton advantage over Cunard's Queen Mary 2), will likely generate the most hype and excitement. But aside from an enervated sun deck with the world's first onboard surf park, the ship is basically a step-sibling of those from earlier classes.
We're still waiting - as we were a year ago - for luxury lines to stop thinking about growth via new-builds and actually act on it. So far, we've heard rumors but nary a peep from lines like Silversea, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, Crystal and Seabourn. Speaking of rumors, Disney, which has not added a vessel since the debut of its original two, is still pretty quiet on that front (though we hear, from time to time, that the line is talking about design and shipyards).
In the river cruising arena, lines like Viking River, Peter Deilmann and Avalon enjoy steady if unspectacular growth - but the niche is definitely evolving into a more sophisticated and ever-more popular type of cruising.
In the meantime, here's what to look for this year:
HOLLAND AMERICA'S NOORDAM
Will Launch On: February 22
Backstory: The 85,000-ton, 1,848-passenger Noordam is the last vessel in Holland America's Vista-class series (which also includes Oosterdam and Westerdam).
Quirks & Highlights: Noordam may well belong to the line's Vista class (and replicate those vessels in all but design elements) but it does own one distinction. Noordam is the first ship in the fleet to be designed in line with Holland America's "Signature of Excellence" program, a raft of enhancements that range from major changes in public rooms to significant upgrades in staterooms. That means that the ship will be outfitted with already popular features such as the Explorations Cafe, a fabulous coffee bar/game room/Internet cafe/library powered by The New York Times. Noordam will also feature the Culinary Arts Center, an expanded Club HAL kids' facility and the more comprehensive Greenhouse Spa.
Itineraries: Another interesting "first" - at least in the past few decades - is that Noordam will spend its maiden season sailing wintertime cruises from New York! The ship will launch in February of 2006, and sail 10- and 11-night Caribbean voyages from the Big Apple before repositioning to Europe for the warm-weather months.
NCL AMERICA'S PRIDE OF HAWAII
Will Launch In: June
Backstory: A sister to Norwegian Jewel, this ship is actually the first head-to-toe new-build for NCL's NCL America line (with Pride of America, NCL inherited a hull).
Quirks & Highlights: NCL has been oddly quiet about the features on this 92,000-ton, 2,224-passenger vessel - particularly considering that it's in relatively final stages of construction and outfitting - but expect plenty of restaurants to further the "Freestyle Cruising" concept along with the Courtyard Villas that debuted on 2005's Norwegian Jewel. Design-wise, the theme of its interiors is ... Hawaii.
Itineraries: The ship will shadow Pride of America and Pride of Aloha in the islands but depart weekly on Mondays - particularly convenient for the honeymoon crowd! Ports of call include a home base in Honolulu and then stops at Kauai, the Big Island's Hilo and Kona, and Maui.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN'S FREEDOM OF THE SEAS
Will Launch On: May 11
Backstory: The 158,000-ton, 3,600-passenger Freedom of the Seas will become the biggest ship afloat when it debuts - but what's even more interesting is the fact that, while its design is based largely on the cruise line's Voyager class of ships, there are new features to generate excitement.
Quirks & Highlights: On the Royal Promenade, there will be a full-fledged, 70-seat Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor, a Sorrento's pizzeria (no extra fee) and a bookstore component to the Voyager class' already quite popular Cafe Promenade. The pool deck area is completely innovative, designed more as a water park than a cruise ship sun deck. The most-hyped feature is its surf park - the first in the industry - but we also love the whirlpools that are cantilevered out over the edge of the ship. And not to be missed is the H2O Zone; whimsical and playful features include a waterfall, umbrella jets, a cone spill bucket, spray cannons, spray loops and pipefalls, all decorated as colorful sculptures. There are two splash pools as well, one of which will have a current that shoots water around a central island. At night, this area, with the integration of a fantastic and dynamic lighting system, will be transformed into a sculpture garden.
Itineraries: Since this ship is a destination in its own right, don't expect too much exotica in its ports of call. It'll be based in Miami and sail seven night Western Caribbean voyages.
PRINCESS CRUISES' CROWN PRINCESS
Will Launch In: June
Backstory: The 116,000-ton, 3,110-passenger ship, quite similar in many ways to Caribbean Princess, will feature some fresh new amenities such as the International Cafe for pastries and snacks, a redesigned Skywalker's disco, and an expanded Lotus Spa.
Quirks & Highlights: Also look for Princess' first-ever wine and seafood bar, pub fare on tap in the Wheelhouse Bar, and an expanded top-deck location for Sabatini's Trattoria. Sterling Steakhouse will evolve into a new eatery; in its new incarnation, it will feature an open, theater-style kitchen (with an eat-up bar and lots of cozy booths).
Itineraries: The ship will be the line's first to sail roundtrip Caribbean itineraries from New York's new cruise terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Its ports of call are distinctive - on Eastern Caribbean trips, the ship will call at Bermuda as well as the Turks and Caicos, a relatively new cruise destination near the Bahamas.
MSC'S MSC MUSICA
Will Launch On: July 1
Backstory: The Italian MSC Cruises moves firmly into the big-ship league with the debut of the 89,600-ton, 2,550-passenger MSC Musica.
Quirks & Highlights: Of MSC Musica's 1,275 staterooms, 80 percent will be outsides and 65 percent will have verandahs. The ship will also feature a 13,000-square-ft. spa; several dining options including two restaurants, self-serve pizza and a sushi bar; a central foyer with a three-deck-high waterfall; and a variety of entertainment venues including a three-deck theater, secondary show lounge and disco.
Itineraries: MSC Musica will sail the Eastern Mediterranean - Greece, Turkey and Croatia - from its home port in Venice.
Will Launch In: July
Backstory: As with MSC Musica, Costa (based in Italy though owned by Carnival Corporation) is introducing the biggest-ever ship in its fleet with the 112,000-ton, 3,000-passenger CostaConcordia.
Quirks & Highlights: The interiors, designed by longtime Carnival architect Joe Farcus, are themed around Europe's most architecturally intriguing cities (passengers can dine in rooms named after Milan and Rome, dance with the orchestra in Grand Bar Berlin, or sip a cup of coffee at Cafeteria Helsinki). The ship shares the same dimensions as Carnival's Conquest-class ships but there are differences, too. Because CostaConcordia will sail year-round in the Mediterranean, both of the ships' pools will be outfitted with sliding glass roofs as inclement weather could be a factor in winter months. Other distinctions include Ristorante Samsara, which will focus on spa fare, and one of the huge movie screens that are becoming ubiquitous in cruising (it will be located in the mid-ship pool area). The Samsara Spa, which stretches over two decks, will feature a separate indoor thalassotherapy pool. A new innovation will be the introduction of a Formula One driving simulator, which will recreate the experience of a genuine Formula One racing car; Costa Chairman Pier Luigi Foschi says that the car will not be a Ferrari, but a "Costa" racing car.
Itineraries: CostaConcordia's maiden voyage is scheduled for July 14, 2006; the ship will sail seven-night Western Mediterranean itineraries from Rome's Civitavecchia year-round.
At Your Service: Future Cruise Ship Orders
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