Once again, it's time to see what's on tap for the high seas in the new year. Here's what's to come in 2008: fuel surcharges, more tonnage, more adventure, healthier cruising, improved "fantasies" and a sad farewell to two great queens.
Ships, Class of 2008
Eight new ships will be ready for their close-ups next year, along with two older ships refurbished and relaunched with new cruise lines. Here's a summary for the Class of 2008, in order of the month they debut.
- MSC Cruises' 92,400-ton MSC Poesia, the third ship of the cruise line's "Musica" class, will carry 3,013 passengers. The ship will sail seven-, 11-, and 13-day sailings year-round in the Mediterranean.
- Silversea Cruises has acquired its first expedition vessel. The yet-to-be named 6,072-ton, 140-passenger vessel (which formerly sailed as the World Discoverer for the now-defunct Society Expeditions) will sail on adventurous voyages to destinations throughout the world, perhaps including the GalÃ¡pagos Islands and Antarctica.
- P & O Cruises' 116,000-ton Ventura will carry 3,100 passengers. The ship will sail alternating seven- and 14-day European itineraries from Southampton, England.
- Royal Caribbean's 160,000-ton Independence of the Seas will carry 3,600 passengers and sail year-round from Miami in the Caribbean. This ship is the sister vessel to Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas; together they tie for bragging rights as the world's largest cruise ship. The Independence of the Seas will sail in Europe until November, when it repositions to Fort Lauderdale for its winter Caribbean season.
- Lindblad Expeditions' 6,100-ton, 147-passenger National Geographic Explorer (formerly the Lyngen from the Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten) will sail a series of explorations in and around the Arctic, Iceland, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic and Coastal New England.
- Holland America Line's 86,000-ton Eurodam is the first of the line's "Signature Class" vessels. The ship, which will carry 2,104 passengers, will sail the Baltic region for the summer then transition to Quebec City for a series of Canadian and New England cruises in early fall. In mid-October, Eurodam will head to Fort Lauderdale for the winter season, sailing seven-day Eastern Caribbean sailings.
- The 113,000-ton Carnival Splendor will carry 2,974 passengers and sail in the Baltic Sea until November, when it will transition to Miami for a handful of Caribbean itineraries and Carnival's first-ever cruises to South America. In March 2009, the ship will be based in Los Angeles and will offer seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises.
- Princess Cruises' 116,000-ton Ruby Princess, sister ship to Crown Princess and Emerald Princess, will carry 3,100 passengers. The ship will sail seven-day Western Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale.
- Celebrity Cruises' 118,000-ton Celebrity Solstice is the line's first new ship since 2002 and the first of four 2,850-passenger vessels the line has ordered. The ship will sail seven-day Eastern Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale.
- MSC Cruises' 133,500-ton, 3,959-passenger MSC Fantasia will be the largest ship ever delivered to this cruise line. The ship will sail year-round in the Mediterranean.
Cruising in 2008 will be more expensive than in recent years as 20 cruise lines have levied new fees to cover rising fuel costs. Carnival says its fuel costs have increased 140 percent over the last three years, with a 50 percent increase in the past seven months alone. Fuel fees range from $5 per person, per day all the way up to $10 per person, per day, but many cruise lines are capping the fees at $70 per person, per voyage.
Blogs at sea
When John Heald, cruise director for the Carnival Freedom, started blogging last February, he had no idea he was starting an online cruise revolution. Now Internet surfers can get all kinds of behind-the-scenes information from cruise lines and their employees about cruise topics of interest, including what it takes to be a cruise director and a day-by-day report on the progress of building a new ship. Additionally, two cruise lines offer passenger blogs on various voyages. Look for additional blogs in 2008. Here's a current list of official cruise line blogs:
- John Heald's cruise director blog
- Carnival's Senior Vice President Vicky Freed's travel agent blog
- Cruise West's voyage journal entries
- Majestic America Line's Mississippi journey
- Lindblad Expedition's refurbishment of the National Geographic Explorer
- Holland America Line's Eurodam blog
The cruise industry is making great strides in lessening its impact on the environment. 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. Currently, Princess Cruises and Holland America are tapping power in Seattle, and Princess is also tapping power in Juneau. Starting in 2008, Princess will be tapping power when its ships dock in the Port of Los Angeles.
Another environmentally sound idea is taking off at Norwegian Cruise Line. For the past year the cruise line has been donating its used cooking oil for recycling as bio-diesel fuel. Currently, Norwegian has vessels offloading their cooking oils in Hawaii, British Columbia, New York, Miami and Charleston. The line hopes to donate more oil in 2008.
More holistic high seas
More cruise lines are offering theme cruises next year that will focus exclusively on wellness and will feature some of the world's top fitness, wellness and culinary experts. The result is a group of exciting new opportunities for travelers to go on vacation and rejuvenate their mind, body and soul.
For example, the Costa Fortuna will offer a "Holistic Holiday at Sea," featuring world-renowned teachers and authors and more than 50 workshops on vegan and macrobiotic cooking, shiatsu massage, meditation, cancer prevention, heart disease and other topics. Similarly, the Crystal Serenity will offer a rejuvenating Caribbean journey for "Mind, Body and Spirit," and MSC Lirica will offer a wellness cruise that will feature an organic food and wine theme. Regent Seven Seas Cruises will offer two wellness-themed cruises led by renowned wellness gurus Oz and Albert Garcia, who will focus on their specialty: anti-aging and longevity.
Cunard Line will introduce the sport of fencing aboard the new Queen Victoria. Passengers 16 and up will have an opportunity to learn fencing basics or fine-tune their skills with a certified instructor using equipment identical to that used by world champions. The fencing program can accommodate up to 10 aspiring or accomplished fencers at a time for foil fencing, the preferred style for elementary fencing classes because the blade is lightweight and flexible and the tip is blunt.
Carnival is giving its eight Fantasy-class ships an extreme makeover and new names. The $250 million "Evolutions of Fun" program will re-brand the eight ships as: Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, Carnival Imagination, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Paradise and Carnival Elation.
As each ship goes into dry dock for upgrades, it will get new signage on the bow, stern and upper deck areas. Among the planned onboard enhancements are expansive children's water parks, a new design style and features for the pool areas, and an adults-only "Serenity" deck area. Also being phased in are fully remodeled staterooms and suites, including new bathrooms, as well as flat-screen televisions in staterooms and some public areas, atrium lobby bars, updated sound and lighting systems in various lounges and clubs, coffee bars, nine-hole miniature golf courses, new art and photo galleries, New York-style delis in the Lido restaurants, and purpose-built conference facilities. Two ships have already been renovated (Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration) and upgrades to the entire Fantasy class will be completed by 2009.
Farewell Delta Queen and QE2
Next year marks the end of an era for two great cruise vessels: Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) and Majestic America Line's Delta Queen.
Forty years ago, QE2 was launched by Queen Elizabeth II; it is the longest-serving ship in Cunard's 168-year history. Since coming into service, the QE2 has undertaken 25 world cruises, has crossed the Atlantic Ocean more than 800 times and has carried more than 2.5 million passengers. Sadly, 2008 will be the QE2's farewell season. The vessel will leave the fleet in November 2008 and begin a new life as a first-class hotel and entertainment destination in Dubai.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress decided that the Delta Queen should not continue operating on America's rivers beyond 2008. Built in 1926, the Delta Queen has a steel hull and a wooden superstructure. Subsequent Coast Guard regulations prohibited wooden superstructures, but Congress decided more than 40 years ago to provide an exemption for the historic Delta Queen. This exemption, which Congress has extended at least six times is now set to expire in November 2008. Majestic America Line says it will give the Delta Queen a proper send-off with celebrations on sailings throughout 2008. Despite the Congressional snub, lobbying efforts continue to get Congress to pass another exemption. Maybe this Queen will get a reprieve. We can only hope.
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