Budget Travel

Caribbean Anyone? Win a 7-Day Cruise on the Norwegian Escape

Enter the Margaritaville “Island Escape” sweepstakes by April 30, 2017, for a chance to win the grand prize: a seven-day Caribbean cruise for two, including a $500 American Express gift card and Margaritaville merchandise.

To enter, provide the requested contact information (name, email, etc.) on the sweepstakes landing page and press “Submit.” Done! Time required to participate: less than 30 seconds.

[st_related]Win a 9-Day Adventure Tour of Costa Rica for 2[/st_related]

The Fine Print

  • Sweepstakes is open to legal residents of the United States, including the District of Columbia but excluding Arkansas, Hawaii, and Rhode Island, who are at least 21 years old at the time of entry.
  • Limit: one entry per person.
  • Approximate Retail Value (“ARV”) of the grand prize: $3,250.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.


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10 Bucket List Cruises for 2017

If ever there was a time to take that bucket list cruise, 2017 is your year. Fancy new ships are making their maiden voyages in New England and Southeast Asia. Emerging destination like Cuba and Myanmar, where locals haven’t encountered Americans in decades, if ever, are open to tourists. And a new 22-day epic Antarctica cruise combines two itineraries to put you on the ice more days than any other leisure passenger in history. Pack your bags and ready your sea legs for these 10 bucket list cruises in 2017.

10 Bucket List Cruises for 2017

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Editor’s Note: Cruise Critic is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Group, which also operates SmarterTravel.

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Carnival Has a Plan to Transform Cruising

At this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, cruise giant Carnival Corporation introduced “the world’s first interactive guest experience platform capable of transforming vacation travel into a highly personalized and elevated level of customized service for millions of guests.”

Wow! Or, on second thought: What?

More about the so-called Ocean Medallion: It’s a “first-of-its-kind wearable device that enables a personal concierge by bridging the physical and digital worlds to deliver a new level of personalized service not previously considered possible — including sophisticated wayfinding, food and beverage on demand, an array of interactive gaming, personalized entertainment experiences and more.”

[st_related]Delta Domestic Award Discounts – Book by January 13[/st_related]

And as for what it is, physically: It’s a quarter-sized, 1.8-ounce disc that “can be accessorized with jewelry, clips, key chains and bands or simply carried in a pocket or pocketbook.”

OK, so you walk around a Carnival cruise ship with this little disk hanging around your neck, and it does… what exactly? The purported benefits are described thusly:

  • Streamline and expedite the port embarkation and disembarkation process
  • Allow guests to access their staterooms as they approach the door (no keycard required)
  • Locate friends and family around the cruise ship
  • Enable guests to purchase merchandise without any transaction, cards or paper
  • Deliver enhanced dining experiences based on food and beverage preferences
  • Power an array of interactive gaming and immersive entertainment experiences
  • Significantly enhance interactions with crew members and guests

Color me underwhelmed; that seems like more fluff than substance. And it’s not clear to me why these functions couldn’t be packaged into a smartphone app, relieving me of the need to add that little round disk to the list of electronic devices I already have to keep on hand and interact with. But maybe I’m just being old school here.

Carnival is the parent company of 10 cruise lines, which together operate more than 100 ships. Ocean Medallion will be rolled out across Princess Cruises ships this year, giving travelers a chance to test-use the new technology. According to a New York Times story, the company has invested hundreds of millions of dollars so far, with further costs yet to be incurred, and expects a substantial positive return on that investment.

Color me skeptical.

Reader Reality Check

Hundreds of millions of dollars. Money well spent?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.


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The Ship That Sails to Yesterday: Exploring Myanmar’s Hidden Corners

This ship is built for the journey. The waters are shallow here on Myanmar’s upper Irrawaddy River, and ever-shifting sandbars constantly reinvent the wending path downstream. Only fishing boats, barges, and a few small ships designed for shallow-water sailing ply these waters. Built locally, the Avalon Myanmar is one such ship.

As a guest aboard the ship on one of its first journeys downriver, I got a rare peek into this little-known stretch of the world’s second-most isolated country. These are hard places to get to. The roads are challenging, the airports few; but the river weaves a story of place, offering a look at a world that—for better and worse—won’t remain the same much longer. Here’s what makes it an exceptional journey right now.

The River Less Traveled

Even in off-the-beaten path Myanmar, there’s a tourist circuit. This isn’t it. The northernmost point on the Avalon Myanmar’s itinerary is Bhamo, a small town near the China border. Embarking this far north, along a wild stretch of the river, gives you the chance to see a wonder few outsiders have ever witnessed: the Irrawaddy’s Second Defile, a dramatic passage between soaring limestone cliffs, past hillside monasteries, and along vast swaths of undisturbed forests.

The treasure-chest of untraveled wonders continues as the ship heads downstream—to riverside villages, where the small group mingles with locals; and into farming communities, jungles, and monastic settlements. It’s only once the ship reaches Mandalay that you start to notice other visitors, those who have come from around the world to see famous attractions like the long teak U Bein Bridge and the ancient capital of Bagan. And while Myanmar’s best-known sites are definitely worth a visit, it turns out to be the modest moments—standing in a bustling village market or watching a line of monks collect alms on a dusty road at sunrise—that are its most enduring keepsakes.

A Small Ship

With just 18 staterooms built for 36 guests, the Avalon Myanmar is one of the world’s smallest commercial river ships—and that suits the environs perfectly, because when you get off the ship you’re not heading into a capital city or even a bustling port. You’re walking a narrow gangplank over a muddy shore, and then ascending a sandy riverbank to discover a tiny village or a vibrant town full of people who are thinking about daily life, not tourism.

To be part of a small group is to find yourself in a singalong with kindergarteners in a one-room schoolhouse, or visiting with a grandmother musing about village life as she hangs laundry and tends her newborn granddaughter. Around here, a small group is like a small ship: It offers access to places the bigger ones can’t go.

RELATED: Beautiful Myanmar: 26 Revealing Moments Caught on Video

Life on the Irrawaddy

The Irrawaddy is a demanding river, especially in the dry season when shallow water levels expose ever-shifting sand bars. Along particularly tricky stretches of the river, you can hear the recitation of river depths as crew members on the lower deck prod the river bed with long measuring sticks and relay the numbers in a meditative chant. Local pilots join the crew at points along the river, and after a day or two, you get a sense that to be on the Irrawaddy is to be, by necessity, constantly present and completely in touch with your surroundings.

Each evening, the ship pauses for the night. Watching the crew toss the heavy rope onto a sandy bank and scramble into the shallows becomes the dusk routine. Sailing during the day offers a gentle unspooling of river life and the rich chorus of rural Myanmar—monks chanting, children playing, motorcycles revving—as it drifts across the water.

Rare Creatures

The Irrawaddy River dolphin is headed toward extinction. Fewer than 100 of these creatures—which resemble the love child of a beluga whale and a stuffed animal— remain in the river. But the remaining few dolphins have forged relationships with the local fishermen, helping them to round up fish into nets in exchange for a cut of the piscine profits.

The dolphins are elusive, but just knowing they’re out there keeps the crew and passengers scanning the horizon. Word of a sighting spreads quickly—the ship will often stop to give people a better chance at a glimpse of the silver shimmer of wet skin as it arches through the surface.

To see a dolphin is to strike that first connection with the river, to understand it not just as an artery but as the true lifeblood of this region: a source of food, of water, of livelihood and, in the case of the dolphin, of a fading magic that lies beneath its waters.

RELATED: 8 Reasons Why You Should Go on a River Cruise

A Sunrise Culture

There are early risers, and then there are the people of Myanmar. Particularly in smaller towns, life here starts as early as 4:30 a.m. For North Americans, the extreme time change is an easy gateway to this sunrise culture. It’s certainly one worth dragging yourself out of bed for. For it’s these early morning excursions that yield incredible moments like watching the dawn almsgiving to a silent procession of burgundy-robe clad monks, or catching what has to be one of the world’s best sunrises in Bagan, where the darkness lifts to reveal a landscape of delicate silhouettes and a sky full of hot air balloons.

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Local Economies

When, in 2011, Myanmar’s National League for Democracy and party leader Aung San Suu Kyi declared an end to the longstanding unofficial ban on tourism, they did so to encourage responsible travel that connected travelers to the people rather than the government. Aboard the Avalon Myanmar, this idea plays out in many ways each day. At each stop, the local crew of this Myanmar-built ship buys fresh provisions; it also donates food alms to local monasteries along the way.

The crew maintains strong relationships with the villages and offers monetary donations to local schools and communities at each stop. There’s a clear and constant effort to help villages benefit from micro-scale tourism without putting undue pressure on the traditional rhythms of life. And as the days go on and you grow more attached to the people of Myanmar, this becomes a vital distinction.

RELATED: Why I Hated Group Tours (Until I Tried One)

The World Beyond the Internet

Unsurprisingly, the world’s second-most isolated country is not a world leader in Internet access. While you can find a decent connection in an increasing number of hotel lobbies (especially in capital city Yangon), access in the rest of Myanmar is spotty at best.

Aboard the Avalon Myanmar, you may go four or five days utterly disconnected from Wi-Fi unless you’ve got the world’s best phone plan (and even then … ). After a day or two, though, most people aboard start to realize that this isn’t the time before Internet, it’s simply life outside of it.

Which really frees up time to scout for river dolphins.

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis traveled to Myanmar as a guest of Avalon Waterways. She has her fingers crossed that the people of Myanmar will benefit from the country’s current changes. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

(Photos: Christine Sarkis)


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Best Cruise Ships of 2014

This year’s Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks Awards name the top cruise lines in the world in a variety of categories, from Best New Ship and Best Value to top itineraries and most spectacular suites. Chosen by an international team of editors, these awards represent the creme de la creme of the cruise industry in 2014. Here are some highlights. (Editor’s Note: Cruise Critic is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Group, which also operates SmarterTravel.)


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What Every First-Time Cruiser Should Know

Congratulations on booking your first cruise. If you’re looking for some tips that’ll make the experience that much better, who’s more qualified to give advice than first-time cruise travelers who’ve just returned from their first voyage? What they didn’t know (packing, cocktails, ports, dining), they learned the hard way. But just as valuable, however, are the insights offered by the long-time cruiser, a grizzled ocean vet who knows the decks bow to stern. We’ve gathered top tips from both parties—three from first-timers and three from stalwart sea-goers.



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Norwegian Cruise Lines Reaches Out to Single Travelers

At least one big cruise line has decided to court the solo travel market. Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Epic has 128 “Epic Studios” designed for single occupancy. Although a few other big cruise ships have a few single cabins, the Norwegian Epic is the first megaship I know of where the single cabins represent a serious effort to target the solo traveler market, not just an afterthought.

Those studios are unlike anything else in the major-line cruise inventory. At 100 square feet they’re smaller than even the typical river cruise cabins. In fact, they’re about the same size as the rooms in Formule 1 and other low-end French motel chains, although each does have a separate shower, sink, and toilet. Cabins provide a full-size bed, flat-screen TV, and small desk. All studios are inside, and some have connecting doors to others. For more personal space, studio occupants have access to a dedicated two-story “studio lounge” where you can mingle with other singles or get a cup of morning coffee or an evening drink.

The layout represents an ingenious use of shipboard space. Cabins are on decks 11 and 12, with the lounge near midship. All studio cabins are located on either side of a central corridor, on the center of the ship, and between rows of conventional inside cabins on either side. Only studio passengers use the central corridor. The advantage is a certain level of privacy and separation of studio occupants from the other 4,000 or so cruisers; the downside is that occupants of the far fore and fore aft studios have a long schlep to the lounge. Following a transatlantic cruise in late June, Norwegian Epic will operate seven- and 14-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises from Miami.

Pricing seems attractive to solo travelers. For summer seven-day cruises, studio cabins generally go for $150 to $200 more than the least expensive per-person rate for an inside cabin. Where the inside cabins start at $649 per person, the studios start at $799; when the inside cabins start at $799 per person, the studios start at $999. Those prices are the equivalent of a single supplement of 23 percent to 25 percent, a better deal than the 50 percent to 100 percent supplement most mass market cruise lines charge for single occupancy of a double cabin. Norwegian’s studio cabins represent the best offering I’ve seen for travelers who really want to cruise solo.

Of course, you have alternatives.

  • Some other big-ship cruise line ships have at least a few cabins designed for single occupancy. Check with any of the big online cruise agencies for possibilities.
  • Carnival has a reputation for low single supplements. Several postings on the Website Cruise Critic report promotional single supplements that are often very low. And the high-end cruise lines generally charge small supplements—or even none—although even the no-supplement rates on these ships are far higher than you’d have to pay on a mass-market line. And some small-ship “niche” cruise line ships have single cabins.
  • If you’re willing to share, many cruise lines or cruise agencies will match you with another single of the same sex, so you pay only the per-person rate. A few actually “guarantee” a match: If they can’t find a match, you still get the per-person rate. Or if you prefer, you can arrange your own match through one of several travel-matching organizations. But many singles I know really don’t want to share cabin accommodations with anyone, and the studio cabins represent an attractive option.
  • If you’re willing to gamble on finding what you want, you can also wait until a month or so before you want to leave to check last-minute deals. I’ve often seen “no single supplement” or “reduced single supplement” deals on last-minute promotions. And I sometimes see per-person rates cut so much that even with a 50 percent supplement, single occupancy is a great deal.

Despite these options, many solo travelers will welcome Norwegian’s new approach. If you’re interested, contact Norwegian, or one of the big online agencies.

What do you think of Norwegian’s new studios designed for single occupancy? Would you ever consider cruising in one, or would you like to see more cruise lines adopting this strategy? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!

(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, TripAdvisor also owns Cruise Critic.)

Best New Cruise Ships for 2010

In 2009, the 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger behemoth Oasis of the Seas shook the foundation of cruise travel (think Loft Suites, live trees, AquaTheater, Hairspray). 2010 will be the year in which another distinctive prototype design—Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic—makes its debut. The 153,000-ton, 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic has a bevy of new-to-cruise features to tout, including an ice bar, entertainment offerings headlined by the stylish Blue Man Group, the first-ever inner tube waterslide, and minimalist “studio” cabins that are aimed at a budget traveler.

On the small ship front, we’re really excited about Sea Cloud Hussar, the latest offering from the venerable Hamburg-based Sea Cloud Cruises. The luxurious 440-foot, three-masted tall ship, all burnished brass and gleaming woods, will offer cruises in the Red Sea starting in November. 2010 will also see the debut of new river ships from Avalon Waterways, Viking River, and AMAWATERWAYS, all lines that have both enjoyed explosive growth over the past few years.

There are a few key trends in 2010:

Carbon Casting from the Cruise Ship Mold. Of the 15 new cruise ships due out in 2010, all but three are at least the second (if not the third, fourth, or fifth) in a line of sisters. Costa took a surprising step down in size with Costa Luminosa in 2009, and sister Costa Deliziosa will be the second in its mid-size class. MSC Magnifica is the fourth in the line’s Musica class. Celebrity’s Eclipse carries on traditions begun by siblings Solstice and Equinox. German-based AIDA Cruises is debuting AIDAblu, the fourth (of six!) ships in its Sphinx series. And Allure of the Seas, the second in the Royal Caribbean’s revolutionary Oasis class, will debut at the end of 2010.

But … Sister Ship Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Spitting Image. Take British cruise line P&O Cruises’ Azura, which is physically identical to sister ship Ventura. While Ventura went after the family sector by way of bungee trampolines, circus school, and an impressive kids’ club, Azura is taking aim at a more sophisticated set of mainstream cruisers—such as couples that would be comfortable on Celebrity’s Solstice-class vessels.

New Ships Get Unusual Homeport Assignments. While cruise lines have long relied on North American passengers—and so have often debuted ships in the U.S.—there’s been a sea change over the last few years. Celebrity Equinox was christened in the U.K. last summer and Eclipse will actually be based in England for a full season when it debuts this spring. Costa Cruises, which has been offering Dubai-based Arabian Gulf itineraries with its older ships, will seasonally homeport its two newest ships—Luminosa and Deliziosa—there in 2010.

Beyond the trends, here’s a line-by-line rundown of what’s on tap in 2010:

Cruise Line: Costa Cruises

Ship: Costa Deliziosa

Maiden Voyage: February 5

The Inside Scoop: While there isn’t much structurally to distinguish the 92,700-ton, 2,260-passenger Costa Deliziosa from identical sister ship Costa Luminosa, the homeport for the ship’s maiden season—Dubai—is truly unique. Costa Deliziosa will be christened in the Emirate on February 23, marking the first time a new cruise ship has been named in the Middle East. It’ll then offer a season of cruises out of Dubai through early May.

Design-wise, Deliziosa and Luminosa will differ in terms of decor—both are designed by Joe Farcus, a ship architect best known for his dramatic and whimsical Carnival Cruise Lines interiors. Deliziosa’s theme is “life’s pleasures.” This new class of ship represents a smaller prototype for Costa Cruises, and these more mid-size vessels can actually fit through the Panama Canal. Onboard highlights include the fleet’s highest proportion of balcony cabins (772 of 1,130 cabins or 68 percent), PlayStation 3 (PS3) game consoles in every cabin, a 4D cinema, an 18-hole championship golf course simulator, and the line’s now trademark double-deck Samsara Spa with adjacent spa accommodations.

Where It Will Sail: Deliziosa will launch in winter 2010 with a season of seven-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai that’ll visit Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Fujairah. Then it’s on to Europe, with sailings in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and British Isles.

Cruise Line: AIDA

Ship: AIDAblu

Maiden Voyage: February 9

The Inside Scoop: AIDAblu is the fourth ship in the German cruise line’s Sphinx series, which is currently comprised of AIDAluna, AIDAdiva, and AIDAbella. With the exception of an additional half deck of spa cabins, there will be few differences between AIDAblu and its three older sisters. Still, the series is one of the breeziest in cruising, with stylishly designed spaces and an absence of cruise conventions like dress codes and fixed seating. Onboard, the ship boasts the fabulous Theatrium—a soaring venue that plays host to everything from theater-in-the-round dance performances to shore lectures and cooking demos. Other high points are its massive spa and wellness area, themed buffet evenings, a selection of upscale boutique restaurants, and the first ever brewery on a cruise ship.

In another interesting touch, the ship’s godmother, designer Jette Loop, will do more than just give the nod for the Champagne smash; she’ll also be designing uniforms for the masters and officers in the AIDA Cruises fleet.

Editor’s Note: While AIDA is owned by U.S.-based Carnival Corporation, this is a German/Austrian/Swiss product through and through. There is absolutely no effort made to reach out to non-German-speaking travelers, though of course all are welcome onboard.

Where It Will Sail: The ship will offer cruises to Western Europe out of Hamburg during spring 2010, followed by cruises to the Baltic out of Warnemunde in the summer, and finally Canary Island cruises from Tenerife from September 2010 through April 2011.

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises

Ship: MSC Magnifica

Maiden Voyage: March 7

The Inside Scoop: Sister ship to the 93,300-ton, 2,518-passenger MSC Musica (2006), MSC Orchestra (2007), and MSC Poesia (2008), MSC Magnifica will share many of the same onboard features. These include a central foyer with three-deck-high waterfall; a large percentage of balcony cabins (about two-thirds of cabins have balconies); five restaurants; and a 16,000-square-foot spa area. There are, however, a couple of new features on Magnifica that weren’t on its siblings. The biggest addition is a retractable roof, or “magrodome,” above the mid-ship pool, which allows for continued swimming during inclement weather or on the ship’s cooler weather cruises. On the smaller side, the Chinese specialty restaurant introduced on Orchestra, but absent on Poesia or Musica, is back by popular demand.

Like other ships on our 2010 list, what really distinguishes Magnifica from its three sister ships are the itineraries. Magnifica will debut with a series of rather traditional Mediterranean voyages—but then the ship will cross the Atlantic to New York for a fall season of Canada and New England cruises, a first for the line and highly unusual for a European operator. MSC’s aim here is most definitely to court more stateside cruisers—but it also wants to introduce its core European market to new itineraries, and Canada (and New England) definitely qualifies. The line’s massive popularity in Europe will assure that even on the Canada cruises, the passenger mix will be cosmopolitan: a blend of Europeans and Americans.

Where It Will Sail: Magnifica will sail in the Mediterranean followed by Canada and New England. After the fall foliage season, the ship will reposition south to Fort Lauderdale, where it will offer Caribbean cruises.

Cruise Line: Avalon Waterways

Ships: Avalon Felicity and Avalon Luminary

Maiden Voyage: March 28 for Felicity; August 1 for Luminary

The Inside Scoop: River cruising has always been a popular form of travel with Europeans, but as the cruise style has gained in popularity with English speakers in the 2000’s, a number of fledgling English-language operators—including Avalon, AMAWATERWAYS, Viking River, Uniworld, and Tauck—have enjoyed rapid expansion.

Avalon Felicity and Luminary are the fourth and fifth ships, respectively, in Avalon’s “Scenery class” (Avalon Scenery debuted in 2008 as the first in the series). Like their predecessors, the new-builds feature an all-outside cabin setup, with standard cabins measuring 172 square feet—healthy footage for a river ship (where cabins are particularly tiny)—and junior suites at 258 square feet. A number of the ship’s cabins have “French balconies,” sliding glass doors with a protective railing (though you can’t step out). Onboard, passengers will find a sun deck with a small pool, a “Sky Grill” for al fresco dining, two lounges, an open-seating dining room, a hairdresser, and a fitness center. Felicity and Scenery also boast some of river cruising’s most modern touches, including flat-screen TV’s in the cabins and an elevator for general passenger use.

Where They Will Sail: Both ships will offer traditional river cruise itineraries along Europe’s great waterways, including the Rhine, Danube, and their tributaries.


Ship: Amabella

Maiden Voyage: May

The Inside Scoop: Like competitor Avalon Waterways, the AMAWATERWAYS fleet has been expanding quickly—striving to increase capacity without having to reinvent the wheel. Like its half dozen near-identical siblings, Amabella will offer almost all-inclusive cruising. Beyond the cruise ship standards—food, accommodation, entertainment—there’s complimentary wine and beer with dinner, unlimited Internet use, and guided tours in each port. There are also about 20 bikes available for exploring onshore (bike use included in the fare).

Then there are the onboard innovations, the modern additions that have made AMA’s ships some of the most modern on Europe’s rivers. All cabins have “Infotainment” setups, basically flat-screen TV’s with Internet access, movie and music libraries, bow and navigational cams, and more. Amabella also boasts bow to stern Wi-Fi, an elevator, wireless audio devices for port tours, and a collapsible bridge that enables it to pass underneath even the lowest river bridges.

Editor’s Note: For its first year, Amabella has been chartered for the Australian cruise market. It will be marketed exclusively to Aussies.

Where It Will Sail: The ship will likely sail itineraries along Europe’s great waterways, including the Rhine, Mosel, Main, and Danube.

Cruise Line: P&O Cruises

Ship: Azura

Maiden Voyage: April 12

The Inside Scoop: P&O Cruises’ Azura will actually represent a dramatic departure from the family-centric Ventura, with which it shares a basic layout. That’s because the 116,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Azura is being geared primarily to adults and couples. The majority of sailings will be two weeks or longer, which naturally limits the number of families, and the onboard ambience will be more refined.

Highlights of Azura include single cabins, an adults-only sun deck sanctuary called The Retreat (with adjacent spa cabins), and an upscale Indian Restaurant, Sindhu, backed by celebrity chef Atul Kochar. Azura will also feature P&O’s first giant poolside movie screen, a concept borrowed from sister line Princess Cruises. All this isn’t to say Azura will be anti-family—the bungee trampolines and Wii room from Ventura are back, too.

Where It Will Sail: Azura will debut with a season of Mediterranean cruises out of Southampton, then cruises to the Caribbean, then the Canary Islands (starting in October 2010), then the Caribbean. Most cruises are two weeks or longer, with a few shorter cruises mixed in.

Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruises

Ship: Celebrity Eclipse

Maiden Voyage: April 26

The Inside Scoop: Celebrity Eclipse is the third in the innovative Solstice class of ships, which as of now includes Celebrity Solstice (2008) and Celebrity Equinox (2009); a fourth, Celebrity Silhouette, will launch in 2011. The 117,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse will debut in Southampton and will offer all of Celebrity Solstice’s innovations—the multiple dining venues from French to Asian fusion; the Lawn Club, a grass-covered spot for picnics, bocce, and other activities; a glass-blowing studio; and a gorgeous solarium with an indoor pool. Differences will be minor; decor and color palette will vary slightly, and there’s a possibility that one or two of the restaurants may have new themes and menus.

While sister ship Celebrity Equinox flirted with the U.K. cruising public—it was christened in Southampton in July 2009—Celebrity Eclipse is looking for a full-blown love affair. The ship will homeport out of Southampton for its maiden spring and summer season before heading to the Caribbean to offer roundtrip sailings out of Miami. Celebrity won’t be going all out to cater to the local market (it also anticipates it will appeal to its core North American audience), but there will be little tweaks. Additions to the food menu include mushy peas, steak, and kidney pie.

Where It Will Sail: Celebrity Eclipse will offer ex-U.K. sailings around the British Isles and Ireland, Scandinavia, and the Canary Islands, followed by Caribbean cruises out of Miami during the colder months. The ship will head back to Southampton in 2011.

Cruise Line: Compangie Du Ponant

Ship: Le Boreal

Maiden Voyage: May 6

The Inside Scoop: French line Compangie Du Ponant has two super sleek new-builds under construction at Fincantieri Shipyard in Italy: the 264-passenger Le Boreal, which will debut in May 2010, and sister ship L’Austral, which will set sail in 2011. These ships will be razor-sharp, state-of-the-art yachts, featuring all-outside cabins ranging in size from 200 to 398 square feet (95 percent of them will have balconies).

Le Boreal will feature two restaurants, a main restaurant serving upscale French and international cuisine, and a casual outdoor grill venue. Other public areas include a venue for lectures and performances; a panoramic lounge with Internet access, a library, and a cocktail bar; a lounge for dancing, live music performances, and afternoon tea service; a sun deck with swimming pool and outdoor bar; a casino; and a spa and fitness center with massage rooms, steam rooms, and a Turkish bath.

Intrigued but don’t speak French? English-speaking audiences will get a taste of the ships via charter agreements with American-based Tauck World Discovery.

Where It Will Sail: When Le Boreal debuts in 2010, it will be a path-finding super-yacht offering Mediterranean and Northern Europe (including Iceland), U.S. and Canada, Caribbean and Amazon River, Antarctica and South America cruises.

Cruise Line: Seabourn

Ship: Seabourn Sojourn

Maiden Voyage: June 6

The Inside Scoop: The 32,000-ton, 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn, the second ship in the luxury line’s Odyssey class, will be identical to the first-in-class Seabourn Odyssey (a third, still-unnamed sibling will debut in summer 2011). According to a spokesman from the line, there will be a handful of differences, but nothing major—slight tweaks in decor, for example, or a couple of new things in the spa.

Speaking of the spa, Sojourn and sister ship Odyssey share the distinction of having the largest spa on any luxury cruise ship. Like Odyssey, Sojourn’s 11,400-square-foot spa will span two decks and include indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, as well as a Kinesis wall in the fitness center that will combine cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training into one workout. The decadent, 750-square-foot spa villas are back as well, as are Odyssey’s range of dining options, which include the avant garde Restaurant 2 with its tasting menu of innovative dishes; the indoor-outdoor Colonnade restaurant, where diners can watch their breakfasts, lunches, or dinners being prepared in the open kitchen; and course-by-course, in-suite dining. Also included in the design are traditional Seabourn favorites, such as a water sports platform.

Seabourn Sojourn will be christened in Greenwich, England.

Where It Will Sail: The 14-night maiden cruise will visit the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Norwegian Fjords, and the following itineraries include sailings in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and even the rivers of Western Europe. For the winter months, the ship will reposition to the Caribbean with cruises out of Fort Lauderdale.

Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line

Ship: Norwegian Epic

Maiden Voyage: June 24

The Inside Scoop: Norwegian Cruise Line’s 153,000-ton 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic, the lone new-build to emerge from the once two-ship “F3” project, will debut in summer 2010 as the largest, trendiest, and most innovative new design ever from NCL. While the line is transferring much of what already works on its smaller ships—freestyle dining (Epic will have over a dozen restaurants), a nightclub-cum-bowling alley (NCL’s added another three-lane alley in the sports bar, O’Sheehans), tons of balconies (the majority of outsides will have them), and the Courtyard Villa complex—there are plenty of new concepts as well, solidifying Norwegian Epic’s status as the most eagerly anticipated new cruise ship of 2010.

On the sun deck, a sprawling Aqua Park will boast three waterslides, including one that utilizes an inner tube (“Epic Plunge”); a twisty slide (a la Carnival Dream‘s corkscrew slide); and one just for kids that actually goes right through the rock-climbing wall. The ship will also boast an impressive variety of active pursuits, including cruising’s first batting cage at sea, a climbing cage called the “Spider Web,” and a ropes course.

As for accommodations, the already-trendsetting NCL is introducing a new style of cabin, the “Studio.” There are 128 modern studios, a miniscule 100 square feet apiece, on Decks 11 and 12. The studios are all insides that sleep two passengers, each with a corridor facing window. Similar in concept to the ship-within-a-ship Courtyard Villa idea (though perhaps more like easyCruise in style), studio passengers get an exclusive, shared social space called the Living Room, featuring a bar, two large TV screens, a concierge for booking dinner reservations and shore excursions, and comfy seating for hanging out, ordering room service, or sipping pre-dinner drinks.

On the entertainment front, the Second City improve troupe gains their own stand-alone comedy venue, and Vegas favorite Blue Man Group will join NCL’s already innovative entertainment offerings.

Where It Will Sail: Norwegian Epic will sail alternating weeklong Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises through April 2011. The Western Caribbean cruise includes stops in Costa Maya, Roatan, and Cozumel. Norwegian Epic’s Eastern Caribbean itinerary includes calls in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau.

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Nieuw Amsterdam

Maiden Voyage: July 4

The Inside Scoop: The 86,000-ton, 2,106-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam, the fourth ship in Holland America’s venerable history to carry the name, is a sibling to Eurodam, which launched last year.

History aside, Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam will be largely identical to sister ship Eurodam, though interiors will pay homage to its namesake New York City. As part of the fleet’s evolutionary Signature class of ships, new innovations include the addition of the Pan-Asian Tamarind restaurant; the fabulously exotic Silk Den lounge; Canaletto, a casual Italian eatery; Holland America’s impressive enrichment opportunities (photo, culinary, and computer classes); and state-of-the-art navigation and safety systems. The ship will also feature the Retreat, an exclusive, open-deck area with private cabanas that are available for rent.

Where It Will Sail: Nieuw Amsterdam will sail a variety of 12-night Eastern Mediterranean itineraries roundtrip from Venice or between Barcelona, Spain, and Venice. These cruises will visit ports throughout Greece, Croatia, Turkey, and Italy.

Cruise Line: Cunard

Ship: Queen Elizabeth

Maiden Voyage: October 12

The Inside Scoop: The 90,400-ton, 2,092-passenger Queen Elizabeth is a sister ship to Queen Victoria, which debuted in late 2007. There will be a few tweaks to Queen Elizabeth, including a very different design scheme evocative of art deco (Queen Victoria was more focused on British opulence). Other additions include a glass roof erected over the games deck (with its sporting pursuits inspired by those from the 30’s, including bowls, croquet, and paddle tennis).

Minor differences aside, both ships are aiming to please the classic cruise aficionado looking for Cunard tradition. There’s the 1,000-square-foot dance floor for ballroom dancing during formal evenings, the wood-paneled 6,000-book library, the elegant theater complete with private boxes, and the cruise class structure (passengers in the Princess Grill suites, for instance, have their own dining room). In line with the ambience of elegance at sea, Queen Elizabeth’s shopping parade will feature Harrods and Hermes shops.

Where It Will Sail: Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage will follow the same path taken by QE2 on its first voyage. Departing Southampton on 12 October, 2010, the 13-night voyage will sail from Southampton to Vigo, Lisbon, Cadiz, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, and Madeira. Other itineraries, from October 2010 to January 2011, include voyages to the Western and Central Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

Cruise Line: Sea Cloud Cruises

Ship: Sea Cloud Hussar

Maiden Voyage: November 4

Inside Scoop: Sea Cloud Hussar, Sea Cloud Cruises’ stunning 138-passenger, full-rigged, three-masted tall ship, will debut in fall 2010. At 440 feet long, the ship will be the largest of its kind at sea. The luxury sailing ship is currently under construction in Spain at Factoria de Naval Marin.

Onboard, amongst the antiqued brass and polished veneer, passengers will find an elegant lido bar and bistro; lounge; traditional restaurant; library; spa with sauna, steam bath and relaxation area, hydro-massage shower, and treatment rooms; swimming platform; sun deck; and a small gym. All cabins are oceanview (23 have balconies) and feature bathrobes, slippers, hair dryers, TV’s, and direct e-mail access. But beyond the upscale ambience, a cruise on Sea Cloud Hussar will focus on the sailing experience, and nautically minded cruisers will enjoy the top deck spaces where masts and sea breeze connect.

Where It Will Sail: After an inaugural cruise from Athens to Larnaca, Cyprus, Sea Cloud Hussar will begin sailing cruises out of Dubai to destinations in the Arabian Gulf including Muscat, Fujairah, and Abu Dhabi.

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Allure of the Seas

Maiden Voyage: December 12

The Inside Scoop: The 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas will join sister ship Oasis of the Seas as the biggest cruise ship ever constructed—the Oasis-class vessels are a whopping 40 percent larger than the previous titleholders, Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-class trio. Allure of the Seas will feature all the same mind-blowing innovations found on Oasis of the Seas, including its Loft Suites, cupcake cupboard, zip-lining, 20-plus dining options, and zero-entry beach pool. Of course, the revolutionary neighborhood concept pioneered on Oasis is back. The ships are divided into seven regions, each with its own purpose—from Central Park, a tropical plant- and tree-filled promenade with cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops, to the Boardwalk, a Coney Island-esque space featuring a handmade wooden carousel and AquaTheater.

Where It Will Sail: Allure of the Seas will sail alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises every Sunday from Ft. Lauderdale starting December 12, 2010. The Eastern Caribbean voyages will call on St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Nassau. The Western Caribbean voyages will call on Falmouth, Jamaica’s new cruise port; Cozumel; and Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private beach on Haiti. Both itineraries will feature three days at sea.

What ships do you look forward to sailing on in 2010? Do you think the new ships have left any amenities out? Share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas by submitting a comment below!

Booking Strategy

Top 10 Cruise Trends for 2010

If 2009 was the year of the deal, then 2010 is the year of the tweak. With a bunch of carbon-copy ships debuting (the exceptions are the revolutionary Norwegian Epic and, to some extent, P&O Cruises‘ new Azura), we’re not going to be blown away by many new ship designs and unheard-of onboard amenities. Yet as lines aim to capture the attention of first-time cruisers and work hard to bring prices back up to pre-2009 levels, they will focus on improving the existing onboard experience and changing the way the public views cruising.

What should you expect? Look for policy changes (with regard to tipping and levels of luxury), upgraded enrichment and entertainment programs, itineraries revamped to reflect the hottest destinations, big-name theme cruises, and continued ship refurbishments. You’ll also notice passenger demographics changing, as cruisers get younger and hail from a wider variety of countries.

Intrigued? Here are Cruise Critic’s top 10 cruise trends for 2010:

Pricing is Rising

What We’ve Seen: No question, 2009 was the year of the deal. With plenty of new ships debuting and a worldwide economic recession, cruise lines had to scramble to fill cabins. We saw Wave Season extra-value deals extend into the spring, some of the lowest prices we’ve ever seen for Alaska and Mexico itineraries, and lots of freebies (including free airfare from luxury lines and even free kids’ fares from family-friendly Disney Cruise Line).

In 2010: So far, cruise lines are optimistic about 2010 sales—and that means they’re bringing prices back up. We don’t expect last-minute or shoulder-season deals to disappear, but the record low fares for peak-season sailings will most likely disappear. Plus, exciting new ships like Carnival‘s Carnival Dream, Royal Caribbean‘s Oasis of the Sea, and Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Norwegian Epic should command premium pricing that’s higher than average. One fire-sale holdover: Luxury cruise lines are keeping some of the free airfare, two-for-one pricing, onboard credit, and free shore excursions policies that they introduced in 2009.

Innovative Onboard Attractions

What We’ve Seen: In previous years, cruise line innovation was focused on new-builds, as shipyards pumped out new ships at a record pace. A new class of ship would herald the launch of a new onboard amenity (like Royal Caribbean’s Central Park or NCL’s bowling), cabin category (like Costa‘s spa cabin concept on Costa Concordia), or programming (like Celebrity Cruises‘ new Celebrity Life entertainment and enrichment program launched on Celebrity Equinox). If the concepts were popular, the cruise lines would often retrofit older ships with the new amenities, such as Princess Cruises‘ Sanctuary sun deck and Movies Under the Stars.

In 2010: You’ll still see some exciting new additions to existing cruise ships, but they likely won’t be as innovative as features introduced on all-new ship designs. Azamara, for instance, has no plans just now to build new ships—but it is retooling its name and concept, to promote its new destination focus and more inclusive nature. At Windstar, where ships were built in the late 1980’s, its Degrees of Difference program enters its newest phase—which includes the introduction of new spa-focused suites onboard. Carnival continues to revamp its oldest ships with the “Evolutions of Fun” upgrades, which include a new aqua park with waterslide, an adults-only sun deck, and redesigned main pool areas. And Celebrity is finally embracing freestyle dining by rolling out an alternative, flexible dining program fleet-wide.

Bottom line: Look for a continued emphasis on ship refurbishments and new entertainment, enrichment, and culinary programs onboard.

Lots of Sister Ships

What We’ve Seen: 2009 was a great year for innovative and new ship designs, many of them the biggest ever for their respective lines. Thrilling new debuts included Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, Seabourn‘s Seabourn Odyssey, Carnival’s Carnival Dream, Silversea‘s Silver Spirit, and Viking River CruisesViking Legend. Highlights included Seabourn’s splashy, two-deck spa; advanced engine technology on Viking Legend to ensure a quiet ride and use less fuel; and an indoor/outdoor piazza on Carnival Dream. And pretty much everything on Oasis of the Seas was revolutionary, from its split-hull design to its zipline, loft cabins, and onboard park with real trees and plants.

In 2010: With the notable exception of NCL’s Norwegian Epic, most of the ships debuting this year are sisters of previous ships. Costa’s Costa Deliziosa, Celebrity’s Celebrity Eclipse, Holland America‘s Nieuw Amsterdam, Seabourn’s Seabourn Sojourn, and Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas are all near twins of existing ships (namely, Costa Luminosa, Celebrity Solstice, Eurodam, Seabourn Odyssey, and Oasis of the Seas). P&O’s Azura, too, is built on the same general platform as Ventura—though it will be a departure from the family-focused Ventura, geared instead to adults and couples with single cabins, new dining options, and an adults-only sun deck.

So the christenings will be a little ho hum—unless the cruise lines pull out all the stops with new programming or big-name godmothers. Again, the one bright spot is Norwegian Epic, the largest-ever NCL ship featuring an aqua park, an array of restaurants (but no main dining room), a circus- and acrobatics-themed dinner show, dueling piano bar, ice bar, and New Wave cabins with curved walls and split baths. It’s definitely the ship to watch in 2010.

European River Cruising Enters Luxury Niche

What We’ve Seen: In the past, river cruise lines haven’t been able to rise above their ships’ size constraints. In order to fit through narrow locks or channels, riverboats must be lean, with no extra space for the “wow” amenities found on their ocean-going sisters. Generally, cabins are tight, dining is limited to one venue, and onboard amenities are kept to a bare minimum. That’s changing, though: Uniworld’s new River Beatrice, which cruises the Danube, was introduced in 2009 with lavish decor, plenty of suite accommodations, and an alternative dining venue.

In 2010: Taking some inspiration from their bigger ship brethren, some river operators are now figuring that even if you can’t make riverboats enormous, why not take the space you have and make it as nice as possible? For the first time, a river cruise can be a luxury cruise experience. AMAWATERWAYS‘ Amabella will have an elevator, free wine and beer at meals, free Wi-Fi, a spa-type shower in all cabins, and a small spa. Avalon Waterways‘ 2010 new-builds, Avalon Felicity and Luminary, will have 258-square-foot junior suites, cabins with French balconies and high-quality linens, and a fitness center.

Other luxury touches to look for include Nintendo Wii systems and marble bathrooms on Tauck‘s newest ships, museum-quality art collections and swimming pools on Uniworld’s new-builds, and all-balcony cabins and a private restaurant for suite guests on Victoria Cruises‘ most modern riverboats.

Snagging Virgin Cruisers

What We’ve Seen: Passionate cruise travelers are the bread and butter of the industry, but cruise lines are also keen to entice virgin cruisers to the niche. In response, cruise lines have started modeling their onboard experiences on land-based vacation programs in an effort to entice non-cruisers to book their first cruises. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a rise in extensive children’s areas to attract families, upgraded bedding and linens to mimic trends in the hotel industry, and more active pursuits, both onboard and in shore excursions, to satisfy a younger and more health-conscious traveler.

In 2010: This year, we’ll see cruise lines continue their push to attract the first-time cruiser, whether that be families and young adults, international travelers, or just anyone who never thought they’d go on a cruise vacation. New ships like Norwegian Epic and Oasis and Allure of the Seas are mimicking South Beach and Vegas-style attractions with themed nightlife, exclusive sun decks, onboard beach parties, more athletic options, kids’ clubs with the latest video games and Internet consoles, and brand-name shops. Even luxury lines are going after a younger demographic with larger ships, bigger spas, a greater focus on the destination, and more inclusive pricing.

It’s a Small (International) World

What We’ve Seen: For many, the appeal of cruising has been traveling onboard an outpost of the U.S. while visiting foreign destinations. Passengers may have to navigate foreign languages, unfamiliar foods, and new cultures in port, but in the evening, they return to a safe haven where English is spoken, the meals are reminiscent of nice restaurants at home, and the people you meet are likely from a neighboring state.

In 2010: Just as cruise travel has exploded in popularity among Americans, Canadians, and Brits, it’s also increasingly sought after for travelers from disparate places such as Brazil, China, and Europe. While there are country-centric cruise lines that market to particular regions or languages (such as the German AIDA, Costa in the Middle East, Royal Caribbean in China, and MSC in Brazil), many mainstream lines, like Princess and Holland America, are reaching out to travelers all over the world, so your fellow passengers onboard could observe different customs and speak varying languages.

Costa Deliziosa will be christened in Dubai before doing a maiden season of Middle East cruises, Celebrity Eclipse will offer a maiden season out of Southampton, and HAL’s Nieuw Amsterdam will take its inaugural cruises in the Mediterranean. Plus, the onboard atmosphere is changing with the need for announcements in more languages, food and activities to reflect more European tastes, and gratuities policies that account for nationalities not accustomed to tipping.

Innovative Cabins Are On the Rise

What We’ve Seen: For a long time, cruise ship cabins were relegated to inside, outside, balcony, and suite. But over the years, cruise lines have started experimenting with newer types of cabins. Costa introduced the world to the spa cabin—a special class of cabin with easy access to the spa and amenities like special bath products and yoga mats. Other lines, such as Celebrity, Windstar, Holland America, and Carnival are jumping on that bandwagon. In 2009, Holland America gave us lanai cabins with back doors leading out to the Promenade Deck, and Royal Caribbean invented interior-facing promenade cabins and Presidential Suites that can sleep a family of 14. It went even further with Oasis of the Seas, which has two-deck loft cabins, not to mention staterooms facing the outdoor Boardwalk and Central Park neighborhoods.

In 2010: Norwegian Epic is launching the New Wave cabin concept, featuring curved walls and a new bathroom concept with the shower stall, toilet area, and vanity split up into three different entities. New 100-square-foot studios will offer mood lighting and access to an exclusive two-floor lounge, while eight of its spa-oriented accommodations will have in-room whirlpools. P&O’s Azura will have 18 single cabins (a first for the line) and a pair of large suites, ideal for families or friend groups. And looking ahead to 2011, the three owners suites on Oceania‘s new Marina, with fabulous Ralph Lauren-decorated schemes and lavish bathrooms, will take onboard indulgence to new heights.

Theme Cruise Options Explode

What We’ve Seen: Theme cruises have been gaining popularity, and now you can find a cruise geared to any possible interest or hobby. We’ve seen scrapbooking, rock music, Elvis, yoga, Star Trek, motorcycle, running, and Christian singles cruises—to name just a few.

In 2010: Theme cruises will continue to get bigger and better. Look for theme cruises being hosted by more big-name stars—like previous headliners John Mayer, the Barenaked Ladies, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They will focus on the hottest trends, like the Twilight Cruise in August 2010 that capitalizes on teens’ obsession with the popular vampire series of books and movies. Finally, be prepared to book early, as the hottest theme cruises are guaranteed to sell out far in advance, if not instantly—the 2009 New Kids on the Block cruise sold out in minutes.

The End of Tips?

What We’ve Seen: The biggest change to date in onboard tipping was the move from handing envelopes of cash to waiters and cabin stewards on the last night of the cruise to having gratuities automatically added to onboard accounts. Each line sets its own suggested amounts for tipping the cabin steward, waiter, assistant waiter, and head waiter—which passengers can adjust based on service. While this has suited most Americans just fine, the process was often confusing and frustrating to Brits and Europeans who are not used to such regular tipping. Note: Several lines—most noticeably luxury ones—simply include service fees in the cruise fare and do not require additional tipping onboard.

In 2010: We predict that 2010 will be the year when outdated tipping policies join the 21st century and the global community. Already, Royal Caribbean is reviewing its gratuities procedures due to pressure from its British and European past passengers. P&O Cruises Australia recently announced that starting with the line’s October 2010 departures, gratuities will no longer be automatically added to passengers’ onboard bill, leaving guests to tip—or not—at their own discretion. On the luxury side, Azamara is abolishing gratuities for housekeeping and dining as part of its more-inclusive policy.

Caribbean’s In, Alaska’s Out, Middle East’s Hot—Suez Canal is Not

What We’ve Seen: The Caribbean has always been the number one cruise destination, but its popularity ebbs and flows due to passenger malaise over the same old ports, the severity of the previous year’s hurricane season, and the need for cheap, close-to-home vacation options. A few years back, Alaska and Europe cruises seemed to be gaining ground on the Caribbean’s number one ranking, but the worldwide recession has made these more expensive destinations less desirable.

In 2010: Alaska will continue to be on the outs for 2010. Cruise line executives have been complaining about the state’s $50 head tax and have made good on their promises to pull ships from a region that was frankly oversaturated to begin with. Cruise West, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Holland America are all cutting back (though, interestingly, Disney will make its first ever foray to Alaska in 2011).

Beyond offering cheaper cruises, the Caribbean’s a hot spot because it’s getting all the neat new ships. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas (as well as sibling Allure of the Seas) will homeport there year-round. Carnival Dream and Norwegian Epic, two of the other most innovative new ships, will also spend their first years in the region.

With Costa’s Luminosa and Deliziosa, its two newest ships, and Royal Caribbean’s contemporary Brilliance of the Seas spending the winter season in Dubai, offering Persian Gulf itineraries, that region—despite the global recession—is seeing a rise in status and popularity. And at the same time, lingering concerns (from all sides, from cruise executives to travelers) over pirates plaguing waterways between the coast of Africa and Yemen, and affecting Suez Canal transits, more ships are actually finding other ways to cross between Europe and Asia.

What trends have you noticed in cruising? What changes or improvements do you hope to see with cruises in 2010? Share your thoughts and experiences by submitting a comment below!

What Size Cruise Ship is Right for You?

A ship’s size—and not necessarily its cruise line—is one of the most important factors you’ll need to weigh when choosing a cruise that best fits your lifestyle. That’s because size directly affects what kind of amenities are onboard, the ambience of the ship, and the level of luxury available—and indirectly affects the price of the cruise and the average age of passengers.

In a nutshell, big ships have more features and amenities, but smaller ones tend to offer a cozier, more community-like ambience. Newer ships tend to be bigger ships, so you may have to choose between an intimate atmosphere and access to the most up-to-date onboard offerings. And because smaller ships often belong to the more luxurious lines and come with more personal levels of service, they also tend to have higher price tags and a more mature clientele than the mega-ships. On the other hand, families are typically better served on the largest ships.

Remember, too, that cruise lines can have small, medium, and large ships within their fleets, so don’t make assumptions about size based on company. For example, Princess owns the 3,080-passenger Crown Princess, the 1,970-passenger Island Princess, and the 710-passenger Royal Princess—meaning it has ships in each of our categories. You can bet that cruises on the line’s smallest and largest ships will offer very different experiences. And if it’s amenities you’re after, don’t forget to check up on ship refurbishments. Several lines are upgrading their smaller vessels by adding the latest amenities (more balconies, pool-side movie screens, alternative restaurants, and adults-only deck spaces) during dry-dock renovations.

A couple of size-related trends to keep in mind are:

The big, bigger, biggest trend is thriving and healthy. Royal Caribbean ‘s 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas is the largest cruise ship afloat. The line’s Freedom-class ships (Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, and Independence of the Seas) are number two at 154,407 tons and 3,634 passengers. Cunard‘s Queen Mary 2, once the largest, now places second in the size category. In 2008, several lines launched their largest ships ever, including Celebrity CruisesCelebrity Solstice and MSC CruisesMSC Fantasia. Carnival‘s biggest ever, Carnival Dream, is due out September 2009. Not to be outdone, Royal Caribbean goes even further with its Oasis class of ships; that first one, Oasis of the Seas, set to launch in December 2009, will measure 220,000 tons and carry a whopping 5,400 passengers!

The contrarians: Cunard, which built Queen Mary 2 and was reigning title holder of the biggest-ship-ever crown for three years, unveiled Queen Victoria in late 2007—and it’s about half the size! Costa will also buck the trend when Costa Luminosa debuts in spring 2009. The ship will feature a new, smaller design.

Even as big ships are making the headlines, cruise lines are valuing older, middle-sized ships. Among the lines transforming outdated ships into exciting ones via refurbishment are Celebrity, Holland America, Carnival, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, and Crystal.

Even “small” is undergoing a redefinition. Luxury lines Seabourn and Silversea will also launch their biggest ships ever in 2009—the 32,000-ton, 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey launched in June and the 36,000-ton, 540-passenger Silver Spirit is due out in November. Though in this case, bigger is relative. The ships are small compared to industry standards, but both are nearly twice the size of the other ships in the fleets; Seabourn’s older ships carry just 208 passengers, while Silversea’s hold 296 to 388.

Also for small-ship aficionados: During the reign of Renaissance Cruises in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s (the company went bankrupt in fall of 2001), the line built eight magnificent ships. Called the R-series ships, they represent a perfect blend of big ship features and amenities (balconies, show room, casino, alternative restaurants) and smaller vessel pluses (a lovely informal and cozy ambience). The ships, since the company’s demise, have been snapped up by other lines that value small-size ships. These former R-series vessels now make up Oceania Cruises‘ and Azamara Cruises‘ fleets, and Princess claims the final three.

Here’s our nuts and bolts look at what to expect from big, middle-sized, and small ships:

The Big Ships: 2,000- to 4,000-Plus Passengers


  • They’re like a big resort hotel, with lots of variety.
  • Activities aplenty, from hairy chest contests to computer classes.
  • Multiple swimming pools; some adult (or kid) only.
  • Plentiful, affordable cabins with balconies.
  • Huge casinos with the latest, trendiest table games, such as Texas Hold ‘Em.
  • Big gyms with state-of-the-art equipment.
  • Lavish spas, often with a dedicated thalassotherapy pool.
  • Multi-tiered children’s programs with a range of facilities.
  • Theaters featuring Broadway-esque musical productions.
  • Variety of nightclubs and bars; most of which feature themes and entertainment.
  • Alternative dining options, ranging from ultra-casual to date-night formal.
  • Demographically diverse, ranging from families to seniors and in-between.


  • Crowds, including lines at buffets and at embarkation and disembarkation.
  • Not enough deck chairs (you may have to get up early to get a good one).
  • Lots of families (for those without kids).
  • Visit ports that are rather standard (those that offer beaches, bars, and shopping).
  • You are likely to have an assigned dinner time and table (though more big ships are offering flexible dining).
  • You may need a map to find your way around.
  • Service can be impersonal.

Big-ship cruise lines: Carnival, Cunard Line, Disney Cruise Line, NCL (except Norwegian Majesty), Royal Caribbean, and many of the ships operated by Celebrity, Costa, MSC Cruises, P&O, and Princess.

The Middle Guys: 1,000 – 2,000 Passengers


  • Best of both worlds with a more village-like ambience, but room for popular amenities.
  • Casinos.
  • Substantial entertainment offerings.
  • Interesting—even exotic—itineraries.
  • Enrichment activities.
  • Several swimming pools.
  • Functional gyms and spas.
  • A handful of alternative dining options.
  • Fewer families (for those traveling without kids).
  • Generally more value-priced.


  • Few lines are building ships this size so they tend to be outdated (unless they are refurbished).
  • Passengers tend to be older.
  • Fewer families (for those traveling with kids).
  • May be more sedate than bigger ships.
  • Smaller public rooms.
  • Smaller cabins.
  • Balconies, if they exist at all, are limited to suite residents.
  • You may have to eat at an assigned mealtime and at an assigned table.

Mid-size cruise lines: Several or all of the ships operated by Celebrity, Costa, Holland America, MSC Cruises, P&O, Princess Cruises, Ocean Village, and Thomson Cruises.

Small Ships: Under 1,000 Passengers


  • New or not as new, these ships have up-to-date features and amenities.
  • Personalized service.
  • High levels of cuisine.
  • Less waiting in lines.
  • Clever uses of space to enable them to offer more services, such as in-cabin massages.
  • Exotic itineraries are the norm (and even mainstream ones call at unusual ports).
  • Fewer families.
  • Very relaxed pace.
  • Luxury, particularly in cabins, is emphasized.
  • Dining is an open-seating, flexible scenario.
  • Significant enrichment programs featuring world-famous experts.
  • Smaller scale, more elegant entertainment.
  • Michelin-level alternative restaurants.
  • Often, much is included in the fare (alcohol, gratuities).


  • Often (though not in all cases), they have fewer balconies; some have none at all.
  • Activity wise, it’s definitely low-key.
  • Limited kids programs and facilities; some actively discourage them.
  • Fewer public rooms.
  • Most expensive cruise fares.
  • Pools may be small.
  • If there’s a spa and gym, they may be tiny.

Small-ship cruise lines: Azamara, Fred. Olsen, Hapag Lloyd‘s Europa, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Saga Holidays, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea, and Windstar.

What size ship do you prefer cruising on, and why? Have you noticed a difference in your cruise experiences because of the ship’s size? Share your thoughts and advice below!

Best Cruise Ship Sundecks

Cruise ship sundecks are popular hangouts for most passengers, but over the years, they’ve also been the source of much controversy. We’ve all been there: longing for a nice, long nap in the Caribbean sunshine or a dip in a refreshing pool, only to find our peaceful mentality destroyed by chair hogs (people who reserve deck chairs, then disappear for hours, preventing you from finding an empty lounger), crowded whirlpools, and rowdy kids splashing away—not to mention incredibly juvenile pool games, hosted by the entertainment staff (hairy chest contest, anyone?).

But, as cruise ships become larger and lines compete to offer the most innovative onboard amenities, sundecks—the top-deck areas of ships, more traditionally used as magnets for daytime activities—are undergoing revolutionary changes. The simplistic “one deck, one pool” mindset of the 90s has given way to modern multipool complexes—including thalassotherapy pools, adult-only pools, kiddie pools, and even waterslides. Need personal space or an escape from the poolside hubbub? On Celebrity Solstice, you can chill out in a field of real grass on the top deck of the ship. And, on all three Oceania ships and Holland America‘s (HAL) Eurodam, you can rent private cabanas.

The bottom line? Cruise lines are now designing pool areas that mirror on-land resorts—the best of which have always offered fabulous (and sometimes even fantastical) pool and sunning areas.

I note a few emerging trends:

  • The spa has headed outdoors. No longer are peaceful retreats and thalassotherapy pools hidden in the bowels of the spa. Princess‘ newest ships (and, soon, all of its ships) offer a new twist on the concept with The Sanctuary. This area, housed all the way forward and encircling the Lotus Spa pool a deck below, features gorgeous Italian chaise lounges, two cabanas for alfresco massages, MP3 players (with mostly relaxing music) for rent, and a special healthy menu—with waiters to fetch the food and drink. It’s been so popular on Crown, Emerald, and Ruby Princess that it fills up fast—even with a $15 per half-day surcharge. Celebrity Solstice’s solarium is an adults-only oasis with soothing water features, peaceful whirlpools, and a main pool large enough for laps. Or, book a spa treatment on one of Oceania’s three ships, and you’ll get an hour’s access to a private sundeck with padded loungers and a thalassotherapy pool for some in-the-sun peace.
  • To solve cruisers’ number one pet peeve—overcrowded sundecks with no free lounge chairs—lines like Oceania and Holland America offer private cabanas for rent. On HAL’s Eurodam, you can choose from cabanas located poolside or in The Retreat, a sundeck exclusive to cabana renters. Inside your private tent, you’ll find wicker couches and chairs, complimentary snacks—like fruit skewers—and Evian spray misters. Oceania’s cabanas feature teak double loungers with terry-covered cushions, and waitstaff will bring in food from the poolside grill (including milkshakes!) or afternoon tea.
  • Sundecks have also turned into fun decks. Waterslides can be found on many Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Carnival ships (with more being added, thanks to Carnival’s Evolutions of Fun refurbishments). Royal Caribbean pioneered the concept of an onboard water park for kids on its Freedom-class ships, and even upscale Celebrity Solstice has a fountain, in which both adults and kids can cool off. Think that shuffleboard is the only fun thing to do top-of-ship? Now sundecks feature entire sports decks with rock-climbing walls, paddle tennis courts, life-size chess games, mini-golf and, on Royal Caribbean, onboard surfing.
  • Increasingly, pool areas—which, in older eras, were basically deserted at night—are being used for evening activities. (Rarely, though, do they have anything to do with swimming.) Princess’ Caribbean Princess introduced the industry’s first outdoor cinema/television—Movies Under the Stars (MUTS). The outdoor LED screen has been so popular that the line added one to each of its new ships and aims to roll the concept out fleetwide by 2011. Carnival Liberty, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Splendor, Costa Concordia, and Costa Serena, as well as MSC Musica and MSC Orchestra, feature their own versions of MUTS. The screens also offer daytime programming, ranging from CNN to World Cup Soccer. Plus, lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and NCL are using the pool decks for evening deck parties, featuring food, drinks, and dancing.

If dynamic pools and sundecks are priorities when choosing a cruise, check out our favorites:

Princess Cruises

Which Ships: Grand Princess, Star Princess, Golden Princess, Caribbean Princess, Diamond Princess, Sapphire Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, and Ruby Princess

Why: Versatility. You’ve got both the Calypso Reef and Neptune’s Reef areas midship. If you want to be in the heart of the action, key components include large pools, hot tubs, bars, silly pool games, musical entertainment, and dining options. On Crown Princess, the line went a step further and introduced the concept of The Sanctuary, an adults-only haven with pampering services and at-your-deck-chair drink and snack delivery. The idea proved so popular that The Sanctuary can be found on Emerald Princess, Ruby Princess, Star Princess, Caribbean Princess, and Grand Princess, and the deck will be added to ships, fleetwide, through 2010.

Nooks and Crannies: You can also kick back and relax; these ships’ spa pools, nestled in the courtyard of the Lotus Spa, offer a swim-against-the-current feature. There’s also the Terrace pool area—definitely off the big-ship beaten path—tucked away aft, under the disco. On most of Princess’ Grand-class ships, it offers shade and a gorgeous view of the wake, though on the more recent models, the disco has been redesigned, and the shade-producing structure no longer exists. So, on Diamond, Sapphire, Crown, Ruby, and Emerald, sunshine now fills the aft pool, as well. The aforementioned Sanctuary is, for those wanting to escape big-ship chaos and greasy poolside cuisine—a revelation.

Distinctions: All ships, save for Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, and Ruby Princess, feature a sliding glass roof—in case of inclement weather—that covers the Calypso Reef and Pool (particularly useful in Alaska or Europe’s Baltic). At night, the Calypso area is transformed into a swim-in cinema scenario. And I refer again to the fabulous MUTS feature, available on Grand Princess, Caribbean Princess, Sea Princess, Star Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, and Ruby Princess. The outdoor LED screen will be added to the remaining Grand-class ships between 2009 and 2011.

Poolside Dining: At the Neptune, you can have pizza; there’s also the Trident Grill for burgers and such, and the Movenpick ice cream bar. (Beware: This is a for-fee treat.) At the Sanctuary, fare such as tuna pate and healthy fruit drinks are available.


Which Ships: Millennium, Infinity, Summit, and Constellation

Why: You can party by one pool or undergo an exercise (not to mention diet) regimen in another. Specifically, the ships’ main pools are host to everything from fashion shows to pool butlers, who offer cool face towels; on sea days, expect a sorbet parade, when tuxedo-clad waiters (shouldn’t they be wearing tanks?) offer icy treats.

Nooks and Crannies: The ships’ thalassotherapy pools are part of the AquaSpa and so purposely offer a peaceful, more healthful ambience. In the main pool area, there are secluded sections for massages (for an extra fee).

Distinctions: These ships have a little-publicized “topless sunbathing” area (top deck, forward). The spas offer sunset yoga and Pilates on adjacent outdoor decks.

Poolside Dining: The AquaSpa is amazing. It’s a fabulous, healthy, low-salt, low-carb, and low-fat buffet, open from breakfast until early dinner for an absolutely guilt-free culinary experience.

Which Ship: Celebrity Solstice

Why: Celebrity has created some innovative spaces on its newest ship, including the Lawn Club (featuring the first non-artificial grass at sea) and a beautiful solarium.

Nooks and Crannies: The adults-only solarium is a beautiful space, featuring a lap pool, whirlpools, glass walls and roof (with solar panels, to boot), and a water feature that lights up at night.

Distinctions: The top-of-ship Lawn Club is carpeted with actual living grass—a cruise ship first. Guests can soak up the sun while playing bocce ball on two courts, putting golf balls, or picnicking on the grass. Also located here is Celebrity’s glass-blowing studio, open for demonstrations both day and night. Below, on the outdoor pool deck, kids and grown-ups alike can enjoy splashing through the “dancing” fountains next to the family and sports pools.

Poolside Dining: The Mast Grill and Bar serves up greasy favorites like tacos, nachos, hot dogs, brats, burgers, fries, and onion rings. If that leaves you feeling a little queasy, the spa and fitness center are only steps away.

Royal Caribbean

Which Ships: Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, and Independence of the Seas

Why: Freedom-class ships are a stretched version of Voyager-class ships, which enabled designers and builders to introduce new activities and gimmicks. An entirely new addition is H2O Zone—an expansive area, reserved only for children, fitted with a kiddie pool, water cannons, and abstract, colorful sculpture fountains. While kids are playing, adults can either relax in the Solarium pool area or, if looking more for activities, the Sports Pool midship.

The most daring passengers can try their surfing skills at the FlowRider, a surf simulator—in the far aft area of Deck 11—that is only found on the three Freedom-class ships. The rock-climbing walls are expanded versions of those found on the Voyager-class.

Nooks and Crannies: The Solarium pool area features hammocks, swinging chairs, and two cantilevered whirlpools that hang 100 feet above sea level.

Distinctions: Poolside entertainment encompasses both the usual (water aerobics and pool volleyball) and the wacky (pool golf, which involves chipping from the side of the pool onto a floating green). At night, the central pool area transforms into an outdoor disco.

Poolside Dining: The Solarium pool has a cafe that features pizzas, while the self-serve Sprinkles provides frozen yogurt. If looking for a healthy drink option, Squeeze sells various fruit drinks.


Which Ships: Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony

Why: Crystal‘s sundecks exude the same luxurious qualities as the rest of the ship—upscale decor and design, and plenty of space.

Distinctions: Crystal’s all-teak sundecks are furnished with comfortable, padded lounge chairs—not the tacky plastic kind. You can use as many fluffy pool towels as you’d like. The pool and Jacuzzis are relaxing and are very rarely crowded. Plus, Crystal gives a nod to its active guests with paddle tennis courts, shuffleboard, golf driving nets, a putting green, and Ping-Pong tables.

Poolside Dining: Crystal’s poolside buffets are some of the best around. The Trident Grill offers the typical poolside dining grill options, as well as more unusual specialty sandwiches. Tastes features themed buffets, as well as a casual dining option under the stars.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Which Ships: Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel, and Norwegian Pearl

Why: New Freestyle 2.0 enhancements are bringing bits of luxury to the masses on NCL’s newest ships. Plus, as NCL borrows ideas from other lines, its sundecks are offering more options, such as rock-climbing walls and waterslides.

Nooks and Crannies: Certain pools are designated adults-only and kids-only, so adults can enjoy a soak in solace, while the young ones splash about without inciting the wrath of nearby grown-ups. Plus, if you can afford a pricey Garden Villa or Courtyard Villa, you’ll have your own private or semi-private sundeck, respectively, with pool, whirlpool, and comfy sun loungers.

Distinctions: NCL’s sundecks now feature rock-climbing walls, waterslides, card tables, and elegant lounge chairs and couches, in addition to multiple pools and whirlpools. Other sundeck activities include mini-golf, shuffleboard, Ping-Pong, volleyball/basketball, and human-size chess. And, as part of NCL’s fleetwide Freestyle 2.0 program, onboard staff will now bring sunbathers chilled towels and spritz them with Evian misters on hot days. In addition, you’ll no longer be harassed by waiters hawking drinks. If you’re thirsty, put the flag on your lounger up, and someone will come over to take your order; if you’d rather be left in peace to snooze, put the flag down, and no one will bother you.

Poolside Dining: The Grill offers limited breakfast items and typical grilled lunch items, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken, as well as salads and desserts.

Ocean Village

Which Ships: Ocean Village and Ocean Village Two

Why: The ultra-casual line prides itself on giving British passengers a relaxed time at sea. Both ships have two pools on the top deck—one a family pool and the other an adults-only pool. Hot tubs are also available for a quick dip.

Distinctions: On its own website, Ocean Village says that it prides itself on having “larger pools” than many other ships. This may be true, but the pool deck area can still get very crowded (particularly on Ocean Village Two), since, when the sun comes out, the British like nothing better than lounging on sun beds. Ocean Village Two has a giant gantry for a weekly acrobatic deck show, which isn’t to be missed.

Poolside Dining: On both Ocean Village ships, La Luna offers free pizza all day, and by night, you can dine on Italian cuisine under the stars. Ocean Village Two also has an ice cream bar up on deck.

Disney Cruise Line

Which Ships: Disney Magic and Disney Wonder

Why: These sundecks are heaven for Disney lovers. You can even dip into a pool shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head. Disney’s pool areas are great for kids, naturally, but also stylish enough for adults. In fact, I love that the three quite distinctive pool areas—which all occupy the same deck (you can easily walk from one to the other)—are targeted at specific demographics. The Mickey Pool is for young kids (it’s got a waterslide); the Goofy Pool, in the center, is for folks of all ages (and is the site for the majority of the musical entertainment); and the Quiet Cove is for mom and dad … no kids allowed.

Nooks and Crannies: The aforementioned Quiet Cove. Most passengers honor the no-kids rule.

Distinctions: The entertainment at the Goofy Pool is exuberant and fun—expect to meet up with icons Mickey and Minnie Mouse and, of course, Goofy himself. It’s the place to go for the tropical deck party, the sail-away party, ice-carving demos, and prize bingo.

Poolside Dining: For families, Pluto’s Dog House Snack Bar, adjacent to the Mickey Pool, and Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, by the Goofy Pool, are terrific alfresco options. Alas, parents seeking the peace of the Quiet Cove have two bars but must brave the frivolity of the family pool areas to get a bite to eat.

Fred. Olsen

Which Ship: Balmoral

Why: A recent refurbishment added a completely new main pool on Deck 11, so the ship now has two pool decks—the original on Deck 7 and the new top-of-ship area.

Distinctions: The top-deck pool, with its beautiful tiling, is one of the prettiest at sea. However, you’ve got to be a hard-core sun worshipper to appreciate its charms, as the lack of an extra sundeck above means no shade in this area. The Deck 7 pool is the more social pool—nice vibe, but the lounge chairs fill up fast. Both pool areas feature whirlpools, as well.

Poolside Dining: The Palms Cafe is located next to the Deck 7 pool area. The all-buffet restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, with the occasional theme night casual dinner, deck party BBQ, midnight buffet, or afternoon tea. It’s also the only venue to offer free coffee and tea around the clock.

P&O Cruises

Which Ship: Ventura

Why: The inclusion of Ventura, which launched in 2008 as the largest cruise ship ever built for the British market, is a no-brainer as it’s designed on the same platform as the Grand-class Princess ships I’ve already complimented.

Like its Princess cousins, the versatile Ventura has three pool areas. The Beachcomber has a sky dome so you can swim when the weather’s warm—and when it isn’t. This “main” pool also features hot tubs, bars, silly pool games, musical entertainment, and dining options, such as Marco’s Pizzeria. The Laguna Pool is a quieter setup, located aft, and the Terrace Pool—part of the ship’s spa, featuring swim-against-the-current technology—is located forward.

Nooks and Crannies: The cozy Laguna Pool is a hideaway.

Distinctions: The sliding glass roof over the main pool gives the ship lots more flexibility in seasons and itineraries—so that fun and games can go on, regardless of the temperature.

Poolside Dining: Among the options are Marco’s Pizzeria and Ice Cream, located adjacent to the Beachcomber. There’s also the Beach House restaurant, aimed at families, and the Waterside Food Court, the ship’s buffet venue.


New Cruise Ships in 2009

The star of the “class of 2009″—no question—is Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, and it’s not just because the 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger behemoth is, by far, the largest cruise ship ever built. It’s also the most fantastical. Features like neighborhoods—designated as Central Park and the Boardwalk—an onboard zip-line, the Aqua Theater for aerial acrobatics, and a bar that rises five stories like an elevator really make the ship awe-inspiring.

And between now and November, when the ship is due for completion, you’ll hear much about it.

Still, that doesn’t mean the nine other new-builds slated for delivery this year are forgettable. Others will be trendsetters too. Carnival’s Carnival Dream is the first new design for the Fun Ship line since it launched Carnival Conquest in 2002. Costa Cruises is taking a retro-step with the unique design of Costa Luminosa, which will be its first new ship in years that’s small enough to slide through the Panama Canal. Along with an expanded range of itineraries, its highlights include a 4D cinema and a rollerblading track. Seabourn Odyssey is not only the first new ship on the luxury horizon in five years, it also represents a fresh, new interpretation of the upscale cruising lifestyle. And, in the river cruise niche, Viking River Cruises is raising eyebrows with its innovative new Viking Legend.

Trendwise, I found that most of 2009’s new ships fall into one of three categories:

Biggest Ever: Oasis of the Seas may be the biggest cruise ship ever, but many ships debuting in 2009 will be the largest in their respective lines. Seabourn Odyssey, Carnival Dream, Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit, and Viking Legend will sport new designs and the largest size of all their fleetmates. The increased size gives the cruise lines more room to offer new and improved onboard facilities like expanded spas and kids’ areas.

Carbon Copies: Many ships launching in 2009 are almost exact replicas of vessels that debuted in 2008. Costa Pacifica, MSC Splendida, Celebrity Equinox, and AIDALuna all take their design from their trend-setting older sisters (Costa Serena and Costa Concordia, MSC Fantasia, Celebrity Solstice, and AIDADiva and AIDABella, respectively). Incidentally, all four will also share the title of “biggest in fleet” with their clones. If you’re looking for differences, check the restaurant roster. I’ve heard that a few lines might spice things up by offering a different specialty eatery on the second ship.

The Exception: Costa is leaning from big to bigger—and, at the same time, introducing a more nimble, Panamax-sized ship. The latter is why Costa Luminosa is in a class all its own—a unique new design that’s afforded the luxury of a smaller size. (Could Alaska be in its future?) And of course, on the very same day—in 2009’s only dual christening—the line will unveil Costa Pacifica, a sibling to the Costa Serena style of big-ship design.

Here’s our sneak preview of the year’s new ship launches.

(Image: Royal Caribbean International)

Holland America announces Eurodam itineraries

If you’ve been reading the Eurodam News Blog, you may have gotten a sneak peak at some of the itineraries for [% 9823 | | Holland America’s %] newest ship. In a press release this week, the line revealed further details of the ship’s naming ceremony and inaugural season.

The ms Eurodam will be christened on July 1, 2008, in Rotterdam, Netherlands, where the company was founded 135 years ago. The Eurodam will arrive on June 29, so special guests can party for a few days before the ship departs on a three-night introductory cruise on July 2.

The ship’s maiden voyage will be a 10-night northern Europe cruise departing from Denmark and visiting Norway, England, and Scotland. The Eurodam will spend a season in Europe then head across the Atlantic for a series of Canada and New England cruises followed by Caribbean itineraries until the end of 2008.

If you want to be one of the first onboard the Eurodam, fares start at $2,474 per person for the maiden voyage and $599 for the three-night prelude cruise. If you want to combine both sailings for a 13-night vacation, you’ll receive a $100 discount off your cruise fare.

Luxury Travel

Reserve your spot on the newly named Seabourn Odyssey

[% 11070 | | Seabourn %] has named its first new ship in years. The all-suite, 450-guest Seabourn Odyssey will make its debut in Venice in 2009. The ship will be three times the size of Seabourn’s current ships and carry twice as many guests.

Given the mounting excitement over this new luxury vessel, Seabourn has devised an innovative reservations structure for this ship as plans for its inaugural season are firmed up. Cruisers can reserve a spot on a waitlist by making a deposit of $1,000 per person ($2,000 for the Odyssey’s maiden voyage).

When Seabourn publishes the ship’s schedule at the end of 2007, people on the waiting list will have first dibs on booking a cruise. Guests booked on a 2007 or 2008 Seabourn cruise will get top priority, followed by past guests then first-time Seabourn cruisers. After that, bookings will be available to the general public.

If you’d like to get on the Odyssey’s waitlist, Seabourn is accepting deposits now. Just remember, if you’re a first-time Seabourn cruiser, you may not be able to book your first-choice cabin or itinerary if many past guests also pay to put their names on the list.

Seabourn orders third new ship

[% 11070 | | Seabourn’s %] fleet will double in size by 2011, now that the line has announced plans for a third new ship. A year ago, the luxury cruise line revealed its intention to build [% 1612602 | | two 450-passenger ships %]. With fares for the Seabourn Odyssey’s [% 2450069 | | inaugural season %] ranging from $1,290 to $7,035 per night, it’s no wonder Seabourn has decided to order a third ship.

The new ship is scheduled to launch in summer 2011. It will be a sister to the Odyssey and the yet-unnamed second vessel, featuring 225 suites, most of which will have balconies. All three new-builds will combine Seabourn’s yacht-like atmosphere and personalized service with the amenities of a larger ship.

With both Seabourn and rival [% 2331838 | | Silversea %] adding several new ships to their fleets over the coming years, I’m interested to see if there are enough people willing to pay thousands of dollars for a luxury cruise vacation to fill all of these staterooms. If Seabourn’s predictions are correct, there will be.