(6 p.m. EST) -- If 2010 was the year of Norwegian Epic and Allure of the Seas, 2011's marquee debut -- of the 15 ships on our list -- is Disney Dream, the first launch from the Mouse in more than a decade.
By early accounts, it was worth the wait, as 128,000-ton, 2,500-passenger Disney Dream has everything you'd want in a new cruise ship: the AquaDuck watercoaster, the industry's biggest and most innovative waterslide; art that interacts with you as you pass by; a "Ratatouille"-inspired French restaurant; and a slew of signature shows. Of course, there are two common arguments against Disney Cruise Line. It's only for kids, and it's too expensive. We won't disabuse you of the price issue -- Disney is certainly more expensive than any mainstream ship, save, perhaps, the Oasis twins. But, the claim that adults won't have fun may require some myth-busting. Like its fleetmates, Disney Dream has an adults-only District, with themed bars and lounges that include spots for Champagne, sports and dancing. There's even a lounge where various city skylines appear on huge LCD "windows."
A second notable new ship is Oceania Cruises' 66,000-ton, 1,252-passenger Marina, the first-ever new-build from the "luxe-lite" line. Now having a larger canvas with which to work -- Marina is almost double the size of its three fleetmates -- Oceania has focused on boosting the onboard culinary options. New restaurants include an Asian-fusion joint and Jacques, a French venue helmed by celebrity chef Jacques Pepin. If wielding a spatula is your thing, you can learn the finer points of cooking in a culinary arts center, which will host classes on every cruise.
Beyond the prototypes, here are a few trends in new-building:
River Ship Explosion. Of the 15 new cruise ships on our list, seven are river ships. Five of those will be stationed along Europe's well-traversed Danube and Rhine Rivers, but there's also a new-build that's been custom designed to ply Southeast Asia's Mekong River, as well as one stationed on the Douro River, the historic waterway that courses through Spanish and Portuguese wine regions.
New Twists on Old Designs. While a number of sister ships -- the second, third or fifth in a series -- are launching in 2011, just about all will usher in a handful of tweaks. Celebrity Silhouette, the fourth in the popular Solstice class, is getting a revamped Lawn Club (the real grass will remain) and a new bar, featuring 50 craft beers. Carnival Magic, sister to Carnival Dream, will benefit from a new waterslide, cruising's first ropes course and the line's first pub.
Palatial Suites & Cabin Innovations. At 2,500 square feet, the top suites on Oceania's Marina are home-sized, and the Ralph Lauren furnishings have them looking like the most stylish in the industry. With wall-to-wall, panoramic windows that open, Avalon Waterways is trying to create an open-air feel on its new river ship, Avalon Panorama. On S.S. Antoinette, the new-build from upscale river line Uniworld, top-deck suites have private balconies that, with the touch of a switch, can be converted into glass-enclosed conservatories.
Ready for the tour? Click here to start our slideshow of 2011's 15 new cruise ships.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor