Just because five of 2018's new luxury ships are sister ships and not new classes unto themselves does not mean this year won't be exciting for small-ship cruisers. Seven new luxury and expedition ships are making their debut, giving travelers more choices than ever before.
Seabourn Ovation, Viking Orion, National Geographic Venture and Ponant's Le Laperouse and Le Champlain might not be first in class but all are new-builds. Azamara Pursuit is neither first in class nor a new-build -- it's an R-class ship that will be renovated before joining Azamara's fleet this summer -- but it's the line's first addition since the brand launched in 2007. The real standout ship will be Scenic Eclipse, which is not just a new-build but the first oceangoing ship for cruise line Scenic, with some unique attractions.
Also interesting to note is that among the seven new ships, there's a focus on small ship, adventurous cruising. Scenic Eclipse, Ponant's Le Laperouse and Le Champlain, and National Geographic Venture all have a passenger capacity of 228 or less. National Geographic Venture is the most intimate ship, welcoming just 100 passengers per cruise. It also has the distinction of being built in the United States of America, which is a rarity for cruise or expedition ships.
Here are the luxury ships on the horizon for 2018.
Following 2017's launch of the all-suite Seabourn Encore, the cruise line will debut sister ship Seabourn Ovation this spring. This duo expands on Seabourn's popular Odyssey-class ships by adding an extra deck and upping passenger capacity. While Encore and Ovation are larger than their Odyssey-class brethren (600 passengers versus 450), their intuitive service and high ratio of space to cruisers mean that passengers hardly notice the increased passenger count. The layout and capacity of Encore and Ovation are identical, but designer Adam D. Tihany is creating different flourishes to distinguish the interior of Ovation from its older sibling. Cabin layouts range from 300 to 1,300 square feet.
Seabourn Ovation has some famous partners that raise the bar on passenger experience. The Grill by Thomas Keller was designed exclusively for Seabourn and will feature premium steaks, lobster thermidor, Caesar salad made tableside and more. After dinner, passengers can enjoy "An Evening with Tim Rice," a musical show created in association with Belinda King Creative Productions and famed lyricist Tim Rice. Those focused on health and wellness can indulge in a holistic spa treatment or wellness experience onboard presented in partnership with Dr. Andrew Weil.
Seabourn Ovation Itineraries: Asia, Baltic, Mediterranean, Middle East, Northern Europe
Viking Ocean Cruises is one of the industry's newest cruise lines, having debuted in 2015. In 2018, Viking Orion makes its inaugural voyage, joining sister ships Viking Star, Viking Sea, Viking Sun and Viking Sky. All ships in the fleet accommodate 930 passengers and are nearly identical. Viking Ocean firmly straddles the line between premium and luxury cruise experiences, and Viking Orion will feature the amenities and inclusions that have made the line so popular so quickly. Expect a reprise of the LivNordic Spa, with its standout thermal suite with hot and cold treatments -- available at no cost for all passengers. There are also a whimsical "snow grotto," thalassotherapy pool and Finnish sauna.
Other neat features include the two-deck Explorer Lounge observation lounge and a pool with a magrodome for indoor/outdoor swimming. All cabins -- even the 270-square-foot entry-level cabins -- have balconies.
Viking Orion is all about destination immersion and offers longer itineraries that include lengthy port stays and even overnights. Viking's inclusions -- one shore excursion in every port; Wi-Fi; beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch and dinner; two included specialty restaurants; and 24-hour room service -- will make Viking Orion an appealing choice for many cruisers.
Viking Orion Itineraries: Asia, Australia & New Zealand, Mediterranean, Middle East
Some ships have nine lives and that's certainly true of Azamara Pursuit. This former Renaissance R-class ship, a favorite among small ship fans, has sailed under the Swan Hellenic, Princess Cruises and Carnival Fathom brands and was most recently P&O's Adonia. The ship makes its debut in the Azamara fleet this summer, joining two other former Renaissance ships, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. While complete details are not yet available, the 690-passenger ship's decor will be updated to reflect a boutique hotel style like that of its fleetmates.
Azamara Pursuit will take up the cruise line's mantle of destination-immersive itineraries with plenty of overnight stays. It will make more than a dozen maiden calls on behalf of the cruise line to places like Agadir, Morocco; the Chilean fjords; and Monemvasia, Greece.
Cabins range from 158-square-feet interiors to Club World Owner's Suites that are around 800 square feet. Cruise fares include select nonalcoholic beverages plus spirits, beer and wine; gratuities; shuttle service to and from port, when possible; concierge services; and one AzAmazing Evening special event onshore.
Azamara Pursuit Itineraries: Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Panama Canal, South America
Scenic Eclipse, Scenic's first oceangoing cruise ship, may give all the other luxury lines a run for their money. After all, how many can say that their ships have an on-deck helipad, two helicopters, a seven-person submarine, a fleet of e-bikes and an ice-class rating of 1A Super? The 10-deck, all-suite super yacht has a capacity for 228 passengers, but will limit numbers to 200 cruisers on polar itineraries. Service, with a staff-to-passenger ratio of 1:1, will be a hallmark of Scenic Eclipse. Bridging the gap between luxury and expedition, the ship will spend three months a year offering itineraries to the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctica.
Ship highlights include an aft marina from which passengers can kayak, snorkel or board a Zodiac for exploration beyond the ship. Features also include a heated pool with retractable roof and a nearly 5,000-square-foot spa complex with indoor/outdoor hot tubs, plunge pools and a variety of spa treatments.
Cabins -- each with butler service and a balcony -- range from 345 square feet (Verandah Suite) to 2,500 square feet (two-bedroom Penthouse Suite).
Fares include transfers, gratuities, a stocked in-cabin mini-bar plus nonalcoholic beverages as well as top-shelf spirits, wine and beer. Shore excursions are also included, but you'll pay extra for a ride on the ship's helicopters or submarine.
Scenic Eclipse Itineraries: Antarctica, Arctic, Canada, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Panama Canal, South America
In 2017, Lindblad Expeditions launched its first ever new-build: National Geographic Quest. The expedition line returns this year with the launch of sister ship National Geographic Venture. For "Made in America" fans, you can't do better than these two ships that were built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders on Whidbey Island, Washington. (The ship's eight Mark V Zodiacs were also built entirely in the USA.)
Exclusively sailing Alaska and Pacific Northwest itineraries, National Geographic Venture is an intimate, purpose-built ship that will accommodate 100 passengers in 50 outside-facing cabins that range from 136 to 185 square feet. Unusual for expedition vessels, it will offer families and friends traveling together six sets of connecting cabins. Nearly half of all staterooms feature a sliding-glass door and step-out balcony -- features many other expedition ships lack.
The knockout feature of Venture is the tiered viewing platform on the ship's bow, which allows multiple rows of passengers to get an excellent view of the passing scenery, whales breaching and dolphins frolicking in the waves. The ship will also feature a variety of high-tech tools to help forge a stronger connection to wildlife without intruding on their personal space. The ship offers remotely operated vehicles (ROV), a hydrophone and bow-cam designed to film and hear whale vocalizations.
National Geographic Venture Itineraries: Alaska, Canada, Pacific Northwest
Ponant is crafting a new breed of expedition ship with its Explorer class. First in class is Le Laperouse, which launches in June, with sister ship Le Champlain following in September. This class of expedition-ready ships will feature five decks and accommodations for up to 184 passengers. The ships themselves have reinforced hulls for polar exploration, stabilizers and a fleet of Zodiacs for use during excursions and transfers. These rugged vessels feature aft marinas that allow for sunbathing and watersports such as kayaking and paddleboarding. When conditions don't cooperate for the deployment of the marina, the infinity pool on Deck 3 becomes the outdoor focal point. It's got a counter-current swimming system and transparent wall so anyone lounging on the marina's sun deck will be able to see you.
Cabins range from 205 to 484 square feet, and all have balconies. Privilege Suites can accommodate up to four people.
Foodies will gravitate to these ships because of the French-inspired menu designed by Chef Alain Ducasse. The main restaurant on Deck 4 can accommodate everyone in one sitting, but a more intimate dining venue -- seating just 70 people and focusing on grilled meats -- can be found on Deck 3.
Le Laperouse Itineraries: Africa, Arctic, Asia, Mediterranean, Northern Europe
Champlain Itineraries: Africa, Caribbean, Mediterranean, South America
Updated November 21, 2019