If you've been dying to try out new cruise ships, 2016 is your year. Seven new oceangoing vessels will add about 18,500 new beds (at double occupancy) to the seas. This is the year of superlatives -- the biggest, the most luxurious, the most technologically advanced. We'll see highly anticipated first-in-class ships from lines that haven't built new ships for a few years, along with new ships from popular classes.
-- By Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor
Holland America hasn't introduced a new ship since Nieuw Amsterdam debuted in 2010. That's eons in the cruise industry, where new ships pop up every year. Koningsdam is the highly anticipated first ship in the line's Pinnacle Class, and it brings with it a number of firsts for Holland America, including ocean-view cabins for single travelers and families. Design of the 2,650-passenger ship was inspired by elements of music and is seen in areas like the three-deck skylight-capped atrium with a stainless steel sculpture reminiscent of a string quartet.
Holland America is investing heavily in culinary venues and activities on Koningsdam with the Culinary Arts Center, a show kitchen where passengers can take cooking classes during the day and then dine at the venue at night. The menu and inspiration come from the farm-to-table movement. HAL also is introducing a new for-fee seafood restaurant called Sel de Mer. Wine-lovers will adore Blend, a small venue that allows passengers to mix their own wines at the only purpose-built wine-blending venue at sea.
Koningsdam's World Stage is a two-story theater-in-the-round that combines live action with a 270-degree LED screen. The cruise ship also includes Music Walk, three stages in adjacent spaces that offer three distinct types of music (chamber music at the Lincoln Center Stage; blues and jazz at B.B. King's Blues Club/Queen's Lounge; and 50 years of hits at Billboard Onboard).
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The third ship in Royal Caribbean's innovative Quantum Class is aimed at the growing Asian market. Like its sister ship, Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas will homeport in Tianjin, China, though the 4,180-passenger cruise ship will sail four Australia and New Zealand itineraries from December 2016 to January 2017.
Ovation of the Seas features high-tech everything, with lightning-fast Internet, robot bartenders and a breathtaking entertainment space, Two70, that blends acrobatics, dance and music with floor-to-ceiling LED screens and six moving high-def TVs. The ship also includes high-end shops, including Cartier, Kiehl's, Bulgari and Hublo, as well as a large casino.
Active passengers can try the ship's skydiving simulator, surf simulator, rock climbing wall or bumper cars, or take in 360-degree sea views from the ship's North Star, a glass pod attached to a mechanical arm that rises high above the ship.
Deployment: Asia, Australia, New Zealand
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Viking Sea is the second oceangoing cruise ship from Viking Ocean Cruises, a branch of the longtime trendsetter in river cruising. With a 930-passenger capacity, Viking Sea offers small-ship intimacy along with some bigger-ship bells and whistles like multiple dining venues and two pools (including a true infinity pool that extends off the back of the ship).
Fans of Viking River Cruises will find Viking Sea familiar, as the design focuses on the same distinctly Scandinavian elements: clean lines, modern simplicity and a color palette heavy on stark whites and light woods. It also includes a favorite among river cruisers: the Aquavit Terrace, a popular indoor/outdoor restaurant that can be enjoyed no matter the season.
Cruises on Viking Sea include complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks served at lunch and dinner; Wi-Fi; self-service laundry; and some shore excursions, all led by local guides. Upgraded shore excursions, for a fee, are also available.
All cabins include king-sized beds, flat-screen TVs with on-demand movies and TV, high-end toiletries, hair dryers and 24-hour room service.
Deployment: Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Baltic
By the time Carnival Vista debuts, it will have been four years since a new Carnival Cruise Line ship came on the market. (Carnival Breeze debuted in 2012.) Vista, a 3,954-passenger ship, could be a game-changer for Carnival because it features a number of firsts for the line, which has built its reputation on fun.
Vista will feature the cruise industry's first IMAX theater, which will show first-run movies, as well as recent hits and short films. Other wow-worthy features include a water tube slide that's more than 450 feet long (the longest for the line) and SkyRide, a suspended ride along an open-air track atop the ship.
The first cruise ship brewery also debuts on Vista at the ship's RedFrog Pub, where passengers can drink indoors or out, sipping on mass-market beers, craft-style beverages or one of three beers brewed right onboard. Carnival staples, including Guy's Burger Joint (in partnership with celebrity chef Guy Fieri) and the BlueIguana Cantina Mexican restaurant, are joined by a New England-inspired eatery, dubbed Seafood Shack.
Keeping families in mind, Vista features both a dedicated families-only zone (complete with an exclusive lounge and cabins) and an adults-only area.
Deployment: Mediterranean, Caribbean
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The biggest cruise ship in the world, at 227,000 gross tons, can accommodate 5,497 passengers at double occupancy (and a whopping 6,410 when sailing at maximum occupancy). Harmony of the Seas is part of Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class, which includes uber-popular megaships Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. The new cruise ship includes a lot of favorites from its sisters, such as a seven-"neighborhood" concept that creates themed areas like "Entertainment Place" and the "Pool and Sports Zone."
But Harmony of the Seas delivers plenty of its own excitement, including a new-to-fleet water slide area, with three slides collectively called "The Perfect Storm," as well as a 10-story spiral slide called "The Abyss."
The new Royal Caribbean cruise ship will be completely high-tech, with the line's VOOM, a high-speed Internet service Royal Caribbean says allows passengers to surf, share and even stream at speeds equal to those on land -- still a relative rarity at sea. It offers wristbands that can be used as your cabin key and to pay for onboard purchases, and it features robot bartenders.
Deployment: Mediterranean, Caribbean
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Regent Seven Seas promises its new cruise ship, Explorer, will be the most luxurious ship ever built. The 738-passenger vessel certainly has plenty of opulence in support of the claim.
Every cabin onboard is a suite, where even the smallest come it at 212 square feet -- large by cruise industry standards. All suites feature high-end touches, such as marble and stone detailing, upscale toiletries and private balconies. At the top end is the 2,917-square-foot Regent Suite, which books for a rate of $10,000 per day and includes unlimited private in-cabin massages, a personal car and guide for use in ports, a 958-square-foot wraparound balcony, a glass-enclosed sunroom and a personal butler, among myriad other perks.
The ship includes six restaurants, as well as a Culinary Arts Kitchen, a first for the line. Passengers can hone their cooking skills at the state-of-the-art show kitchen where they'll receive hands-on instruction in areas like cooking the perfect fish or French techniques. Foodies will love the ship's Gourmet Explorer Tours, which pair shore excursions with food and wine tastings in a small-group setting (12 to 18 passengers maximum).
Prices for all cruises on Explorer include airfare, dining, drinks, gratuities and an excursion in every port.
Deployment: Mediterranean, Caribbean
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Seabourn has spent the past two years selling off its three oldest ships. The upside has been consistency among its remaining vessels, as well as a clear plan of expansion, which begins with Seabourn Encore. The 604-passenger ship will be the largest in the fleet of luxury ships.
Much of the excitement around Seabourn Encore centers on dining -- specifically on a new partnership with world-famous Chef Thomas Keller, known for his three Michelin-starred land-based restaurants: The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon. With Keller, Seabourn creates a signature restaurant onboard Encore that features high-quality ingredients and innovative dishes.
Among other highlights on Encore are a marina deck, from which passengers can windsurf, kayak and pedal boat; Sky Bar, an alfresco spot for drinks; and the Grand Salon, the ship's primary show lounge, which hosts, among other things, talks from a range of experts, including explorers, chefs, scholars and performers and renowned specialists from areas such as arts, sciences, politics and the humanities.
All cruise fares on Encore include dining, drinks and gratuities.
Deployment: Mediterranean, Middle East, Asia
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