(5:30 p.m. EST) -- We love that new ship smell -- and the cruise ship class of 2012 is giving off quite an intriguing perfume.
The surprising star of the 17-ship class is American Cruise Lines' (ACL) Queen of the Mississippi, a 150-passenger vintage-style "steamboat," propelled by a 26-ton, 28-foot-wide paddlewheel. ACL's owners hope the new ship -- done up with gingerbread trim, glass chandeliers and rocking chairs -- can get the Mississippi River cruise industry back on track. In August, QOM will begin ferrying passengers on heartland routes between New Orleans and Saint Paul, traversing the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Cumberland and Arkansas rivers.
Switch continents, and you'll see Europe-based river cruise lines continuing their torrid expansion. More than half of the year's new-builds -- including six from Viking River Cruises -- will be based on European tributaries.
Among the mega-ship new-builds debuting in 2012 are several familiar faces: Oceania's second O-class ship, Riviera; Carnival's third Dream-class vessel, Breeze; and Celebrity's fifth and final Solstice-class offering, Reflection.
But not all sisters look or act alike.
Carnival Breeze has a new designer and a slew of new attractions offering burgers, burritos, booze and George Lopez. The changes come by way of the line's $500 million FunShip 2.0 initiative, a program that also calls for the retrofitting of older ships with the aforementioned amenities. Tweaks are also in store for Celebrity Reflection, which will feature a suite complex not found on its four older sisters. Meanwhile, Riviera will be nearly an exact replica of its sibling, Marina. "It's hard to improve on perfection," Oceania's confident founder, Frank del Rio, has been oft-quoted as saying.
So which is the most perfect ship of 2012? Check out a slideshow of the industry's newest additions, and let us know in the comments.
--by Dan Askin, News Editor