Tanned travelers disembark each day at ports of call around the world for earthbound adventures and return to elegant staterooms each evening. But it hasn't been all smooth sailing for the cruise-ship industry recently.
After the Carnival Triumph floated without power in the Gulf of Mexico for a week, Harris Interactive surveyed Americans and found that their perceptions of quality and trust in the cruise industry have decreased. Surprisingly in contrast to Harris' findings, NBC asked travel agents what the impact from Carnival's flop had been, and the travel agents surprisingly said they were seeing no change in cruise purchases. So don't write off cruising just because of a few well-publicized incidents.
As far as deals, Tom Stieghorst, the senior editor covering the cruise industry for Travel Weekly, said that after the Carnival Triumph incident, Carnival successfully fought a drop in bookings by offering special promotions. That push to retain interest in cruising means it just might be the right time to find great travel deals for cruises.
As CLIA's Turner indicated, the excitement is for all the new cruise vessels coming out of the world's shipyards. Spend a few minutes looking over the renderings and plans, and you'll have one impression: Cruise ships are becoming more and more stunning by the year. Sail on one of the newest vessels and you'll find rooms with private balconies and verandas, elaborate spas and even glass-enclosed, over-water walkways.
Here are the boats to watch.
-- Geoff Kohl
The next ship to debut is the <a href="http://www.msccruisesusa.com/us_en/Ships/MSC-Preziosa/Home.aspx" target="_hplink">MSC Preziosa</a>. Before MSC Cruises purchased the ship, it was under construction for Gaddafi's son, <a href="http://www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=696" target="_hplink">who planned to have it include a shark tank</a>, statues and marble columns. After the fall of the Libyan government, MSC took over the vessel, and while the plans changed (sorry, no sharks), there's no less luxury on board. The MSC Yacht Club area offers what the company calls a luxury "ship within a ship" on the upper foredecks, where guests enjoy a private pool, 24-hour butler service, their own lounge and an elevator just for them to the ship's main spa area. The rest of the boat doesn't short-change on luxury either; it contains an adults-only solarium, a full gaming casino, a "Broadway-style" theater and (for the kid in all of us) the longest single-rider water slide on a cruise boat. (Photo ©Bernard Biger/STX France)
The <a href="http://www.breakaway.ncl.com/" target="_hplink">Norwegian Breakaway</a> launches this May from Norwegian Cruise Line; she's a 4,000-passenger ship with what's purported to be an amazing spa and fitness facility (including a salt room and a "tranquil thermal suite"), onboard Broadway performances, a fireworks show for every cruise, a New-York themed ice bar and even a cake shop from "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro. Her home port? New York, of course! <em>(Photo courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line)</em>
In addition to the Breakaway which arrives this year, Norwegian also has a sister ship, the 4,000-passenger <a href="http://www.getaway.ncl.com/" target="_hplink">Norwegian Getaway</a>, coming in 2014. She will sail the Eastern Caribbean from a home base in Miami. Although her launch is still a year away, the build-out includes "The Illusionarium" dining and entrainment area that links magicians and special effects, plus a restaurant from celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian. The plan for the spa is similarly impressive as that of her sister ship. <em>(Photo courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line)</em>
German cruise firm Tui Cruises (which is partnered with Royal Caribbean) also seems bullish about cruising; the line has large new boats scheduled to arrive in 2014 and 2015. The <a href="http://tuicruises.com/mein-schiff-3/schiffsbau/" target="_hplink">Mein Schiff 3</a> is set to launch in May 2014 (sister vessel the Mein Schiff 4 will arrive in 2015). Tui Cruises says the Mein Schiff 3 will sail with "numerous restaurants, a large spa and sports area" plus "spacious balconies and relaxation isles on the deck." (Photo courtesy Tui Cruises)
In less than two months, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises will sail its <a href="http://www.hl-cruises.com/" target="_hplink">Europa 2</a>. This smaller vessel, carrying just 516 passengers, starts excursions this May, sailing the Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula and Asia, and typically will offer seven-day voyages. Even on a mid-size vessel, the dining experience is plush, with specialty choices ranging from Asian to Italian and French (pictured: a rendering of Europa 2's Tarragon, which will serve French cuisine). Best of all? Every stateroom offers a veranda to get you wonderful, private access to the seas. <em>(Photo courtesy Hapag-Lloyd Cruises)</em>
Princess Cruises is part of the excitement. Debuting in summer 2014, the <a href="http://www.princess.com/news/press_releases/2012/08/Princess-Cruises-Announces-Name-of-Next-New-Ship-Will-Be-Regal-Princess.html#.UUhpPZLo-2x" target="_hplink">Regal Princess</a> will accommodate 3,600 passengers. She'll sail with a 28-foot glass walkway that extends out from the ship and what the company calls a "marble swathed" atrium for dining and entertainment. Also aboard will be an adults-only pool with cabanas and exterior cabins with their own balconies. <em>(Photo courtesy Princess Cruise Lines)</em>
The Regal Princess won't be sailing until summer 2014, so if you're looking for a travel opportunity on a new boat before then, look to sister vessel the <a href="http://www.princess.com/learn/ships/rp/index.html" target="_hplink">Royal Princess</a> which sails this June. Like the Regal Princess, this ship has balconies for outside rooms, a large atrium, and what Princess is calling "our largest top deck pool ever"—it even includes a water and light show and an outside movie theater. The Royal Princess will sail the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, as well as offer Scandinavian routes and transatlantic crossings. <em>(Photo courtesy Princess Cruise Lines)</em>
It's not just the ocean-going, deep-water excursions which drive the cruise industry. River cruises (especially in Europe) have been gaining steady popularity, thanks to their mix of small-boat sizes and opportunity to visit historic and vibrant European cities. Vantage Deluxe World Travel just christened its newest vessel the <a href="http://www.vantagetravel.com/" target="_hplink">River Splendor</a>. At just 442 feet, it's a bath ducky compared to vessels from companies like Norwegian, MSC, Tui and Princess, but this is a big boat for European rivers; in fact, it's the maximum size allowed by the EU. With just 176 passengers aboard, travelers won't be wandering between rooftop pools and rock-climbing walls; instead companies like Vantage Deluxe focus on creating intimate environments. Apparently this model is working well; the company introduced a new boat, the River Discovery II, last year, and is launching both the River Splendor and the River Venture this month. <em>(Photo ©Daniel Dorko/Vantage Deluxe World Travel)</em>
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