Sail ho! New ships on the horizon

By Lew Toulmin
This item appears on page 58 of the November 2011 issue.

The Great Recession has not caused a stoppage in cruise-ship construction, although building has slowed somewhat, and no new giant megaships are on the horizon.

I define a megaship as a “post-Panamax” vessel that cannot fit through the (for now) 110-foot-wide Panama Canal locks and carries more than 5,000 passengers. So the current world-record holder, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas — at 225,282 tons and 1,187.1 feet in length, having a waterline beam of 154 feet and carrying an unbelievable 6,360 passengers — is likely to remain the largest cruise ship in the world for at least five years to come.

I have picked out some of the new ships that should be most interesting to ITN readers and describe them below.

Oceania Riviera is the sister ship to Oceania Cruises’ new Marina. She is set to begin sailing in April of 2012 after having been built in the Fincantieri yard in Sestri Ponente, a suburb of Genoa, Italy, at a cost of $500 million.

Here are the stats on this medium-size vessel: tonnage, 66,084; length, 785 feet; beam, 106 feet, and passengers, 1,250. The ship will carry 800 crew, thus having a very high ratio of crew to passengers.

There will be, remarkably, 10 dining venues, including six small gourmet restaurants. The gourmet restaurants on Marina will not charge any additional amounts. This welcome change bucks the current trend in the industry to charge extra, usually about $25 per person, to eat in a special, small restaurant on board instead of in the (covered in the fare) large main dining room. One of the six gourmet restaurants will be a bistro designed by the famous Jacques Pépin.

The ship will have enrichment programs sponsored by the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, the only hands-on cooking school afloat, and the Artist Loft, where artists in residence will teach passengers to paint and sculpt. A Canyon Ranch SpaClub® will be another signature feature on board. The Owner’s Suite will be designed by Ralph Lauren and the ship’s lobby by Lalique.

The vessel’s maiden voyage will be across the Mediterranean. She then will sail the Aegean, Adriatic and Med., with Atlantic forays to Madeira and the Canary Islands.

Celebrity Reflection, at 126,000 tons and carrying 3,030 passengers, is being built at the Meyer Werft yard in Papenburg, Germany, near Bremen, at a cost of $798 million, to be delivered in November 2012.

This is the fifth in the Solstice class (which includes such familiar vessels as the Celebrity Equinox and Celebrity Eclipse). She will be powered by a diesel-electric pod-propulsion system.

The vessel is wider than the earlier Solstice-class ships by one meter, and an extra deck of suites is being added by lifting the pool deck one level. There will be 43 AquaClass spa suites, with in-cabin water spas, and an interactive restaurant called the Lawn Club Grill, where you can learn to throw your own pizza pie.

The Art Studio will be used for art demos and to teach classes in drawing, painting and even drink mixing. European-style “cabanas” will overlook this space and, like beach cabanas at Cannes, will be rentable by the day or half day. (I think I’ll skip paying that particular fee.)

A quiet lounge called The Hideaway will allow you to read or relax in peace without the ubiquitous music of many ships. And the iLounge will allow you to try out one of those Apple products (iPad, iPhone, etc.) you’ve been thinking about.

Reflection will first deploy to the Mediterranean for several voyages, then cross the Atlantic to focus on the Eastern Caribbean.

• Princess Cruises is building a new Royal Princess, at 141,000 tons and for 3,600 passengers, for delivery in spring 2013 to replace the aging current vessel of the same name. This new ship is about 20% larger than current Princess vessels.

Features will include balconies for all outside staterooms; an upper-deck pool reserved for adults; a huge outdoor screen to show movies under the stars; an evening water-and-light show, and a bar and walkway cantilevered out over the water, with glass floors, so you can see the waves more than 100 feet directly below you!

The ship is being built by Fincantieri in its Monfalcone, Italy, shipyard, near Trieste, at a cost of $760 million and will have over 260,000 square feet of public space.

• Norwegian Cruise Line is having two ships built which are, as yet, unnamed. Each will have a tonnage of 144,017 and carry 4,000 passengers. The first of the Project Breakaway ships, they will be delivered in spring 2013 and spring 2014. The theme here is “modern boutique hotel meets the sea.”

Potential passengers were asked in the summer of 2011 to submit names for the vessels, which will have the theme of “breaking away” from everyday life. The ships are being built by the Meyer Werft yard in Papenburg at a cost of $780 million each.

A feature of each ship is “the haven,” an area at the top of the ship reserved for the most luxurious cabins and accommodations and having a separate pool, concierge and valet. The haven will be accessible from the two owner’s suites and 20 two-bedroom “family villas” sleeping up to six guests each.

Each vessel also will feature 25 penthouses and 15 spa suites each with an en suite whirlpool bath.

The innovative “Freestyle Generation 3” cabin architecture first seen in the 2010 Norwegian Epic will be the feature most noticeable to passengers. This architecture ditches the ubiquitous, boring, shoe-box cabin shape in favor of all curved walls, and it breaks the space-hogging bathroom block into two smaller sections: toilet and shower. The effect is a much more spacious, interesting and cheerful cabin arrangement.

Other unusual ship elements that likely will be carried over from the Epic will be real single cabins, designed as “studios at sea,” that cater to single travelers and have no burdensome single-supplement charge. These will be near a communal, singles-oriented lounge. Cabins with singles-oriented features have sold out first on the Epic, so be sure to book early.

There will also be lots of activities geared toward families, teens and younger kids, such as connecting cabins, a teen club and a water park. Personally, I am hoping that both vessels, like the Epic, will have several theaters, including one solely devoted to the wild and wacky Blue Man Group.

• One interesting vessel which is not set to begin sailing, even though it is 90% complete, is the beautiful Sea Cloud Hussar. Designed to have 28 sails and carry only 136 passengers, this three-masted, full-rigged tall ship was being built at the Factoria Naval de Marín, Spain, when the yard went bankrupt.

Hussar is a modern interpretation of the 1931 Sea Cloud, the romantic vessel owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband, E.F. Hutton, which is still sailing.

At 445 feet and with a tonnage of 4,840, the new ship will be the largest full-rigged ship ever built purely for passenger service. She will have 69 outside cabins, including 26 with balconies, a surprising feature for a sailing vessel. The ship also will have an elevator, medical center, spa, steam bath, beauty parlor and swimming platform — all a far cry from the leaky, sweaty tall ships I learned to sail in!

The vessel is tied up in court, and although the owners tried to get it released to a German yard to be finished, this maneuver failed. Hopefully, by 2012 or 2013 at the latest, the legal wrangles will be over and the ship will be sailing. To get the latest information on her status, contact Small Ship Cruises (Nanuet, NY; 800/768-7232).

Remember that while I recommend trying new ships with new features, I also recommend avoiding maiden voyages. Many such voyages are canceled due to late delivery of the vessel. And problems and kinks are probably still being worked out. Wait a few months, let the crew settle in, and then have a great time.