It’s going to be an Epic year for new cruise ships, with some spectacular launches during 2010.
It’s the one area of the holiday industry which is seeing consistent growth, despite the economic downturn. More than 1.55 million Britons took cruise holidays last year, and the number is expected to rise to 1.65 million this year.
Bill Gibbons, of the Passenger Shipping Association said: “The all-inclusive nature of cruising and the very high standards of quality, innovation and customer service have made cruises a compelling and mainstream holiday choice.
“Significant growth will come about with the introduction of new ships dedicated to the UK market – P&O Cruises’ Azura, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and Celebrity Eclipse.”
One of the biggest ships to make its debut in 2010 will be Norwegian Epic, which will arrive in Southampton in June before making its maiden Transatlantic crossing to New York and then on to its new base, sailing to the Caribbean from Miami, Florida.
Unlike almost every other ship being launched this year, it is a new design, and at 153,000-tons and carrying 4,200 passengers it will be second only in size to Allure of the Seas.
The ship looks huge, and the bulbous, seemingly top-heavy appearance has not been universally popular with the purists. But as NCL say, it’s what’s inside the ship that counts, and there will be an awful lot. Twenty restaurants, six ten-pin bowling lanes, a selection of bars – including the first ice bar at sea – and a host of entertainment venues.
This week in New York a partnership with Nickelodeon was unveiled, which means families will be able to have breakfast on board with SpongeBob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer. If they’re really keen, they can even have the cartroon characters tuck them up in bed at night. Most importantly, there will be plenty of opportunities for Slime Time at Sea.
Other entertainment venues include the Spiegel Tent, where circus performers will keep diners amused – and may even help out with the waiter’s duties to descend by rope to pour a glass of wine.
Then there will be Vegas tribute troupe Legends in Concert, featuring everyone from Elvis Presley to Elton John and Dolly Parton, and a lounge devoted to Howling At The Moon, a show featuring duelling pianists.
But the biggest draw will surely be the Blue Man Group. While in the Big Apple I saw their show at the tiny Astor Place Theatre. It was an amazing evening of frenetic percussive activity, a bit like Stomp meets the Chuckle Brothers – on mescalin and marshmallows.
The whole audience joined in the party fun, and the group’s performances in the 685-seat Epic Theatre on the ship will undoubtedly be a highlight of any cruise, unlike anything else at sea or on land.
Norwegian Epic is not just for familes. It was also announced this week that the 128 studio cabins on board the ship, each just 100 sq ft in area, are to be dedicated to solo passengers, who will have their own bar and meeting space tucked away from other travellers. Fares for the studios will start at £599, cruise-only, for Epic’s seven-night
Caribbean itineraries during the summer, and they go on sale on January 18.
There are also spacious loft suites and Courtyard Villas designed for families. Standard two-person cabins are innovatively designed with curving walls to make the best use of the available space and, controversially, shower and toilet faciulities integrated into the
living space rather than as separate en suite facilites. How popular that will be remains to be seen, but if it follows the example of NCL’s freestyle dining, it could be an idea which is eventually adopted by almost every other cruise line.
What else is new? There’s a host of ships, all ordered at a time when there was more money floating around. So make the most of these newcomers because there won’t be nearly as many in 2011.
A sister for Costa Luminosa, which was launched in Genoa last summer, the 92,700-ton Deliziosa will be launched in Dubai in February. The ship will be sailing week-long cruises in the Persian Gulf until May and will call at Harwich in June on its way to Copenhagen and a summer visiting the Norwegian fjords and the Baltic Sea.
Deliziosa will carry up to 2,826 passengers and 1,050 crew and has three swimming pools, a vast Samsara Spa on two levels. Other diversions include a Grand Prix F1 simulator and a golf simulator providing a choice of 37 different courses.
Costa is the largest cruise company in Europe, with a total of 16 ships. In the Mediterranean, its cruises are popular among honeymooners and families, Night-life is lively, although geared to continental tastes – dinner is late and the disco stays lively until well into the night. No need to pack a dinner jacket for formal nights, although even in their casual get-up, Italian men will put us to shame. The popular toga parties are a fashion leveller, however, and more fun than it sounds. Plenty of variety on the restaurant menus, and there’s always pizza and pasta for those with simpler tastes.
The newest ship in the fleet of Costa’s Italian rival MSC will, like all their vessels, be named by Sophia Loren. The ceremony will take place in Hamburg in March and the ship will spend the summer sailing in the Mediterranean before crossing to New York for an autumn season of cruises to Canada and New England. It will then relocate to Fort Lauderdale for a winter sailing in the Caribbean.
The 93,330-ton vessel will carry up to 3,000 passengers and 987 crew and has two pools and a spa and gym above the bridge. There’s a theatre, dance lounge and disco, and restaurant options include Shanghai, an extra-cost Chinese a la carte “experience.”
MSC is quite the new kid on the block among cruise lines and, appropriately, has frequent offers for children to travel with their parents for just £1 each. They can even be left in the kids’ clubs on board while mum and dad take an excursion ashore.
The first big launch of the year in Britain will be P&O’s Azura, to be named by prima ballerina Darcey Bussell in Southampton on April 10. The 116,000-ton ship will be sailing from the UK to the Mediterranean, Canaries and the Baltic during the summer, and will then cross the Atlantic for a winter in the Caribbean.
Like sister ship Ventura, which launched in 2008, the vessel will carry up to 3,500 passengers and 1,240 crew, but the emphasis is on a traditional P&O experience with less emphasis on “family-friendly” features.
Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar supervises the speciality Sindhu restaurant, and TV’s Olly Smith is selecting bottles for the wine bar, The Glass House. Azura will be the first ship in the fleet to feature an open-air cinema screen. Surprisingly for a ship which will spend much of the year in Europe, none of the three swimming pools has a sliding glass roof. The 800-seat Playhouse Theatre is the venue for big production shows, and performances by popular comedians, and the Malabar night club is likely to feature live bands for dancing, and shows by lookalike tribute acts.
Third ship of five planned Solstice-class vessels, Eclipse will be named in Southampton on April 24. Sister ship Celebrity Equinox was christened in July last year by Daily Mirror Pride of Britain award-winner Nina Barough, and a Celebrity SunWalk in aid of her breast cancer charities will be held to coincide with the event.
The 122,000-ton vessel can carry up to 3,145 passengers and 1,253 crew, and will be sailing from Southampton throughout the summer, to the Mediterranean. Canary Islands, and the Baltic. There will also be a number of four-night sampler cruises to Cork, in the south of Ireland.
The unique feature on these ships is the Lawn Club on the top deck – real grass which is used for putting and croquet. It sounds like a gimmick, but it’s actually great fun. One of the three pools is in a peaceful solarium, and interior design throughout is surprisingly sophisticated and elegant. There’s a selection of speciality restaurants including a steak bar at the stern, and the Oceanview café has one of the best buffet selections at sea
Unusually, this ultra-luxury small ship will be named at a ceremony on the River Thames, at Greenwich in June. It will start life with a handful of cruises from London and Dover before relocating to Copenhagen for a summer of cruises in northern Europe. Fares for the inaugural world cruise, which sets out from Los Angeles in January 2011, start at £39,000 and rise as high as £170,450 (per person!)
A sister for Odyssey, launched last year in Venice, the 32,000 Sojourn carries 450 passengers and 330 crew. Those fares are all-inclusive, and include drinks and gratuities. Among the shops on board is a private diamond showroom.
Holland America Lines is carrying on a long tradition by reviving the name Niew Amsterdam, and the interior décor will be themed around the city – New York to you and me. Passengers will be able to take pre-loaded iPods on a private art tour of the art and antiques on board.
Like sister ship Eurodam, the 86,000-ton vessel carries up to 2,600 passengers and 929 crew. It will be launched in July, before sailing familiar itineraries in the Mediterranean during the summer and the Caribbean from autumn.
As well as a wide selection of restaurants, the ship features a Culinary Arts Centre for cookery demonstrations by visiting chefs. A previous Nieuw Amsterdam, launched in 1983, is currently sailing as Thomson Spirit.
It’s not been confirmed yet, but The Queen is expected to name the ship which carries her name – she launched the QE2 in 1967, and Queen Mary 2 in 2004. The christening ceremony for the latest ship, which will be the third member of the Cunard fleet, will be at Southampton on October 12.
Similar in design to sister ship Queen Victoria, but 11 metres longer and with a few more cabins at the stern, the 90,400-ton Queen Elizabeth will carry up to 2,100 passengers and 1,000 crew. Her maiden voyage, to the Canaries, sold out in 29 minutes. In January 2011 she will embark on her maiden world cruise.
Although Cunard claim to have the youngest and most modern fleet in cruising, the interior design and style harks back to the art deco period which was a golden age of the transatlantic liners. But entertainment is just as likely to include a Beatles tribute group as a cocktail pianist, and if lobster thermidor or steak diane is too rich for your taste, then there’s always fish and chips and chicken curry available in the ship’s pub, the Golden Lion.
There will be an outdoor sports deck for croquet, bowls and garden parties, but it will have fake grass, not real grass like Celebrity Eclipse.
ALLURE OF THE SEAS
When Allure is launched in Florida in November, it will share the accolade of biggest cruise ship in the world with its sister, Oasis of the Seas, which launched just before Christmas.
These 225,000-ton giants carry up to 6,300 passengers and 2,160 crew. The sheer size limits the number of ports they can visit, but Caribbean islands such as Puerto Rico, St Thomas and Jamaica have built new piers which the ships visit on a weekly rotation throughout the year from their base in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
There are some who have suggested that because the ships contain so much in the way of entertainment facilities – a huge theatre, AquaShow, ice-rink, climbing walls, Boardwalk, Central Park and the Royal Promenade, a massive shopping street – they are destinations in their own right and don’t actually need to travel anywhere. But Royal Caribbean boss Adam Goldstein insists – quite rightly – that visiting ports is an essential part of a cruise.
If all the activity, entertainment and noise on board gets too much, then there’s always the soothing adults-only Solarium to relax in. And whereas some ships impose an extra charge for similar facilities, on Allure it’s free.
Finally, two ships which are not new, but which will embark on new lives, with new names, during 2010.
SAGA PEARL II
Formerly the Astoria and currently undergoing a £20 million refit in dry-dock at Swansea, this 18,500-ton ship carrying 446 passengers will replace Saga Rose, which was retired last December.
It will be re-named in Southampton on March before embarking on an 18-night inaugural voyage to Norway and the ship will be visiting the fjords, the Baltic, the Mediterranean and the Canaries throughout the summer. There’s also seven-night cruise to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation in May, and a voyage to Ireland in June, and to Scotland in July
Saga Cruises caters exclusively for the over-50s and provides a thoroughly traditional cruise experience for well-travelled couples and singles (there are gentleman hosts on board to dance with single women). The refit is upgrading cabins, adding a few balconies, and introducing a library and a cinema, as well as improving the restaurant and kitchens. Entertainment is restrained – there are no casinos or late-night discos on Saga ships – and the emphasis is on the destinations.
Currently sailing as Costa Europa (and before that Westerdam and Homeric) this ship will be re-named in Barcelona in April on joining the Thomson fleet which offers value-for-money cruises for the UK market.
Built in 1986, the 55,000-ton ship carries up to 1,750 passengers and 650 crew and will be sailing five, seven, and eight-night itineraries in the Mediterranean throughout the summer.
Thomson will be changing menus and entertainment when they take over the vessel, but are planning no major changes until a dry-dock refit in the autumn. The ship will then cross the Atlantic to spend the winter on seven and 14-night cruises in the Caribbean, including port calls in Cuba – which are not possible on American vessels.
There’s plenty of open deck space, including a wrap-round teak promenade deck, and several spacious lounges. There are two pools, a sports court, and children’s club.