We love that new ship smell -- and the cruise ship class of 2012 is giving off quite an intriguing perfume.
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, Carnival Breeze; and Celebrity Cruises' fifth and final Solstice-class offering, Celebrity Reflection.
But not all sisters look or act alike.
Carnival Breeze has a new toned-down design 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. Disney Fantasy, the Mouse's second Dream-class vessel, has more for kids (new watery deck spaces) and adults (themed lounges, pool area).
Beyond the giants, the surprising star of the class of 2012 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, starting in August.
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.
The Low-Down: Disney Fantasy shares much in common with its good-looking older sister, Disney Dream, including the AquaDuck watercoaster and "virtual portholes" in inside cabins. But Fantasy also has its own robust personality, shaped by a slew of new production shows, adult-only themed spaces and cool top-deck attractions.
The most photogenic addition has to be the AquaLab (pictured, before the kids took over), a play area featuring pop jets, geysers, bubblers and all manner of watery apparatuses (like Uncle Donald's leaky rowboat). Another distinction: The Muppets have made their at-sea debut starring in a mystery game that will take passengers around the ship in search of clues.
The Low-Down: Ain't broke? Don't fix it. "Luxe lite" line Oceania might not use those words to describe Riviera, its second 1,250-passenger O-class ship, but it certainly could. There are some tweaks -- a thalassotherapy pool replaces a hot tub, for instance -- but everything found on the first-in-class Marina is back. Food -- eating it, cooking it, learning about it -- is again the focus. Riviera will feature a culinary arts center and 10 restaurants serving everything from Asian fusion to French. If all that eating makes you sleepy, you can retreat to one of the ship's palatial, 2,000-plus-square-foot Owner's Suites or Canyon Ranch Spa.
Deployment: Caribbean, Mediterranean, South America
The Low-Down: Big design and amenity changes are afoot for the 3,690-passenger Carnival Breeze, the third Dream-class ship. First, Carnival has dispensed with the longtime surrealistic designer Joe Farcus; this time, Hamburg-based firm Partner Ship Design is leading the way with a toned-down vibe and tropical theme throughout.
Feature-wise, Breeze will have a burger joint created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, rum and tequila bars and a 5D theater (these eating and drinking options will be retrofitted onto about a dozen of Breeze's fleetmates by 2015). But never fear: The RedFrog Pub, the Caribbean-themed bar that debuted on Magic, is back. And so are the 100-ounce tubes of Carnival's custom brew, Thirsty Frog Red.
The Low-Down: Celebrity Reflection is the fifth -- and final -- ship in Celebrity's game-changing Solstice class. (Execs like the ships so much they're retrofitting the line's older Millennium-class vessels with popular Solstice-class restaurants and bars.) The series has evolved quite a bit since Solstice launched in 2007, and the 126,000-ton, 3,030-passenger Celebrity Reflection is both larger and more amenity-laden than its predecessors.
The main difference between Reflection and its youngest sister, Silhouette (2011), is that Reflection features an additional deck housing the line's first "suite complex." Otherwise, expect classy, light-loving spaces; the newest version of the class' now-iconic Lawn Club (grill restaurant, for-fee cabanas); and double-digit dining options.
Deployment: Caribbean, Western Europe, Mediterranean
The Low-Down: Leave it to Joe Farcus, Carnival Corp.'s neon-loving designer and sole adherent of "Farchitecture," to breathe some zany life into Costa's fifth Concordia-class ship. The 3,000-passenger Costa Fascinosa will sport all the signature Concordia-class elements -- Asian-themed spa, poolside movie screen, Grand Prix simulator -- but the ship will be themed around "things that fascinate," like movies and exotic places.
If that doesn't narrow it down, try this: a "Gone With the Wind"-themed lido area. Specific design touches (the burnt-out shell of Tara?) haven't been revealed, but the space will feature raised whirlpool tubs and waterfalls. The homage to the historical melodrama will be offset with a dose of modernity: A new mobile platform will allow smart-device users to access the ship's interactive TV system and book excursions, check their bill, etc.
The Low-Down: MSC Divina will become the 12th ship in the Italian line's fleet. The Fantasia-class ship on steroids will have roughly 100 more cabins and a touch more room than its two half-sisters, MSC Fantasia and MSC Splendida, as well as a handful of new features, including a wake-facing infinity pool (so you can gaze off into the distance during a dip). MSC has also opted to use the extra volume to expand its Yacht Club, a ship-within-a-ship complex featuring suites, a private sun deck and a concierge lounge.
MSC Divina Cruise Fares:
Ship & Launch: AIDAmar, May 12
The Low-Down: The 71,100-ton, 2,184-passenger AIDAmar is the sixth ship in Germany-based AIDA Cruises popular Sphinx class. The series is known for its sprawling wellness areas, flamboyant interiors and breezy, "club casual" vibe. Like its most recent sister, AIDAmar will sport a 4D cinema, complete with moving chairs and water- and air-jets; a steakhouse; sushi bar; and a microbrewery, where beer is brewed from purified sea water.
Deployment: Northern Europe, Mediterranean, Red Sea
The Riverboats: U.S.
Ship & Launch: Great American Steamboat Company's American Queen, April 26
The Low-Down: While not technically a new-build, the 436-passenger American Queen has been out of service since 2008 when it's previous owner, Majestic America Line, went belly up. Now it's got a new owner, Great American Steamboat Company, that paid big bucks to resurrect the world's largest steam-powered paddlewheeler. Before (re-)launching, AQ will undergo a $6 million refurb to make the Victorian decor -- chandeliers, upholstery, polished wood -- pop.
Onboard, dining will play first fiddle. Menus created by Natchez-based chef Regina Charboneau will include regionally sourced ingredients like wild honey from Mississippi and artisan cheeses from the river towns along the routes. Expect beignets with breakfast, gourmet hot dogs for lunch and Charboneau's peppered beef brisket for dinner. Entertainment will come by way of music (think jazz on ex-Nola sailings) and an onboard "riverlaurian," who will provide the necessary historical and cultural color.
The Low-Down: The year's freshest -- and most nostalgic -- new-build has to be American Cruise Lines' 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi, the first Big Muddy-based new-build to launch in some 15 years. Old Man River's been nearly dead to overnight cruisers since 2008, when the two biggest players in the leisure steamboatin' game collapsed. ACL hopes to help resurrect the niche industry in 2012.
Its modern sternwheeler with Victorian aspirations will feature crystal chandeliers, dark wood paneling and enormous standard cabins (like 268 square feet of enormity). Execs think the Paddlewheel Lounge will be the showstopper; the space will be decked out in rich woods and offer panoramic views of passing scenery and the red sternwheel.
Deployment: Mississippi and connecting rivers
The Riverboats: Europe
Ships & Launch: Viking's "Longship" Horde; two in March, one in April, one in May, one in July, one in August
The Low-Down: Six Viking "Longships" will descend on Europe's rivers in 2012. The 190-passenger boats are designed by maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten (Seabourn's designer) and named after imposing Norse gods like Idun, Odin and Njord. The boats will introduce a number of concepts for Viking, including suites with full-size balconies and the Aquavit Terrace, an indoor-outdoor lounge featuring retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors.
Viking is also continuing its "green cruising" tradition, so the Longships have energy-efficient hybrid engines, solar panels and organic herb gardens.
The Low-Down:The 164-passenger AmaCerto, the third in a series, continues AMAWATERWAYS' ambitious expansion program; the company has launched Europe-based riverboats every year since 2006. Like its sisters, AmaCerto will feature AMA's "twin balcony" setup, a unique offering consisting of a French (glorified window with railing) and traditional balcony (with room to sit). And, in an effort to shrug the stodgy reputation that haunts river lines, the ship will feature bow-to-stern wi-fi and "infotainment" systems (combo TV/music/Web) in every cabin.
Another sign that AMA is hip to the modern cruise landscape: The line is borrowing from a big-ship culinary trend and offering a Chef's Table event, where a private chef prepares a special tasting menu for passengers.
Deployment: Rhine, Danube
AmaCerto Cruise Fares:
Ship & Launch: Avalon Vista and Visionary, May 11
The Low-Down: A pair of new Avalon Waterways riverboats, Vista and Visionary, will expand the line's burgeoning fleet to 13. The 166-passenger Avalon Vista is a sister to 2011's Avalon Panorama and will feature the same novel cabin setup. Sixty-four suites -- or two decks' worth of cabins -- will have wall-to-wall panoramic windows, which open seven feet to create an open-air balcony of sorts. Visionary will be similar but come in a slightly smaller package; the 128-passenger riverboat was specifically designed to cruise the Rhine. The pair will be jointly christened May 11.
The Low-Down: Uniworld launched the Southeast Asia-based River Saigon in January 2012. The 60-passenger boat sails week-long itineraries along the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia as part of longer trips combining land-based travel. Three-week itineraries begin in Beijing with tours of cities in China before sailing the Mekong to its delta in the south of Vietnam. Hotel accommodations are luxurious, with private check-in, buffet breakfast and various extras.
Fares also include service charges and transfers. Excursions are led by professionally trained local experts who guide groups no larger than 20 to better allow insight into the local culture, people and history.