New Ship Preview 2007

European debuts are the latest trend in new ships

By: M.T. Schwartzman

In an annual rite that always brings an air of anticipation, the parade of new ships is about to begin.

The first new vessel of 2007, Carnival Cruise Lines’ 2,974-passenger, 110,000-ton Carnival Freedom, kicks off her inaugural season on March 5, which includes Carnival’s first-ever calls at the Greek Islands and Turkey. Twelve-day cruises of the Mediterranean continue through Oct. 16, when Freedom heads westbound on a trans-Atlantic crossing to her winter homeport in Miami. From there, Caribbean cruises depart weekly.

On April 11, the 3,080-passenger, 113,000-ton Emerald Princess commences service from Rome. The Emerald features many of the design elements and amenities that made their debut on the Crown Princess, such as the new piazza-style atrium, additional alternative dining venues and the adults-only Sanctuary. The Emerald’s

inaugural season includes a series of Greek Island/Mediterranean cruises before taking up residence in Fort Lauderdale for Caribbean sailings next October.

Expedition cruising gets a boost in May from the Norwegian Coastal Voyage. Best known for its scenic cruising of the Norwegian Fjords and Antarctica, NCV enhances its portfolio of remote destinations when it puts the 318-passenger, 12,700-ton Fram into service. Billed as “the first ship built for exclusive use in Greenland, the Fram blends expedition-style utility with a touch of modern cruise amenities. Facilities include a wellness center and alternative bistro.

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean International unveils its second Freedom-Class ship, the 3,634-passenger, 160,000-ton Liberty of the Seas. The Liberty promises all the “wow factor” of her much ballyhooed predecessor, including a FlowRider surfing simulator and H2O Zone family water park. Commencing on May 19, Liberty sails seven-day cruises roundtrip from Miami.

Spring also ushers in Costa Serena, Costa Cruises’ 3,000-passenger, 112,000-ton vessel which sets sail from Venice on May 26. Like her sister, 2006’s Costa Concordia, the new Costa Serena is expected to boast such innovative features as spa suites that link directly to the fitness center, and a Formula One race-car simulator, which puts passengers in the driver’s seat of a virtual race car.

Another European line, MSC Cruises introduces the 2,550-passenger, 89,600-ton MSC Orchestra on June 2, beginning a series of seven-night roundtrip itineraries from Venice sailing to Greece, Turkey and Croatia. MSC is one of the few lines producing ships for year-round service in the Mediterranean, and in November, the Orchestra repositions to Genoa for 11-night roundtrip sailings, alternating Greece, Egypt, Libya and Rome with Spain, Morocco, Canary Islands and Madeira itineraries.

Continuing into the fall, Norwegian Cruise Line enters the 2,394-passenger, 93,500-ton Norwegian Gem into service. After a series of five inaugural Mediterranean cruises in October and November, the Gem takes up year-round residence in New York beginning on Dec. 22. Itineraries include seven days to Florida and the Bahamas or 10 and 11 days to the Caribbean. The Gem joins sister Norwegian Pearl as NCL’s first vessels with rock-climbing walls and the only two ships at sea with on-board bowling alleys.

Perhaps the most innovative ship of 2007 is the last one scheduled to debut: Cunard Line’s 2,014-passenger, 90,000-ton Queen Victoria, small enough to fit through the Panama Canal yet still the second-largest Cunarder ever built. Queen Victoria will sport several novel features, such as the first “private boxes” at sea in the ship’s Royal Court Theater and the first two-story library, packed with 6,000 books and an impressive spiral staircase connecting the two decks. The QV also has a grand, British-colonial-style conservatory, replete with central fountain, greenery and a retractable roof. A unique floating museum, Cunardia, houses Cunard artifacts and memorabilia. After two inaugural European voyages in December, the newest Queen sets off on a 106-day world cruise departing from Southampton on Jan. 6, 2008, visiting 36 ports in 23 countries.

So all in all, the coming year offers much for travel agents and their cruise clients to be excited about even as the next generation of gigantic mega-ships takes shape in European shipyards. These include Celebrity Cruises’ 118,000-ton Solstice Class, MSC Cruises’ 133,500-ton Fantasia Class, Norwegian Cruise Line’s 150,000-ton F1 series and biggest of all, Royal Caribbean’s 220,000-ton Project Genesis.

Small But Sweet

Almost lost in the crowd of mega-ships is one diminutive newbuild for 2007: American Cruise Lines’ 100-passenger American Star, its fourth ship since 2000. The American Star begins her season with a seven-night maiden voyage on the Chesapeake Bay, departing from Baltimore on June 2. She then makes her way north for an inaugural summer along the Maine coast starting June 16, effectively doubling ACL’s capacity in northern New England.

Several “mid-size” ships make their debut this year, too. All are older vessels with new names for 2007. On April 19, the 680-passenger Royal Princess (former R8/Minerva II) joins Princess Cruises for Mediterranean sailings. On May 5, the 718-passenger Celebrity Journey (former R6/Blue Dream) joins Celebrity Cruises’ Xpeditions brand, beginning with Bermuda itineraries. In October, Xpeditions launches the 710-passenger Celebrity Quest (former R7/Blue Moon) for extended-length sailings in the Caribbean.