Going on a cruise this year? Expect a lot more choices.
Several major lines are introducing new ships this year, some of them their biggest ever. A couple of cruise lines are making their debuts in American waters, and a brand new line will offer the first all-suite cruises on European rivers.
Add to that new itineraries and destinations being introduced by existing lines, and it's easy to see why cruise lines expect to carry a record 12.8 million passengers this year.
After a couple of static years when most new cruise ships were clones of previous ones, 2008 promises new concepts. This year's crop of cruise ships will show off such features as onboard glassblowing, croquet on a real grass court, spa staterooms, more onboard pastimes, and alternative restaurants with even more diversified cuisines. And there's a definite tilt to luxury.
A couple of new cruise lines will start service this year. Pearl Sea Cruises will operate brand new small all-suite ships in the Canadian Maritimes and Caribbean. Jewel River Cruises will bring luxury sailings on European rivers.
In a year when more ships are sailing in European waters, Fred.Olsen, a cruise line that has long sailed in Europe, is coming to America for the first time. And sadly, 2008 is a year in which we will say goodbye to some beloved ships.
Here are highlights of what's new this year:
This will be this new cruise line's first full year of operation. Created last year by Celebrity Cruises, Azamara promises an upscale experience as it sends its two ships to less-visited ports over the world. Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest both are renovated Renaissance vessels and carry less than 700 passengers.
The new Carnival Splendor will be Carnival Cruise Lines' biggest vessel at 113,300 tons and 3,000 passengers, and it, too, is the first of a new series of ships.
Its new Cloud 9 Spa -- the line's biggest -- will be ringed with 68 exclusive ''spa staterooms,'' new to the line. Guests booked in these cabins will have unlimited access to the thermal suite and Carnival's first thalassotherapy pool, as well as priority spa appointments and free fitness classes.
The new vessel will inaugurate what the line says is its first northern Europe itineraries when it enters service in Europe this July, and will make its first South American cruises in 2009.
The new Celebrity Solstice not only will be the line's biggest ship at 122,000 tons and 2,850 passengers,but also will introduce some first-time features.
For one thing, it will create a plot of land at sea -- a half acre of grass on the top deck. On this patch of green three times larger than New York's Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, guests will be able to play bocce ball or croquet, go picnicking with a basket of wine and cheese, or simply enjoy the view of real grass hundreds of miles from land.
Lawn Club guests will also be able to take in the Hot Glass Show, another industry first, with live glassblowing demonstrations. Three ''gaffers'' -- glassblowing artisans -- will give demonstrations, lectures and workshops through Celebrity's association with the Corning Museum of Glass. With 90 percent outside cabins, the 2,850-passenger ship will make its maiden voyage in December from Fort Lauderdale.
This historic company has just introduced its newest liner, the 90,000-ton Queen Victoria. It's smaller than the line's huge 150,000-ton Queen Mary 2 and larger than the venerable 70,327-ton Queen Elizabeth 2, but is of the same regal mold . . . with several innovations. See story, page 14J.