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Underwater lounges offering fish-eye views of the sea and exploration submarines are just some of the “wow” features appearing on new and refurbished ships that will be motivating clients to book their next cruise. Sometimes a single new onboard activity, excursion, port of call or home port is enough to get a client excited about taking a cruise. “Some new features have become so defining that as older ships get retrofitted, the lines aren’t just changing carpeting and bedspreads, they are retrofitting them with all the bells and whistles of their sister ships,” says Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners.  

At the same time, river boats like American Cruise Lines’ American Harmony on the Mississippi and Uniworld’s wellness cruise on the Ganges can totally recast the cruise experience in a particular region. Here’s a sampling of what’s new to the cruise scene for 2019.

Innovative Design
Celebrity Edge, which comes online this month, is “a game-changer,” says Fee. The room design allows the balcony to be part of the cabin or a separate space thanks to retractable window walls. “It’s a clever way to add square footage to the living space.” The ship also has a Magic Carpet that connects the ship to the tender so passengers can walk right on and off, even when the ship is rocking. It is great for wheelchairs. Plus, it can be moved to the higher levels to provide an outside dining venue or party spot perched over the edge of the ship. (Look for a Celebrity Edge onboard review in the January 2019 Recommend issue). 

The new 100-passenger Celebrity Flora, setting sail in the Galapagos starting in May, will feature super energy-efficient design, anchorless technology (that doesn’t damage the ocean floor) and other cutting-edge, eco-friendly features. Its marina accommodates up to three Zodiacs at once, minimizing wait time for excursions, and its outward-facing design maximizes views of the unique flora and fauna. It will also feature a once-in-a-lifetime camping experience on the top deck of the luxury yacht that allows guests to dine, drink, and sleep under one of the most spectacular night skies in the world.

Eco-friendly design is also key for Hurtigruten. With a fleet of 17 expedition ships, it is the world’s largest expedition cruise operator and will be adding three hybrid-powered expedition cruise ships in the next four years. This new breed of expedition ship uses advanced green technology to enhance sustainability and allows for significantly reduce emissions. The first two are slated to launch in early 2019.

Other breakthrough expedition ships in the works include the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, a polar-class expedition yacht launching in 2020. It will feature a full spa, all-butler suites, two excursion helicopters, a submarine and a marina. Silversea Cruises will debut three new ships in the next three years: Silver Origin, launching in 2020, is designed for the Galapagos where it will join Silver Galapagos; and two Evolution Class ships will launch in 2022. Seabourn will be building two ultra-luxury expeditions ships featuring onboard submarines slated to launch in summer 2021 and spring 2022. 

New grand staircase on board Oceania’s Regatta-Class ships.
New grand staircase on board Oceania’s Regatta-Class ships.

Building on its success, Ponant will be adding two Explorers series ships in 2019, and two more in 2020. Both will feature the line’s multi-sensory underwater “Blue Eye” lounge where passengers have windows on the underwater world and hydrophones that bring in the sounds of the sea. Ralph Lauren Home design takes to the seas on Oceania Cruises’ Marina and Riviera 2,000-plus-sq.-ft. Owner’s Suites—one of many enhancements planned for the line’s Oceania-Class ships. Also to be unveiled in 2019 is a redesign of Insignia, the first of four Regatta-Class ships to be refurbished, that will feature a new grand staircase with a grand chandelier to set the space aglow.  

Launching in 2019, Princess Cruises’ new 3,560-passenger Sky Princess will have added appeal to families and friend groups with its Sky Suites. They accommodate up to five guests and feature large furnished balconies, strategically placed for viewing for the ship’s Movies Under the Stars. The ship also will have the most jacuzzis of any Royal-Class ship, including two, cantilevered over deep-tank pools. A sister ship is slated to debut in 2020 and two LNG-powered ships are on order for 2022. Additionally, Camp Discovery kids and teen programs will be rolled out fleet-wide through 2019.

Windstar Cruises, too, has big plans in store with its $250 Million Star Plus Initiative, which will expand guest accommodations on the line’s three all-suite vessels increasing capacity from 212 passengers to 312 guests per ship, following the lengthening. The work will be done to Star Breeze, Star Legend, and Star Pride in succession between October 2019 and November 2020. The project represents an overall capacity increase of 24 percent for the small ship line. 

And two new lines will be entering the small ship luxury market: Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s first ship is slated to launch in 2020, while Virgin Voyages brings its first vessel to market in 2020 with an adults-only ship.

On the River Front
The world’s rivers will also see new ships this coming year. Nearly twice the width of traditional river ships, AmaWaterways’ AmaMagna features a watersports platform whose “toys” include an intimate Sundowner boat. The ship’s size will allow it to offer multiple dining and entertainment venues, as well as spacious cabins, most at least 355 sq. ft. It will begin sailing the Danube on May 5 and will introduce a concierge golf program. AmaWaterways is also launching AmaMora on the Rhine starting June 3 and AmaDouro on the Douro, which debuts April 2. Additionally, the line’s wellness activities will go fleet-wide across Europe and Southeast Asia this year.

Viking is launching seven new river ships in 2019, including six new Viking Longships that will sail the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, and one specifically designed for Portugal’s Douro River. Viking will also be launching a sixth ocean ship, Viking Jupiter, in February 2019. Like her sister ship Viking Orion, it will feature the Explorers’ Dome, a planetarium-like theater showing panoramic films about exploration and offering lectures and stargazing sessions led by a resident astronomer. Also of interest are Viking’s new combined river/ocean itineraries and a 13-day Arctic Circle winter itinerary that offers opportunities to steer a reindeer sleigh, mush a dog sled through the countryside, visit with Sami hosts, and have an up-close encounter with arctic wolves.

Back in the U.S.A., American Cruise Lines’ American Song (sailing the Colombia and Snake rivers in 2019), introduced in October, will be joined by sister ship American Harmony, launching on the Mississippi River in 2019. These “Modern Riverboats” take contemporary design to U.S. waterways with features such as a five-story glass atrium, spacious lounges, and staterooms with floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening to furnished balconies. 

Adventures, Ports, Special Interests
UnCruise Adventures, which features small ships equipped for kayaking, paddleboarding, skiff excursions, hiking, bushwhacking, biking, snorkeling and rafting, has added a Costa Rica/Panama voyage that combines cultural, wildlife and adventure activities. 

With lots of potential for iconic Instagram moments, Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay in The Bahamas will be rolling out in phases starting in January. It is the first of a series of “Perfect Day” private island destinations around the world. This $200 million investment in Royal Caribbean’s existing private destination will add several superlative experiences including the tallest waterslide in North America, the Caribbean’s largest wave pool, a helium balloon ride, and the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean. 

No secret, too, that the line’s Symphony of the Seas—featuring those stunning Ultimate Family Suites—started her Caribbean sailings last month and we were there to check out the world’s largest cruise ship (look for the onboard review in the January 2019 Recommend issue). 

Meanwhile, Carnival is working to convert Ensenada, a popular short-cruise getaway from southern California, into a more robust destination in its own right by 2020. And Windstar Cruises has launched a 6-month pilot enabling guests on select itineraries to use a special version of uTrip travel-planning software to further customize their in-port experiences. The platform provides descriptions, maps, menus and more to help guests select restaurants, attractions and activities based on personal interests and share their plans with fellow cruisers and friends.

In 2019, as part of its partnership with Oprah Magazine, Holland America Line will add O’s Reading Room fleet-wide. Plus in December 2018, Holland America teamed with Rolling Stone to create a new club playing curated classic rock called the Rolling Stone Rock Room, on the new Nieuw Statendam as well as Koningsdam.

“I love how just when you think there’s no way the cruise lines can think of even one more new cool thing, they do!” says Fee. “At the end of the day, we have great stories to share with our customers and for them to share with their friends. Sitting at a beach with the largest slide in the world is an example of something fun that we and our clients can talk about on social media.”