The arrival of 2016 brings new cruise ships for families, foodies, culture lovers, sybarites, and adventure seekers. Among them are the world’s largest passenger vessel and one that’s touted as the most luxurious ever built.
Bigger than the rest
Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas outsizes everything. It measures 227,000 gross tons, soars 18 decks high, and carries 6,410 passengers. But it’s the experiences that count.
This is an action-oriented ship. Robots will shake your martini. Make it a stiff one because you’ll need courage to try the Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea. It’s not a water slide but rather a pair of side-by-side tubes that spiral down 10 decks.
Or test your mettle on a trio of water slides that start high above the live treetops of Harmony of the Seas’ Central Park neighborhood. Together, Cyclone, Monsoon, and Typhoon are dubbed "The Perfect Storm."
Get out more often
More open to the sea than any other Carnival Cruise Line ship, Carnival Vista sports loads of alfresco attractions.
One is SkyRide, a suspended, open-air cycling experience on an 800-foot track high above the sea. Pedal your way around in recumbent bikes. Nearby is a ropes course. And in Kaleid-O-Slide, you float on rafts through a tube with kaleidoscopic effects.
All these add up to a magnet for families, and Carnival Vista has a special Family Harbor area with rooms sleeping up to five people. There’s a family lounge, too, with a concierge, games, breakfast, and snacks.
The Havana Cabanas are new, as well. These staterooms have their own patios on a lanai and are close to the indoor-outdoor Havana Bar, now with a pool.
For the first time, Carnival will have a brewery—in the indoor-outdoor RedFrog Pub. And the IMAX Theater is a first at sea.
Breaking with tradition
Koningsdam updates the experiences offered on what has been one of the most traditional lines, Holland America.
The Culinary Arts Center consists of a show kitchen and individual cooking stations. Regionally inspired workshops and kids’ and teens’ classes will be available. In the evening, the room transforms into a farm-to-table experience where the chefs prepare simple, artisanal dishes.
Try your skill at winemaking in BLEND, a venue developed with Washington state’s Chateau Ste. Michelle.
The new restaurant, Sel de Mer, serves classic French seafood dishes with a contemporary twist, from fresh oysters and seafood chowder to salt-crusted whole fish and bouillabaisse. Choose your meal from a selection of fresh fish and shellfish displayed on ice.
Koningsdam elevates the piano bar concept by partnering with Billboard for an interactive musical history experience, while also bringing intimate chamber music performances to sea in partnership with Lincoln Center. There’s a B.B. King Blues Club, too.
The World Stage is surrounded by a two-deck-high LED screen. Shows with footage from BBC Earth’s Frozen Planet, set to live music, will play here.
Adding designer and gourmet touches
Seabourn augments its line of pampering, club-like Odyssey Class ships with Seabourn Encore, which adds a deck and expanded public areas. Still intimate, the all-veranda-suite vessel can carry 604 passengers.
For the first time, hospitality design icon Adam D. Tihany (Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, One&Only Cape Town, the Beverly Hills Hotel) is creating the interiors for an entire ship. He’s continuing the understated elegance that characterizes Seabourn and the subtle nautical references in the ample suites.
And Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller (the French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon) will bring his French and American cuisine to a signature restaurant onboard.
Redefining "over the top"
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is going all out for its first new build in 13 years. A lavish 3,875-square-foot top suite with its own in-room spa, swanky lounges, gourmet restaurants, and perhaps the largest space ratio of any cruise ship characterize Seven Seas Explorer.
The company touts it as the most luxurious ship ever built. The Regent Suite is dripping in rich marbles, wood veneer, and gold and silver inlays. In the en suite spa, you can indulge in unlimited Canyon Ranch treatments, included in the $10,000 per night fare.
Among the restaurants are Chartreuse (French), Prime 7 (steak), Sette Mari (Italian), and Pacific Rim (pan-Asian). If you want to do the cooking yourself, head to the Culinary Arts Kitchen.
From here to infinity
Viking Sea is the twin sister of 2015’s acclaimed 930-passenger Viking Star, which was the first ship for Viking Ocean Cruises.
Befitting its Nordic heritage, Viking Sea’s spa has a snow grotto. An infinity pool beckons on the aft Aquavit Terrace. In the Explorers’ Lounge, you can nibble waffles and brown Norwegian goat cheese from the Scandinavian deli, or stretch out on a fur-draped sofa with a book from the upstairs library.
Books abound in many corners of the ship, including the beautiful, glass-topped Wintergarden. Viking emphasizes enrichment, lectures by guest experts, and the destinations, so it’s no surprise many travelers are avid readers.
Anne Kalosh doesn’t count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she’s on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.