Best New Cruise Ships for 2010

Cruise ship at sunset (Photo: iStockphoto)

In 2009, the 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger behemoth Oasis of the Seas shook the foundation of cruise travel (think Loft Suites, live trees, AquaTheater, Hairspray). 2010 will be the year in which another distinctive prototype design—Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Epic—makes its debut. The 153,000-ton, 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic has a bevy of new-to-cruise features to tout, including an ice bar, entertainment offerings headlined by the stylish Blue Man Group, the first-ever inner tube waterslide, and minimalist "studio" cabins that are aimed at a budget traveler.

On the small ship front, we're really excited about Sea Cloud Hussar, the latest offering from the venerable Hamburg-based Sea Cloud Cruises. The luxurious 440-foot, three-masted tall ship, all burnished brass and gleaming woods, will offer cruises in the Red Sea starting in November. 2010 will also see the debut of new river ships from Avalon Waterways, Viking River, and AMAWATERWAYS, all lines that have both enjoyed explosive growth over the past few years.

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There are a few key trends in 2010:

Carbon Casting from the Cruise Ship Mold. Of the 15 new cruise ships due out in 2010, all but three are at least the second (if not the third, fourth, or fifth) in a line of sisters. Costa took a surprising step down in size with Costa Luminosa in 2009, and sister Costa Deliziosa will be the second in its mid-size class. MSC Magnifica is the fourth in the line's Musica class. Celebrity's Eclipse carries on traditions begun by siblings Solstice and Equinox. German-based AIDA Cruises is debuting AIDAblu, the fourth (of six!) ships in its Sphinx series. And Allure of the Seas, the second in the Royal Caribbean's revolutionary Oasis class, will debut at the end of 2010.

But ... Sister Ship Doesn't Necessarily Mean Spitting Image. Take British cruise line P&O Cruises' Azura, which is physically identical to sister ship Ventura. While Ventura went after the family sector by way of bungee trampolines, circus school, and an impressive kids' club, Azura is taking aim at a more sophisticated set of mainstream cruisers—such as couples that would be comfortable on Celebrity's Solstice-class vessels.

New Ships Get Unusual Homeport Assignments. While cruise lines have long relied on North American passengers—and so have often debuted ships in the U.S.—there's been a sea change over the last few years. Celebrity Equinox was christened in the U.K. last summer and Eclipse will actually be based in England for a full season when it debuts this spring. Costa Cruises, which has been offering Dubai-based Arabian Gulf itineraries with its older ships, will seasonally homeport its two newest ships—Luminosa and Deliziosa—there in 2010.

Beyond the trends, here's a line-by-line rundown of what's on tap in 2010:

Cruise Line: Costa Cruises

Ship: Costa Deliziosa

Maiden Voyage: February 5

The Inside Scoop: While there isn't much structurally to distinguish the 92,700-ton, 2,260-passenger Costa Deliziosa from identical sister ship Costa Luminosa, the homeport for the ship's maiden season—Dubai—is truly unique. Costa Deliziosa will be christened in the Emirate on February 23, marking the first time a new cruise ship has been named in the Middle East. It'll then offer a season of cruises out of Dubai through early May.

Design-wise, Deliziosa and Luminosa will differ in terms of decor—both are designed by Joe Farcus, a ship architect best known for his dramatic and whimsical Carnival Cruise Lines interiors. Deliziosa's theme is "life's pleasures." This new class of ship represents a smaller prototype for Costa Cruises, and these more mid-size vessels can actually fit through the Panama Canal. Onboard highlights include the fleet's highest proportion of balcony cabins (772 of 1,130 cabins or 68 percent), PlayStation 3 (PS3) game consoles in every cabin, a 4D cinema, an 18-hole championship golf course simulator, and the line's now trademark double-deck Samsara Spa with adjacent spa accommodations.

Where It Will Sail: Deliziosa will launch in winter 2010 with a season of seven-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai that'll visit Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Fujairah. Then it's on to Europe, with sailings in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and British Isles.

Cruise Line: AIDA

Ship: AIDAblu

Maiden Voyage: February 9

The Inside Scoop: AIDAblu is the fourth ship in the German cruise line's Sphinx series, which is currently comprised of AIDAluna, AIDAdiva, and AIDAbella. With the exception of an additional half deck of spa cabins, there will be few differences between AIDAblu and its three older sisters. Still, the series is one of the breeziest in cruising, with stylishly designed spaces and an absence of cruise conventions like dress codes and fixed seating. Onboard, the ship boasts the fabulous Theatrium—a soaring venue that plays host to everything from theater-in-the-round dance performances to shore lectures and cooking demos. Other high points are its massive spa and wellness area, themed buffet evenings, a selection of upscale boutique restaurants, and the first ever brewery on a cruise ship.

In another interesting touch, the ship's godmother, designer Jette Loop, will do more than just give the nod for the Champagne smash; she'll also be designing uniforms for the masters and officers in the AIDA Cruises fleet.

Editor's Note: While AIDA is owned by U.S.-based Carnival Corporation, this is a German/Austrian/Swiss product through and through. There is absolutely no effort made to reach out to non-German-speaking travelers, though of course all are welcome onboard.

Where It Will Sail: The ship will offer cruises to Western Europe out of Hamburg during spring 2010, followed by cruises to the Baltic out of Warnemunde in the summer, and finally Canary Island cruises from Tenerife from September 2010 through April 2011.

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises

Ship: MSC Magnifica

Maiden Voyage: March 7

The Inside Scoop: Sister ship to the 93,300-ton, 2,518-passenger MSC Musica (2006), MSC Orchestra (2007), and MSC Poesia (2008), MSC Magnifica will share many of the same onboard features. These include a central foyer with three-deck-high waterfall; a large percentage of balcony cabins (about two-thirds of cabins have balconies); five restaurants; and a 16,000-square-foot spa area. There are, however, a couple of new features on Magnifica that weren't on its siblings. The biggest addition is a retractable roof, or "magrodome," above the mid-ship pool, which allows for continued swimming during inclement weather or on the ship's cooler weather cruises. On the smaller side, the Chinese specialty restaurant introduced on Orchestra, but absent on Poesia or Musica, is back by popular demand.

Like other ships on our 2010 list, what really distinguishes Magnifica from its three sister ships are the itineraries. Magnifica will debut with a series of rather traditional Mediterranean voyages—but then the ship will cross the Atlantic to New York for a fall season of Canada and New England cruises, a first for the line and highly unusual for a European operator. MSC's aim here is most definitely to court more stateside cruisers—but it also wants to introduce its core European market to new itineraries, and Canada (and New England) definitely qualifies. The line's massive popularity in Europe will assure that even on the Canada cruises, the passenger mix will be cosmopolitan: a blend of Europeans and Americans.

Where It Will Sail: Magnifica will sail in the Mediterranean followed by Canada and New England. After the fall foliage season, the ship will reposition south to Fort Lauderdale, where it will offer Caribbean cruises.

Cruise Line: Avalon Waterways

Ships: Avalon Felicity and Avalon Luminary

Maiden Voyage: March 28 for Felicity; August 1 for Luminary

The Inside Scoop: River cruising has always been a popular form of travel with Europeans, but as the cruise style has gained in popularity with English speakers in the 2000's, a number of fledgling English-language operators—including Avalon, AMAWATERWAYS, Viking River, Uniworld, and Tauck—have enjoyed rapid expansion.

Avalon Felicity and Luminary are the fourth and fifth ships, respectively, in Avalon's "Scenery class" (Avalon Scenery debuted in 2008 as the first in the series). Like their predecessors, the new-builds feature an all-outside cabin setup, with standard cabins measuring 172 square feet—healthy footage for a river ship (where cabins are particularly tiny)—and junior suites at 258 square feet. A number of the ship's cabins have "French balconies," sliding glass doors with a protective railing (though you can't step out). Onboard, passengers will find a sun deck with a small pool, a "Sky Grill" for al fresco dining, two lounges, an open-seating dining room, a hairdresser, and a fitness center. Felicity and Scenery also boast some of river cruising's most modern touches, including flat-screen TV's in the cabins and an elevator for general passenger use.

Where They Will Sail: Both ships will offer traditional river cruise itineraries along Europe's great waterways, including the Rhine, Danube, and their tributaries.

Cruise Line: AMAWATERWAYS

Ship: Amabella

Maiden Voyage: May

The Inside Scoop: Like competitor Avalon Waterways, the AMAWATERWAYS fleet has been expanding quickly—striving to increase capacity without having to reinvent the wheel. Like its half dozen near-identical siblings, Amabella will offer almost all-inclusive cruising. Beyond the cruise ship standards—food, accommodation, entertainment—there's complimentary wine and beer with dinner, unlimited Internet use, and guided tours in each port. There are also about 20 bikes available for exploring onshore (bike use included in the fare).

Then there are the onboard innovations, the modern additions that have made AMA's ships some of the most modern on Europe's rivers. All cabins have "Infotainment" setups, basically flat-screen TV's with Internet access, movie and music libraries, bow and navigational cams, and more. Amabella also boasts bow to stern Wi-Fi, an elevator, wireless audio devices for port tours, and a collapsible bridge that enables it to pass underneath even the lowest river bridges.

Editor's Note: For its first year, Amabella has been chartered for the Australian cruise market. It will be marketed exclusively to Aussies.

Where It Will Sail: The ship will likely sail itineraries along Europe's great waterways, including the Rhine, Mosel, Main, and Danube.

Cruise Line: P&O Cruises

Ship: Azura

Maiden Voyage: April 12

The Inside Scoop: P&O Cruises' Azura will actually represent a dramatic departure from the family-centric Ventura, with which it shares a basic layout. That's because the 116,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Azura is being geared primarily to adults and couples. The majority of sailings will be two weeks or longer, which naturally limits the number of families, and the onboard ambience will be more refined.

Highlights of Azura include single cabins, an adults-only sun deck sanctuary called The Retreat (with adjacent spa cabins), and an upscale Indian Restaurant, Sindhu, backed by celebrity chef Atul Kochar. Azura will also feature P&O's first giant poolside movie screen, a concept borrowed from sister line Princess Cruises. All this isn't to say Azura will be anti-family—the bungee trampolines and Wii room from Ventura are back, too.

Where It Will Sail: Azura will debut with a season of Mediterranean cruises out of Southampton, then cruises to the Caribbean, then the Canary Islands (starting in October 2010), then the Caribbean. Most cruises are two weeks or longer, with a few shorter cruises mixed in.

Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruises

Ship: Celebrity Eclipse

Maiden Voyage: April 26

The Inside Scoop: Celebrity Eclipse is the third in the innovative Solstice class of ships, which as of now includes Celebrity Solstice (2008) and Celebrity Equinox (2009); a fourth, Celebrity Silhouette, will launch in 2011. The 117,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse will debut in Southampton and will offer all of Celebrity Solstice's innovations—the multiple dining venues from French to Asian fusion; the Lawn Club, a grass-covered spot for picnics, bocce, and other activities; a glass-blowing studio; and a gorgeous solarium with an indoor pool. Differences will be minor; decor and color palette will vary slightly, and there's a possibility that one or two of the restaurants may have new themes and menus.

While sister ship Celebrity Equinox flirted with the U.K. cruising public—it was christened in Southampton in July 2009—Celebrity Eclipse is looking for a full-blown love affair. The ship will homeport out of Southampton for its maiden spring and summer season before heading to the Caribbean to offer roundtrip sailings out of Miami. Celebrity won't be going all out to cater to the local market (it also anticipates it will appeal to its core North American audience), but there will be little tweaks. Additions to the food menu include mushy peas, steak, and kidney pie.

Where It Will Sail: Celebrity Eclipse will offer ex-U.K. sailings around the British Isles and Ireland, Scandinavia, and the Canary Islands, followed by Caribbean cruises out of Miami during the colder months. The ship will head back to Southampton in 2011.

Cruise Line: Compangie Du Ponant

Ship: Le Boreal

Maiden Voyage: May 6

The Inside Scoop: French line Compangie Du Ponant has two super sleek new-builds under construction at Fincantieri Shipyard in Italy: the 264-passenger Le Boreal, which will debut in May 2010, and sister ship L'Austral, which will set sail in 2011. These ships will be razor-sharp, state-of-the-art yachts, featuring all-outside cabins ranging in size from 200 to 398 square feet (95 percent of them will have balconies).

Le Boreal will feature two restaurants, a main restaurant serving upscale French and international cuisine, and a casual outdoor grill venue. Other public areas include a venue for lectures and performances; a panoramic lounge with Internet access, a library, and a cocktail bar; a lounge for dancing, live music performances, and afternoon tea service; a sun deck with swimming pool and outdoor bar; a casino; and a spa and fitness center with massage rooms, steam rooms, and a Turkish bath.

Intrigued but don't speak French? English-speaking audiences will get a taste of the ships via charter agreements with American-based Tauck World Discovery.

Where It Will Sail: When Le Boreal debuts in 2010, it will be a path-finding super-yacht offering Mediterranean and Northern Europe (including Iceland), U.S. and Canada, Caribbean and Amazon River, Antarctica and South America cruises.

Cruise Line: Seabourn

Ship: Seabourn Sojourn

Maiden Voyage: June 6

The Inside Scoop: The 32,000-ton, 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn, the second ship in the luxury line's Odyssey class, will be identical to the first-in-class Seabourn Odyssey (a third, still-unnamed sibling will debut in summer 2011). According to a spokesman from the line, there will be a handful of differences, but nothing major—slight tweaks in decor, for example, or a couple of new things in the spa.

Speaking of the spa, Sojourn and sister ship Odyssey share the distinction of having the largest spa on any luxury cruise ship. Like Odyssey, Sojourn's 11,400-square-foot spa will span two decks and include indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, as well as a Kinesis wall in the fitness center that will combine cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training into one workout. The decadent, 750-square-foot spa villas are back as well, as are Odyssey's range of dining options, which include the avant garde Restaurant 2 with its tasting menu of innovative dishes; the indoor-outdoor Colonnade restaurant, where diners can watch their breakfasts, lunches, or dinners being prepared in the open kitchen; and course-by-course, in-suite dining. Also included in the design are traditional Seabourn favorites, such as a water sports platform.

Seabourn Sojourn will be christened in Greenwich, England.

Where It Will Sail: The 14-night maiden cruise will visit the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Norwegian Fjords, and the following itineraries include sailings in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and even the rivers of Western Europe. For the winter months, the ship will reposition to the Caribbean with cruises out of Fort Lauderdale.

Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line

Ship: Norwegian Epic

Maiden Voyage: June 24

The Inside Scoop: Norwegian Cruise Line's 153,000-ton 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic, the lone new-build to emerge from the once two-ship "F3" project, will debut in summer 2010 as the largest, trendiest, and most innovative new design ever from NCL. While the line is transferring much of what already works on its smaller ships—freestyle dining (Epic will have over a dozen restaurants), a nightclub-cum-bowling alley (NCL's added another three-lane alley in the sports bar, O'Sheehans), tons of balconies (the majority of outsides will have them), and the Courtyard Villa complex—there are plenty of new concepts as well, solidifying Norwegian Epic's status as the most eagerly anticipated new cruise ship of 2010.

On the sun deck, a sprawling Aqua Park will boast three waterslides, including one that utilizes an inner tube ("Epic Plunge"); a twisty slide (a la Carnival Dream's corkscrew slide); and one just for kids that actually goes right through the rock-climbing wall. The ship will also boast an impressive variety of active pursuits, including cruising's first batting cage at sea, a climbing cage called the "Spider Web," and a ropes course.

As for accommodations, the already-trendsetting NCL is introducing a new style of cabin, the "Studio." There are 128 modern studios, a miniscule 100 square feet apiece, on Decks 11 and 12. The studios are all insides that sleep two passengers, each with a corridor facing window. Similar in concept to the ship-within-a-ship Courtyard Villa idea (though perhaps more like easyCruise in style), studio passengers get an exclusive, shared social space called the Living Room, featuring a bar, two large TV screens, a concierge for booking dinner reservations and shore excursions, and comfy seating for hanging out, ordering room service, or sipping pre-dinner drinks.

On the entertainment front, the Second City improve troupe gains their own stand-alone comedy venue, and Vegas favorite Blue Man Group will join NCL's already innovative entertainment offerings.

Where It Will Sail: Norwegian Epic will sail alternating weeklong Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises through April 2011. The Western Caribbean cruise includes stops in Costa Maya, Roatan, and Cozumel. Norwegian Epic's Eastern Caribbean itinerary includes calls in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau.

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Nieuw Amsterdam

Maiden Voyage: July 4

The Inside Scoop: The 86,000-ton, 2,106-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam, the fourth ship in Holland America's venerable history to carry the name, is a sibling to Eurodam, which launched last year.

History aside, Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam will be largely identical to sister ship Eurodam, though interiors will pay homage to its namesake New York City. As part of the fleet's evolutionary Signature class of ships, new innovations include the addition of the Pan-Asian Tamarind restaurant; the fabulously exotic Silk Den lounge; Canaletto, a casual Italian eatery; Holland America's impressive enrichment opportunities (photo, culinary, and computer classes); and state-of-the-art navigation and safety systems. The ship will also feature the Retreat, an exclusive, open-deck area with private cabanas that are available for rent.

Where It Will Sail: Nieuw Amsterdam will sail a variety of 12-night Eastern Mediterranean itineraries roundtrip from Venice or between Barcelona, Spain, and Venice. These cruises will visit ports throughout Greece, Croatia, Turkey, and Italy.

Cruise Line: Cunard

Ship: Queen Elizabeth

Maiden Voyage: October 12

The Inside Scoop: The 90,400-ton, 2,092-passenger Queen Elizabeth is a sister ship to Queen Victoria, which debuted in late 2007. There will be a few tweaks to Queen Elizabeth, including a very different design scheme evocative of art deco (Queen Victoria was more focused on British opulence). Other additions include a glass roof erected over the games deck (with its sporting pursuits inspired by those from the 30's, including bowls, croquet, and paddle tennis).

Minor differences aside, both ships are aiming to please the classic cruise aficionado looking for Cunard tradition. There's the 1,000-square-foot dance floor for ballroom dancing during formal evenings, the wood-paneled 6,000-book library, the elegant theater complete with private boxes, and the cruise class structure (passengers in the Princess Grill suites, for instance, have their own dining room). In line with the ambience of elegance at sea, Queen Elizabeth's shopping parade will feature Harrods and Hermes shops.

Where It Will Sail: Queen Elizabeth's maiden voyage will follow the same path taken by QE2 on its first voyage. Departing Southampton on 12 October, 2010, the 13-night voyage will sail from Southampton to Vigo, Lisbon, Cadiz, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, and Madeira. Other itineraries, from October 2010 to January 2011, include voyages to the Western and Central Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

Cruise Line: Sea Cloud Cruises

Ship: Sea Cloud Hussar

Maiden Voyage: November 4

Inside Scoop: Sea Cloud Hussar, Sea Cloud Cruises' stunning 138-passenger, full-rigged, three-masted tall ship, will debut in fall 2010. At 440 feet long, the ship will be the largest of its kind at sea. The luxury sailing ship is currently under construction in Spain at Factoria de Naval Marin.

Onboard, amongst the antiqued brass and polished veneer, passengers will find an elegant lido bar and bistro; lounge; traditional restaurant; library; spa with sauna, steam bath and relaxation area, hydro-massage shower, and treatment rooms; swimming platform; sun deck; and a small gym. All cabins are oceanview (23 have balconies) and feature bathrobes, slippers, hair dryers, TV's, and direct e-mail access. But beyond the upscale ambience, a cruise on Sea Cloud Hussar will focus on the sailing experience, and nautically minded cruisers will enjoy the top deck spaces where masts and sea breeze connect.

Where It Will Sail: After an inaugural cruise from Athens to Larnaca, Cyprus, Sea Cloud Hussar will begin sailing cruises out of Dubai to destinations in the Arabian Gulf including Muscat, Fujairah, and Abu Dhabi.

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Allure of the Seas

Maiden Voyage: December 12

The Inside Scoop: The 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas will join sister ship Oasis of the Seas as the biggest cruise ship ever constructed—the Oasis-class vessels are a whopping 40 percent larger than the previous titleholders, Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class trio. Allure of the Seas will feature all the same mind-blowing innovations found on Oasis of the Seas, including its Loft Suites, cupcake cupboard, zip-lining, 20-plus dining options, and zero-entry beach pool. Of course, the revolutionary neighborhood concept pioneered on Oasis is back. The ships are divided into seven regions, each with its own purpose—from Central Park, a tropical plant- and tree-filled promenade with cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops, to the Boardwalk, a Coney Island-esque space featuring a handmade wooden carousel and AquaTheater.

Where It Will Sail: Allure of the Seas will sail alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises every Sunday from Ft. Lauderdale starting December 12, 2010. The Eastern Caribbean voyages will call on St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Nassau. The Western Caribbean voyages will call on Falmouth, Jamaica's new cruise port; Cozumel; and Labadee, Royal Caribbean's private beach on Haiti. Both itineraries will feature three days at sea.

What ships do you look forward to sailing on in 2010? Do you think the new ships have left any amenities out? Share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas by submitting a comment below!

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