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New cruise ships for 2006: Be the first aboard and save

SmarterTravel

Six cruise lines are introducing new ships to their fleets in 2006. New ships often have new designs and amenities, such as onboard surfing on the Freedom of the Seas or the courtyard villas on the Pride of Hawai’i. If you want to be the first cruiser on the block to try out this year’s state-of-the-art ships, we’ll tell you when and where to find the newbies as well as how to save on these inaugural sailings.

Costa

The Costa Concordia, the newest ship in Italian cruise line Costa Cruises’ fleet, will sail her maiden voyage on July 14. The Concordia will be the largest Costa ship and will sport 1,500 cabins and a total guest capacity of 3,780 people. Features include a Formula One driving simulator, two swimming pools with retractable covers, and a two-deck spa with a gym, health spa, sauna, Turkish bath, and direct access from 55 staterooms and 12 suites. The Costa Concordia will sail a nine-night inaugural cruise, and then will sail seven-night Mediterranean cruises through November 19.

The Concordia‘s sister ship, the Costa Serena, makes her debut in May 2007. For more information, visit Costa’s website.

Holland America

Holland America will launch its fourth Vista-class ship, the ms Noordam, on February 22. The ship will make its home in New York and sail to the Southern and Eastern Caribbean. The Noordam will feature all of Holland America’s “Signature of Excellence” amenities, including a cyber cafe/coffee house, an expanded Pinnacle Grill, and new Pinnacle Bar. Other additions include a Culinary Arts Center, an expanded spa, and an upgraded children’s area with a teens-only lounge. For more information, visit Holland America’s website.

MSC Cruises

The MSC Musica sets sail on July 1 on a series of European voyages calling in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Croatia. The ship is expected to spend the winter in the Caribbean. MSC Cruises’ newest ship is also its largest; the Musica is about 50-percent larger than the MSC Opera and MSC Lirica. Highlights of the new ship include a three-deck waterfall in the central foyer, a casino, several restaurants (including a sushi bar and pizza/grill), mini-golf, and a tennis court. The Musica will host a maximum of 2,550 guests in 1,275 staterooms, 80 percent of which are outside cabins. For more information, visit MSC Cruises’ website.

Norwegian

When the Pride of Hawai’i joins the NCL America fleet in April, she’ll be the third Norwegian ship to cruise all-U.S. itineraries and be staffed by an American crew. The Pride of Hawai’i will sail seven-day round-trips from Honolulu and call in the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai. The ship features 10 restaurants (and Norwegian’s new dining reservations system), 12 bars, luxury villa staterooms with their own courtyards, and many cabins that can interconnect for family or group travel. For more information, visit Norwegian’s website.

Princess

When the Crown Princess debuts in June, it will be the first Princess ship to cruise from New York and to call regularly in Bermuda since 2002. The Crown Princess will sail nine-day Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises from June 14 through October 18 before repositioning to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to sail Southern Caribbean cruises over the winter. Princess’ new ship will include a variety of dining options, such as a new street cafe section, pub fare at the Wheelhouse Bar, a new steak and seafood restaurant with a theater-style kitchen, and an expanded Trattoria Sabatini. Almost 900 of the ship’s staterooms will feature private balconies. For more information, visit Princess’ website.

Royal Caribbean

The Freedom of the Seas has been creating a buzz for months, even though it won’t set sail until May. The ship will be the largest cruise ship in the world when it launches, and will carry 3,634 guests in 1,817 staterooms. Cruise aficionados are already talking about the Freedom‘s onboard surfing area, in addition to cantilevered whirlpools, an interactive water park, and a dedicated sports pool. The ship will also feature six new family-focused stateroom categories that will cater to large groups traveling together. The Freedom is set to sail seven-night Western Caribbean itineraries from Miami. For more information, visit Royal Caribbean’s website.

How to save on inaugural sailings

If you want to be one of the first onboard one of these ships without overpaying for the privilege, here are some tips to consider:

  • Check cruise line specials: Many cruise lines offer specials on their websites or via promotional emails. If you’re interested in experiencing a new ship, you may want to keep tabs on the cruise lines’ changing offers to see if they have introductory prices on their newest additions.
  • Shop around: Travel agents and online retailers can often find the best prices for your preferred itinerary and may even throw in extras such as shipboard credit or a complimentary bottle of wine. If you shop around, you can choose among several offers and make sure you’re getting the best deal out there.
  • Sail off-peak: Certain weeks of the year are heavier travel times than others. If you avoid holidays and school vacation weeks and choose sailing dates when others are content to stay home, you may find lower prices, even on new ships. The shoulder periods at the beginning or end of a cruise season are often good times to find deals.

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