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New Cruise Ships in 2009

The star of the “class of 2009″—no question—is Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, and it’s not just because the 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger behemoth is, by far, the largest cruise ship ever built. It’s also the most fantastical. Features like neighborhoods—designated as Central Park and the Boardwalk—an onboard zip-line, the Aqua Theater for aerial acrobatics, and a bar that rises five stories like an elevator really make the ship awe-inspiring.

And between now and November, when the ship is due for completion, you’ll hear much about it.

Still, that doesn’t mean the nine other new-builds slated for delivery this year are forgettable. Others will be trendsetters too. Carnival’s Carnival Dream is the first new design for the Fun Ship line since it launched Carnival Conquest in 2002. Costa Cruises is taking a retro-step with the unique design of Costa Luminosa, which will be its first new ship in years that’s small enough to slide through the Panama Canal. Along with an expanded range of itineraries, its highlights include a 4D cinema and a rollerblading track. Seabourn Odyssey is not only the first new ship on the luxury horizon in five years, it also represents a fresh, new interpretation of the upscale cruising lifestyle. And, in the river cruise niche, Viking River Cruises is raising eyebrows with its innovative new Viking Legend.

Trendwise, I found that most of 2009’s new ships fall into one of three categories:

Biggest Ever: Oasis of the Seas may be the biggest cruise ship ever, but many ships debuting in 2009 will be the largest in their respective lines. Seabourn Odyssey, Carnival Dream, Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit, and Viking Legend will sport new designs and the largest size of all their fleetmates. The increased size gives the cruise lines more room to offer new and improved onboard facilities like expanded spas and kids’ areas.

Carbon Copies: Many ships launching in 2009 are almost exact replicas of vessels that debuted in 2008. Costa Pacifica, MSC Splendida, Celebrity Equinox, and AIDALuna all take their design from their trend-setting older sisters (Costa Serena and Costa Concordia, MSC Fantasia, Celebrity Solstice, and AIDADiva and AIDABella, respectively). Incidentally, all four will also share the title of “biggest in fleet” with their clones. If you’re looking for differences, check the restaurant roster. I’ve heard that a few lines might spice things up by offering a different specialty eatery on the second ship.

The Exception: Costa is leaning from big to bigger—and, at the same time, introducing a more nimble, Panamax-sized ship. The latter is why Costa Luminosa is in a class all its own—a unique new design that’s afforded the luxury of a smaller size. (Could Alaska be in its future?) And of course, on the very same day—in 2009’s only dual christening—the line will unveil Costa Pacifica, a sibling to the Costa Serena style of big-ship design.

Here’s our sneak preview of the year’s new ship launches.

(Image: Royal Caribbean International)

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