Why is this year the most exciting in cruising in a long time?
In 2016 already — and we’re not even halfway through the year — we’ve seen the debut of an unprecedented number of brand-new ship designs, as well as introductions of older vessels that have been vastly re-imagined to look like new. And the good news goes beyond the ships themselves, as a new cruise line takes voluntourism very seriously — and, for the first time in decades, U.S. travelers can now visit Cuba via a cruise ship leaving from an American port.
Cruise Critic’s team (as well as Cruise Critic members) have been checking out all these launches, and we thought we’d offer up a handy scorecard to help you keep track of your favorites — or help you figure out which one best fits you.
If you don’t find your own exact fit here, there’s more to come. We’re excited about brand-new summer debuts too, mostly with river and luxury ships, including Adventures by Disney’s family-oriented river cruise partnership (with AmaWaterways), Regent Seven Seas’ splashy new ultra-luxe Explorer, and Crystal’s first-ever river boat, Crystal Mozart. Stay tuned.
Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas
What’s happening? Just completed, the 5,479-passenger Harmony officially launches in the U.K. this weekend (it’ll come to American shores in November).
What to know? The new biggest-ship-ever, Harmony is largely based on Royal Caribbean’s super popular Oasis and Allure of the Seas design, with major influences — Jamie Oliver’s restaurant among others — from newer fleetmate Anthem of the Seas.
This matters: For adventurers, the all-knew Ultimate Abyss is a 10-story high water slide (pack your Go-Pro — or check out our fabulous video of the ride — from the inside).
Show Harmony of the Seas Prices
Ship: Holland America’s Konigsdam
What’s happening: The biggest ship Holland America has ever built, Konigsdam aims to balance the line’s venerable appeal to senior travelers with fresh new activities for more active cruise passengers. It debuted in April.
This matters: Holland America has ramped up the food quality from casual to gourmet. It’s got a superb New York Deli & Pizza — and its new concept French seafood brasserie Sel de Mer is a winner, too; Dover sole is a trademark dish.
Another success: Lincoln Center Stage, a classical music partnership that exists on other Holland America vessels, has its own venue here and the place is usually packed. Note: Pack your own reading materials — has the fleet’s Explorations CafÃ© powered by the New York Times, by its vastly reduced the space for books.
Read our Koningsdam Hits and Misses.
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Ship: Viking Oceans’ Viking Sea
What’s happening: In April, Viking Ocean, which launched Viking Star, its first newbuild last year, debuted Viking Sea, its nearly identical sibling. The cruise line continues to emphasize travel-intensive itineraries in Europe (though we’re looking forward to Viking’s interpretation of the Caribbean and New England Canada, later this fall and winter) and a focus on the trip — not just the ship.
What Matters: On a ship that carries just 930 passengers, the dining options are unusually varied — and we give a lot of credit to a major revamping of the set-menu The Chef’s Table venue. When it originally debuted, it was formal and too-languidly paced; now it’s much more casual and fun. The menu (and the complementary wine pairing choices) changes every three days, making this the sea-going equivalent of a series of pop-up restaurants (different themes include the newly added Norwegian Bistro and Chinese in addition to favorites like Venice Carnival and La Route des Indes).
Read our Viking Sea Hits and Misses
Ship: Fathom’s Adonia
What’s happening: Fathom, Carnival Corporation’s experiment with voluntourism, launched in May with service-minded cruises to the Dominican Republic, where travelers can teach locals’ English and help improve water supply. And in an historic first, Fathom was the first U.S.-based big ship cruise line to receive approval to cruise Cuba.
This Matters: It’s a new cruise line, and it’s still feeling its way. Note that it operates on an alternating schedule of seven day cruises, one week to the Dominican Republic for truly hands on volunteering and one week to Cuba for a more cultural experience, and these are diametrically different experiences.
Read our Fathom Adonia Hits and Misses from the Dominican Republic (voluntourism cruise)
Read our Fathom Adonia Hits and Misses from Cuba (people to people cruise)
Ship: Carnival Vista
What’s happening: For fans of Carnival, this all-new vessel, which debuted in early May, has the requisite «fun ship» stuff but its strong family focus may attract newcomers to the line.
This Matters: On Vista, Carnival’s debuting Family Harbor, the first ever ship-within-a-ship concept for families. Cabins, some with occupancies of up to five passengers — fairly unusual in cruise — are wrapped around a concierge lobby limited to residents. It’s a great option for sending the kids out to play (when they’re not in Vista’s actual kids clubs) and keeping ’em close by, too.
Read our Carnival Vista Hits and Misses
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Ship: Oceania’s Sirena
What’s happening: Oceania acquired the fourth in a series of intimate, 690-passenger vessels and debuted Sirena in early May. Sirena, is in all the best ways just like its near identical Regatta, Insignia and Nautica siblings in the Oceania family — with a twist.
What Matters: Oceania’s the first cruise line to make a big investment in beyond the ubiquitous upmarket burger grills on many lines. We were blown away by the introduction of Jacques Pepin’s noon-time bistro, available only on Sirena (for now, anyway). Essentially every day, save for embarkation, passengers who want a recourse to the buffet or grill can leisurely dine on steak au poivre, Dover sole, the most fabulous escargot, and even a Croque-Monsieur (a French interpretation of a grilled ham and cheese) — as if they were lunching in a Marseilles boite.
Read our Oceania Sirena First Impressions.
Show Sirena Prices