Out on the Water
Blink twice - and bam! - the cruise world morphs again. New ocean liners - plus one shiny yacht - redefine luxury.
Meanwhile, biz tycoons toy with wearing cruise owner caps. Plus, more cooking schools, polar explorations, exotic itineraries, riverboats. The good life of cruising gets a whole lot better, this year and beyond. Here, a roundup of some of the best, most enticing new ships, voyages, and onboard services from many of your favorite cruise lines.
AWATERWAYS goes big with its first Bordeaux, France, cruises - 24 seven-night voyages along the Garonne River and surrounding estuaries on the 146-passenger AmaDolce. Fourteen of the cruises sail round-trip from Bordeaux, with departures between March and November. The other 10, called "Taste of Bordeaux" voyages, are more intensively wine-themed and sail round-trip from Paris, with departures between April and November. 800-626-0126; amawaterways.com
AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY. Luxury suites on the American Empress and American Queen (which primarily ply the Columbia and Mississippi rivers) now come with round-the-clock butlers to pamper, placate, and please. They make for smooth sailing by handling packing, laundry, in-suite meals and tea, plus deliver canapes and post-dinner sweets. 888-749-5280; aqsc.com
A-ROSA CRUISES. This year, on its ships sailing Europe, A-Rosa upgrades its culinary experience with a 38- to 45-seat dining space for fancy food and wine pairings to complement the buffets served in the main restaurant. Dine complimentary up to four nights in the new space on a seven-night cruise. Menus vary per season and river but are usually elegant four-course affairs with regional wines. 855-552-7672; arosacruises.com
AVALON WATERWAYS debuts "Enchanting Belgium" on the quiet Meuse and Sambre rivers. Tour Ghent, Antwerp, and the still-haunting World War I battlefields of Flanders. Avalon Luminary sails between Amsterdam and Namur, Belgium, departing April 4 and 12. Avalon Artistry II sails the same route April 13 and 21. 877-797-8791; avalonwaterways.com
AZAMARA club cruises Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest undergo face-lifts early this year. Highlights? Two new spa suites next to Sanctum Spa; major changes in existing suites, from furnishings to modernized baths; and glammed-up staterooms, too. Journey begins beautification in January; Quest in April. 877-999-9553; azamaraclubcruises.com
CELEBRITY CRUISES now features 43 overnights and 14 new evening excursions on Caribbean sails. Nighttime fun includes jazz under the stars in Cozumel, Mexico; in Colombia, carriage rides through Cartagena's cobblestoned streets; and a St. Maarten catamaran sunset cruise. 800-437-3111; celebritycruises.com
CRYSTAL CRUISES. With seemingly ocean-floor-deep pockets, new owner Genting Hong Kong could revolutionize the luxury travel world. A peek inside Crystal's ball:
• Crystal Exclusive Class reinvents luxury cruising with three polar-class ocean liners, each with 1,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members. Each vessel is all-suite, all-balcony and will come with submarine, helicopter, and zodiacs. Top-deck residences for sale have a private restaurant and other exclusive venues; owners can mingle - or not - with hoi polloi below. First ship debuts in late 2018.
• Crystal River Cruises dubs its five vessels river yachts. On each ship, most of the 42 to 80 suites will measure 203 to 250 square feet, have walk-in wardrobes, and come with American king-size beds. Port overnights and Michelin-starred restaurant dining ashore add to the appeal. The first, Crystal Mozart, debuts in Europe in July. Others follow in 2017.
• Crystal Yacht Cruises debuted Esprit, a 62-passenger, suites-only yacht in the Seychelles in December. It's all clubby elegance, with menus starring local ingredients. Plus, it's teeming with toys: four zodiacs, a two-passenger submarine, personal watercrafts, and kayaks. A 32-foot superyacht tender whisks you and guests to hideaways. Esprit remains in the Seychelles until late March, before it glides to the Med for trips between Venice and Dubrovnik until late October.
• Crystal Luxury Air may cruise about 40,000 feet above sea level, but the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with 60 flatbed luxury seats, offers itineraries that coordinate with Crystal's riverboats and ocean liners. Guests may easily board an air journey pre- or post-cruise. Lavish 28-day jaunts begin in spring 2017; a second plane soon follows. 888-799-4625; crystalcruises.com
CUNARD'S Queen Mary 2 gets refurbished in June. Admire its refreshed look on a 132-day world cruise for 2,695 guests that comprises 40 ports in 23 countries, 33 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and nine maiden calls. Sails round-trip from New York, departing Jan. 3, 2017.
• The Queen Victoria presents a Cunard first on a 120-night journey - five days on the Amazon - and breaks all records as the largest ship (holds 2,006 guests) to transit the river. Sails round-trip from Southampton, England, departing Jan. 5, 2017. 800-528-6273; cunard.com
EMERALD WATERWAYS. A 16-day adventure on the 68-passenger Mekong Navigator explores Cambodia and Vietnam by land and along the Mekong River, plus you board a luxury junk for a two-night Halong Bay sail. Be blessed at a Buddhist monastery, too. Sails between Hanoi and Siem Reap, Cambodia, departing Feb. 22, March 21, and May 2. 855-222-3214; emeraldwaterways.com
HAPAG-LLOYD CRUISES puts democracy to work on one unusual Europa 2 cruise: Passengers themselves will decide which ports to call on while aboard a 10-day sail from Istanbul to Athens. Popular voting commences after the captain presents possible routes and ports and a lecturer describes destination highlights around Greece and Turkey. Dreamy options include the almost uninhabited Greek island Delos, a UNESCO World Heritage site; and Turkey's Kusadasi, not far from the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Departing May 14. 877-445-7447; hl-cruises.com
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE introduces the Koningsdam, its first Pinnacle Class vessel, this spring. Three reasons to board the beauty:
1. Such drama - The World Stage, HAL's fresh new take on cruise ship theaters, presents shows in a flexible space designed for different stage configurations, from in-the-round to traditional. Added drama comes from high-def LED screens - two stories high and 250 feet long - surrounding the audience.
2. Such freshness - HAL reimagines its Culinary Arts Center cooking school on this ship by converting it to an artisanal farm-to-table restaurant at night, with some ingredients harvested from a glass-enclosed garden.
3. Such sophistication - The live-music venue Lincoln Center Stage, a partnership with New York's acclaimed Lincoln Center, features afternoon recitals and nightly chamber music performances at sea. The seven-day maiden cruise sails round-trip from Rome, departing April 8. 877-724-5425; hollandamerica.com
HURTIGRUTEN. The 1,000-passenger Midnatsol joins 318-guest sibling Fram, tripling available berths on Hurtigruten's Antarctic voyages. Hike glacial ice dating back thousands of years, wave at penguins, kayak among seals. Midnatsol sails 10 voyages round-trip from Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia, departing October to March 2017. 866-552-0371; hurtigruten.com
OCEANIA CRUISES' 684-passenger Sirena joins Insignia, Nautica, and Regatta in its cozy group of midsize ships. The new vessel will also deliver new Oceania itineraries, such as a 12-day sail between Paris and Barcelona, with overnights in Bordeaux, departing Aug. 7. The 14-day maiden cruise sails between Barcelona and Venice, departing April 27.• The Insignia, also a 684-passenger vessel, delivers a 180-day new-route world cruise, sailing six continents, 36 countries, 98 ports, 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and 16 overnights. Sails round-trip from Miami, departing Jan. 6, 2017.
• In spring, Oceania begins Culinary Creations Land Tours, foodie excursions before, during, or after sails. Instagram this: a cooking class at a Tuscan estate dating to the 1200s. 855-623-2642; oceaniacruises.com
PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISES. Passengers traditionally have one day on Motu Mahana, off the Taha'a coast. Many say it's the cruise highlight, so this year the company offers one 11-night voyage with two days at the secluded isle. Think superb snorkeling, lavish barbecue, and cocktails on a floating bar. Sails round-trip from Papeete, Tahiti, departing Dec. 3. 800-848-6172; pgcruises.com
PONANT. With so much guest demand, this French operator moves Le Soleal to Antarctica this winter, along with Le Boreal and L'Austral, which sailed these waters last season. Ponant also offers a new Antarctic itinerary for 2017: "Journey in Southern Lands," a 22-day voyage, showcases three of the world's most isolated islands, including penguin refuge Nightingale Island. Sails between Ushuaia, Argentina, and Cape Town, South Africa, departing March 4, 2017.
• François-Henri Pinault heads Artemis, the Pinault family's holding company, which recently acquired Ponant. Might the luxury-goods magnate redo vessels in Gucci from stern to bow? For sure, the crew will be the best-dressed at-sea. 888-400-1082; us.ponant.com
• Abercrombie & Kent's new 12-day "Iceland & Greenland: In the Wake of the Vikings" Arctic cruise retraces the route plotted by Erik the Red (Norwegian exile Erik Thorvaldsson) in 982. Take selfies with Atlantic puffins on the volcanically active Westman Islands, gape at towering glaciers, and relish tales by a Viking historian. A&K charters the 199-passenger Le Boreal. Avoid Ponant's usual bilingual announcements and still nibble flaky croissants. Sails round-trip from Reykjavik, Iceland, departing Aug. 16. 800-554-7094; abercrombiekent.com
REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES
Five reasons to sail its new Seven Seas Explorer:
1. Designed as a luxury game-changer. For example, accommodations are all suites. Entry level begins at about 310 square feet, with the majority (concierge suites) about 460 square feet. The poshest begin at 625 square feet and soar up to nearly 4,000 square feet. All have oversize bathrooms and giant verandas.
2. The two-bedroom, 3,875-square-foot Regent Suite, the largest, has an in-room spa area with ceramic, heated relaxation loungers and an outdoor, glass-enclosed sitting space with 270-degree views. Plus, handcrafted furnishings, exotic woods, and a custom Steinway Arabesque piano.
3. The Culinary Arts Kitchen (new to RSSC) has fancy French cooking school-style instruction. Cooking stations are set atop long, curved rows with white quartzite countertops and stainless-steel accents. Floor-to-ceiling windows and a Deck 11 perch deliver killer views.
4. Redesigned Canyon Ranch SpaClub debuts exclusive new therapies before a fleet-wide rollout. One pampering experience uses überpure ingredients from the Arctic Circle. Arctic berry and evergreen oils? Yes, please.
5. Drool for the pool, an opulent oasis, awash in teak and marble and surrounded by sheer white curtains fluttering in sea breezes - more swank boutique hotel than cruise ship. The 15-day maiden voyage on the 750-passenger vessel sails between Monte Carlo and Venice, departing July 20.
• After a six-year absence from lengthy global cruising, the Seven Seas Navigator makes a splash by offering 490 passengers a 128-night journey to six continents, 31 countries, and more than 60 ports, with 29 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Sails round-trip from Miami, departing Jan. 5, 2017. 844-473-4368; rssc.com
ROYAL CARIBBEAN guests booked in Star Class Suite accommodations will soon get pampered by 24/7 Royal Genies, trained and certified by the British Butler Institute. The genies book show and restaurant reservations, handcraft cocktails en suite, customize shore excursions, pack and unpack luggage, and more - no bottle-rubbing required. Onboard all Oasis and Quantum class ships, beginning in May.
• Once your tots and teens see Splashaway Bay on RCL's new 5,497-passenger Harmony of the Seas - the world's largest cruise ship - they might vanish until debarkation day. This interactive water park stars Ultimate Abyss, the tallest slide at sea with a - gasp - 10-story, 100-foot drop. You might prefer Supercell, a Champagne-bowl-like waterslide, swirling brave souls around before the big splash finale. Maiden voyage sails seven nights between Southampton, England, and Barcelona, departing May 29. 800-205-9812; royalcaribbean.com
SEABOURN. Experience design icon Adam D. Tihany's vision of understated elegance in the 300-suite, all-veranda Seabourn Encore. A Personal Suite Stewardess pampers with welcoming Champagne and canapes, drawn baths, and personalized nightly turndown service. The 10-day maiden voyage sails between Singapore and Bali, departing Jan. 7, 2017. 800-929-9391; seabourn.com
• Superstar chef Thomas Keller (the French Laundry, Per Se) unveils his first Seabourn restaurant at sea on the Seabourn Quest this spring. The restaurant will then expand to Seabourn's entire fleet.
SCENIC. Aboard its Azure, a 48-guest vessel purpose-built for Portugal's Douro River, tour medieval Ducal Palace, canoe on Sabor River, sip sundowners after-hours at Douro Museum, and more. The 11-day maiden voyage sails round-trip from Porto, Portugal, departing April 16. 855-517-1200; scenicusa.com
SILVERSEA CRUISES debuts its flagship Silver Muse in spring 2017. Think glamorous evolution of the Silver Spirit. The 596-passenger ship will have larger suites than any other Silversea vessel, and many connect to create super-suites. Expect eight dining options, as well as opulent, handcrafted decor.
• On a 116-day voyage, the 382-passenger Silver Whisper visits 62 ports in 25 countries. Includes a comp three-night sail on the Silver Muse. Sails between San Francisco and Monte Carlo, departing Jan. 6, 2017.
• Free Wi-Fi on all 2016 Silversea sails. Plus, 2016 Asia sails go true all-inclusive - economy air, transfers, shore excursions, and two-night pre-cruise hotel stay. 877-215-9986; silversea.com
STAR CLIPPERS unveils a still-unnamed, 300-passenger, five-masted, square-rigged barque in the second half of 2017. A near-replica of the France II (commissioned in 1911), it's the largest square rigger - 8,770 tons, powered by more than 6,350 square meters of sails - ever built. 800-442-0551; starclippers.com
TAUCK BRIDGES COLLECTION adds a fourth river cruiser (as yet unnamed) solely for families in 2017. Tauck is doubling its family river cruising capacity from 10 departures to 20 next year. The company scores for premium onshore activities, many exclusive. 800-468-2825; tauck.com
UNIWORLD BOUTIQUE RIVER CRUISE COLLECTION. See India by land and boat with Uniworld's 13-day "India's Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges" itinerary. First spend five days exploring New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, overnighting at opulent Oberoi hotels. Then switch to eight days sailing on the Ganges River aboard the all-suite, 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II. See the Taj Mahal, Murshidabad's Hazarduari Palace (with its 1,000 doors), and more. Designed to resemble an Indian palace, the new riverboat is awash with high-ceilinged suites and elegant hand-painted murals. Starts in New Delhi and ends in Kolkata; first departure Jan. 9, with additional ones throughout the year.
• Debuts six new family European summer sails. Here's one primo example: "Gems of Northern Italy" on the River Countess entices with a Venice treasure hunt, pasta workshop in Bologna, rowing, and kayaking. Onboard, kids get Venetian art introduction, make pizza with the chef, and eat it, too. Travel from Milan to Venice, departing June 24, and July 1 and 8. 800-257-2407; uniworld.com
VIKING OCEAN CRUISES. Here comes Viking Sea, sister ship to Viking Star. The 930-passenger vessel has the same guest favorites, such as an infinity pool and the spa's Snow Grotto with falling flakes. The 10-day maiden voyage sails between Istanbul and Venice, departing April 3. 866-984-5464; vikingcruises.com/oceans
VIRGIN CRUISES. Richard Branson plans three 2,800-passenger ships for the company. The first millennial-minded vessel - think cheeky Snapchats from the deck - debuts early 2020, with Miami as home port. One a year thereafter. virgincruises.com
WINDSTAR CRUISES. In Caribbean waters this year, Windstar starts sailing from San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the first time. It will also be the first cruise line to make regular calls at Little Bay, Montserrat, in the British West Indies since the 1995 volcanic eruption buried Plymouth, the capital city. Tours via boat or coach get you up-close-and-personal with a modern-day Pompeii. Several cruises on three different itineraries visit Montserrat through March. 800-258-7245; windstarcruises.com