Cruise Update 1999: Megaships, Classic Cruising
High life on the high seas
From Carnival's purchase of the revered Cunard Line to the race to build the biggest, speediest ship at sea, the cruise industry is booming. Things are happening fast, so we decided to make it easy for you. New ships, millennium cruises, maiden voyages: here's what's happening in 1999 and beyond. Want to look for toucans while riding down the Orinoco?No problem. Or play 18 holes at St. Andrews?Pack your clubs. If you can dream it up, chances are there's a cruise to take you there.
For those who want to take it all with them, the largest class of liner (vessels that accommodate 1,500 passengers or more) is a good choice. Though at the forefront of the grand cruising trend, most of these lines still offer smaller ships, too.
Princess Cruise Line 800/774-6237. Currently the largest ship at sea, the 109,000-ton, $450 million Grand Princess made headlines when it first sailed in May, from Istanbul. Although it's too wide to fit in the Panama Canal, it can ferry 2,600 passengers around the Caribbean, where it remains until April, stopping in St. Martin and St. Thomas. The ship claims many industry firsts, including a wedding chapel and a virtual-reality center. Incredibly, the Grand Princess will have two sister ships by 2001. Two smaller siblings arrive sooner—the Sea Princess next month, the Ocean Princess in early 2000.
Norwegian Cruise Line 800/327-7030. Norwegian is expanding in many directions. Recently, it announced a new venture based in Sydney, the Norwegian Capricorn Line, which will make 7- and 14-day cruises around Australia and New Zealand. It also purchased Orient Lines in May. The Norwegian Majesty is being lengthened and will sail in April from its new home port of Boston with an additional 202 staterooms. Next August, the 2,000-passenger Norwegian Sky will hit the waves with the longest bar at sea. The first of four more ships, all in the 2,000-passenger range, will appear in 2000.
Carnival Cruise Lines 800/227-6482. The Fun Ship people will add six ships to their fleet over the next five years. Out this month, the 2,040-passenger Paradise, sister to the Elation (which set sail in April) and Carnival's first smoke-free ship, will make weekly Caribbean trips from Miami. Those who like to be spoiled might find it hard to pass up the eight meals a day, 24-hour complimentary room service, three swimming pools, and 12,000-foot Nautica Spa. Meanwhile, the Elation has Carnival's largest children's facilities so far, including a computer lab and photography workshop. Two 2,758-passenger vessels are almost finished—the Carnival Triumph arrives in July, the Carnival Victory in summer 2000.
Royal Caribbean International 800/255-4373. Royal Caribbean's 2,435-passenger Vision of the Seas first sailed in May, setting out for voyages to Europe and the Panama Canal; next year, it heads to Hawaii before summering in Alaska. Reservations are currently being taken for next November's maiden trip of the Voyager of the Seas in the Caribbean. But the 142,000-ton Voyager is already making waves: it will displace Princess's Grand Princess as the largest ship in the world, carrying 3,100 passengers. Fall 2000 and spring 2002 will bring two more megaships.
Celebrity Cruises 800/437-3111. This five-ship fleet was acquired by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in 1997, the same year its star ship, the Mercury, made its debut. The 1,870-passenger liner will sail the Caribbean through April 25, offering seven-night cruises that stop in Key West, Cozumel, and Grand Cayman. Celebrity's consulting chef, the Michelin-starred Michel Roux of England's Waterside Inn, will have to design more menus soon; two new 1,900-passenger ships are scheduled for delivery by January 2001.
Disney Cruise Line 800/939-2784. If you have children, you've probably heard all about the Disney Magic, the 2,400-passenger ship that launched in July. It's hard to beat the combination packages: a few nights at Walt Disney World followed by a cruise to the Bahamas. And there's a ton of onboard entertainment for kids, including a host of famous characters. But there are also grown-ups-only restaurants and a top-notch baby-sitting service. Expect a sister, the Disney Wonder, in late spring.
Cunard Line Limited 800/528-6273. The matriarch of all cruise lines, Cunard made news this year when it was purchased by Carnival and merged with the ultra-luxurious Seabourn Cruise Line (800/929-9595). Three of Cunard's five ships will be transferred to Seabourn and renamed; all 1999 itineraries will go ahead as planned. Cunard's remaining queen Elizabeth 2 and Vistafjord won't be alone for long; the line has just embarked on Project Queen Mary, a superliner that promises nothing less than "a new golden age of sea travel." Make your millennium reservations soon. The Seabourn Spirit, which will sail from the Seychelles and dock in Singapore in time to ring in 2000, still has space, but the Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Legend sold out long ago. The QE2 leaves Southampton on its last transatlantic voyage of the 20th century on December 12, 1999.
If you like big-ship facilities but want to hit smaller ports, these lines set the standard.
Royal Olympic Cruises 800/872-6400. Two new high-speed vessels called "fast monohull" ships, accommodating 800 passengers each, are set for delivery in 2000 and 2001. Royal Olympic has also expanded beyond its regular eastern Mediterranean schedule, adding South and Central American adventure cruises. Its 1999 destinations include Venezuelan rain forests and the Amazon River; the Audubon Society now sponsors Royal Olympic cruises on the Orinoco River.
Silversea 800/774-9996. The Silversea fleet—voted World's Best small cruise line by T&L readers in 1998—will soon double in size: two all-suite ships are in the works. The spacious liners will hold a mere 396 guests each, and will be similar in design to Silversea's sumptuous Silver Cloud and Silver Wind. Meanwhile, the line offers a Vietnam discovery cruise in January, Australia voyages in February, and great European trips next summer. Silversea's plans for the millennium are undeniably swelegant—Tony Bennett will sing at pre-cruise receptions, and both ships will meet in Suva, Fiji, for a giant beach party.
Radisson Seven Seas Cruises 800/333-3333. Watch for the 490-passenger Navigator, the latest all-suite luxury ship from the line, to sail from Nice to Venice on its maiden voyage next August. It heads to the Black Sea before crossing the Atlantic in October. Radisson Seven Seas plans to add a ship a year for the next five years, all in the same grand style. The acclaimed Paul Gauguin, still in its inaugural year, will offer two special itineraries to the Marquesas Islands, departing from Tahiti, in April and November.
Costa Cruises 800/332-0782. Costa's emphasis is on "cruising Italian-style," no matter where the ships are, which translates as a lot of fun for cruisers. The newest member of the fleet is the Costa Victoria, which cruises the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece, and Turkey in the spring.
Renaissance Cruises 800/525-5350. By next November, Renaissance will have added four new ships to its fleet. Carrying 684 passengers each, the R1, R2, R3, and R4 will offer full-service spas, fitness centers with personal trainers, casinos, and private balconies in 70 percent of the staterooms. All four will also be entirely smoke-free. The R1 debuted in July and sails the Mediterranean year-round. The R2 launches this month, cruising the Iberian coast through March. The R3 sets sail next August on 10-day trips through the South Pacific; the R4 arrives in November 1999.
Holland America Line 877/724-5425. Almost a megaship, the 1,440-passenger Volendam launches in August, beginning with seven-day New EnglandtoCanada cruises before heading south to winter in the Caribbean. Its sister, the Zaandam, will also debut late next year. Exotic new itineraries include a 12-day Iceland-to-Ireland trip with stops in the Shetland Islands, and the 14-day Land of the Midnight Sun cruise near the polar ice cap.
Crystal Cruises 800/820-6663. Named World's Best in the category of large ships in T&L's 1998 readers' survey—the line also took top cruising honors in 1996 and 1997—Crystal has no expansion plans right now. The fleet's two very posh 940-passenger ships, the Crystal Symphony and Crystal Harmony, are busy enough. In 1999 Crystal offers new trips to Australia and New Zealand, and will stop at 17 new ports of call, including Pago Pago, Brazil's Santa Catarina Island, and Ko Samui, Thailand. During its 99-day Journeys to the Treasures of Time, departing in January from Los Angeles, the Crystal Symphony will stop at 38 ports in 27 countries. The Symphony will also make an extraordinary New Year's trip: you can ring in the new millennium at the International Date Line during a 17-day South Pacific cruise.
Premier Cruises 800/990-7770. Also known as the Big Red Boat, the Oceanic—once the home of Mickey and Minnie—is a great choice for kids. These days Bugs and Daffy can be spotted on board the 1,116-passenger ship. Packages combine three- or four-day cruises with a stay at Sea World or Universal Studios. Premier recently acquired the classic Rembrandt, formerly the Rotterdam, from Holland America; its polished teak decks and elegant lounges make it a natural as the line's new flagship, bringing the number in the fleet to six.
By Sail or by Steam
For some, the slower pace of rippling sails or puffing steam is quite fast enough.
Windstar Cruises 800/258-7245. This May, Windstar welcomed the Wind Surf to its fleet with inaugural sailings in the Mediterranean. This five-masted ship has a state-of-the-art computer navigation system and can accommodate 312 guests. Travelers used to traditional cruise liners will like the 125 spacious staterooms, the 10,000-square-foot WindSpa (with yoga classes, salt-glow rubs, a juice bar), and the 90-seat Bistro (modeled after Joachim Splichal's Pinot Bistro in Los Angeles). As on the fleet's three other members, the key word is casual: no black-tie, no glitzy entertainment. In 1999, the Wind Surf returns to the Mediterranean and Caribbean; the Wind Spirit and Wind Song will tour the islands of Greece and Turkey, in addition to Caribbean destinations.
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises 800/327-2601. This romantic fleet gained a new tall ship this year—the Legacy, christened in San Juan on June 1. Formerly a French research vessel, the 122-passenger craft has 11 sails. The Legacy sails through the Virgin Islands and offers a six-day "Blackbeard" itinerary that includes a stop at Vieques, Puerto Rico. Windjammer is known for its dive vacations, and its singles cruises are very popular.
Star Clippers 800/442-0551. The two four-masted boats in the Star Clippers fleet are modeled after classic 19th-century clipper ships—but don't worry about roughing it on grog and hardtack. The Star Clipper and Star Flyer hold just 170 passengers each, but still offer classic cruise facilities such as swimming pools, great wine lists, and buffet breakfasts. These boats are low-key and couples-oriented; 1999 itineraries take in Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Asian waters.
Delta Queen Steamboat Co. 800/543-1949. Want to feel like Mark Twain?Take a trip on the Delta queen, American queen (the largest paddle steamer ever built), or Mississippi queen. Floating down the Mississippi at seven miles per hour is a journey back in time. Passengers can learn to dance the Virginia reel or just sit back and enjoy the Dixieland jazz band.
Adventure and Exploration
Cruises can be active. Options range from penguin tracking in Antarctica to diving in the Sea of Cortés.
Orient Lines 800/333-7300. The 800-passenger Marco Polo is the only ship in Orient's fleet, but it's special enough to have been purchased by the Norwegian Cruise Line in July. With two restaurants, four lounges, and a casino, spa, library, and pool, the Marco Polo mixes luxury with great adventure trips. Next year, sail around the world from January to April, stopping in Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, India, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey along the way. To avoid millennium crowds, book passage for "Antarctica 2000." Whether you choose the 14- or 32-day cruise, you'll get to party with the penguins at Port Lockroy.
Clipper Cruise Line 800/325-0010. This line, best-known for coastal cruises throughout North America, adds a fourth ship and a Pacific itinerary in 1999. Next year, the Clipper Adventurer and Yorktown Clipper will cruise the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. History buffs won't want to miss a March trip through Brazil's 15th- and 16th-century colonial past aboard the 122-passenger Clipper Adventurer. The ship will navigate the Amazon River basin, making stops in Fortaleza, Salvador da Bahia, and Vitória.
Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West 800/426-7702. These small ships cover more territory than their fleet name implies. In addition to classic Inside Passage and Prince William Sound trips, 1999 itineraries include British Columbia, the Columbia and Snake rivers, and California's wine country. The Spirit of '98 can hold 96 guests on its maiden voyage next month—a weeklong cruise in Mexico's Sea of Cortés from Cabo San Lucas.
Lindblad Special Expeditions 800/397-3348. Of the 11 ships in Lindblad's fleet, the largest carries just 120 passengers. The small size enables Lindblad's expeditions to get up close and personal with the landscape—many of its vessels also carry Zodiac landing craft and kayaks. Next year's destinations include Russia, Turkey, Denali National Park in Alaska, Patagonia, Antarctica, and New Zealand.