This year we can look forward to the launch of five major ocean-going ships, varying in size from the 264-passenger, boutique adventure vessel Le Lyrial to the 4200-passenger resort-style Norwegian Escape. Here's a look at highlights from each of the new ships.
P&O's Britannia will be the first to set sail. The 3600-passenger ship is the eighth and biggest in the British-based line's fleet and its maiden voyage is a 14-night cruise to the Canary Islands out of Southampton. Britannia will host P&O's "Food Heroes" – Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhar, wine expert Olly Smith, "Cake Boy" Eric Lanlard and Cookery Club host James Martin. The Cookery Club is the first cooking school on a British ship and all five Food Heroes will teach classes for up to 24 guests on select cruises. James Martin will be on board for the maiden voyage.
Ponant's Le Lyrial launches in April, and as a near-identical sister to the line's three luxury expedition ships L'Austral, Le Boreal and Le Soleal, it will offer stylish cruising for adventure-minded travellers. A highlight is the combination of elegance (outside and inside) and its tough, ice-class construction; after its first season in the Adriatic and Mediterranean, Le Lyrial will be off to Antarctica in November to join the rest of the expedition fleet.
Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas, companion vessel to the recently launched Quantum of the Seas, also starts cruising in April. The 4180-passenger "smart ship" will have all the fab features that debuted on Quantum – the North Star viewing capsule, spectacular Two70° entertainment space, bumper cars, sky-diving and surf-simulators. While Quantum repositions to China in May, Anthem will be based in Southampton and sailing Mediterranean itineraries until it moves to New Jersey in November for the Caribbean season.
Viking Star is the first ocean ship for the Viking Cruise line and it will be christened in Norway in May. A striking highlight of the 930-passenger ship is the Spa's Snow Grotto – yes, you can sail through an onboard snowstorm before warming up in the sauna. Gentle snowflakes is probably a more accurate description but the idea is to reinvigorate yourself in true Nordic style. An infinity pool that's cantilevered off the ship's stern is another unusual feature – in the evening it turns into the Aquavit Terrace.
Norwegian Escape is the first in NCL's new Breakaway Plus class of ships. It launches in October and will be the biggest in the fleet. As well as incorporating many of the popular features of Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway (a three-deck dining and entertainment area known as 678 Ocean Place, the open-air Waterfront restaurant), Escape will showcase several new venues. Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Sea promises to be a laid-back dining venue and there's even a Five O'Clock Somewhere Bar. Can't wait to try that one! Cheers – and Happy New Year to cruisers everywhere.
MEET THE CREW
NAME Mick Fogg, lives in Coffs Harbour, Australia
POSITION Expedition leader, L'Austral, and manager, Marine & Operations Planning Asia Pacific, Ponant.
MY JOB As one of L'Austral's expedition leaders, I take guests ashore to some of the world's most remote destinations. I research destinations and organise activities and tours on shore, and present recaps, briefings and lectures on the ship.
MY TYPICAL DAY I'm up very early with the expedition team to check out shore conditions and meet local elders or tour guides. In some places in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Melanesia our plans have to be flexible; we aim to exceed passengers' expectations and sometimes there are impromptu landings. I discuss conditions with the captain, staff captain and cruise director so we can determine how many staff are needed for zodiac trips, then we take guests ashore. After a day on land or on zodiacs I prepare the day's recap and the following day's brief. Every couple of nights the team dines with guests to take in their feedback.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT: Proposing to my wife, Karina, at Shackleton's Hut, 78 degrees South in Antarctica.
FAVOURITE CRUISE PORT Macquarie Island (between New Zealand and Antarctica) for its wildlife, and Camp Leakey (Borneo) for the orang-utans and spectacular trip up Sekonyer River through virgin rainforest.
TIP FOR PASSENGERS: In the tropics, leave your camera outside the cabin for 15 minutes before you disembark, to give it a chance to acclimatise to the humidity – otherwise the lens will mist over.
TIP Air-conditioning on ships and planes can cause dry skin and hair, coughs, sore throats and sniffles, so pack your favourite remedies to cope with it. Highly recommended: pawpaw ointment, Argan oil, throat lozenges, eye drops and saline nasal spray.
New ships for Celebrity fleet
In an exciting move for the 'modern luxury' cruise line, Celebrity Cruises has ordered two new ships from French shipbuilder STX France. Known as Project Edge, the two 2900-passenger vessels will be a new class of ship – smaller than the 3046-passenger Celebrity Reflection, the newest in the fleet and one of five in the line's Solstice class. At 300 metres long and 37 metres wide, the new ships will be designed to deliver small-ship itineraries with large-ship facilities. The first ship is due to be delivered to Celebrity Cruises in late 2018 and the second in early 2020.
Now that the United States and Cuba have agreed to establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, there will be even more interest in visiting supercool Cuba. Currently, very few cruise lines operate there – for example, non-US owned Sea Cloud Cruises, Fred. Olsen and Noble Caledonia. Dugald Wells, the president and CEO of Cuba Cruise, a Canadian company that started cruising in Cuba in 2013, anticipates increased bookings from international travellers eager to explore a country that is virtually free of American commercialisation before it might change. Cuba Cruise sails every Monday from Havana and Friday from Montego Bay until March 30, 2015. yourcubacruise.com
Arctic adventures British cruise line Fred. Olsen says its 2015 Arctic Explorer cruise was so popular it sold out in less than a week when it was first advertised. It is now offering another in-depth, 26-night Arctic itinerary in 2016 that will take in Norway, Iceland and Greenland. The 804-passenger Black Watch, a traditional, 42-year-old ship popular with 50-plus British singles and couples, departs from Tilbury (London) on July 17, 2016. As voyages to this remote, spectacular region are becoming increasingly sought-after by keen cruisers worldwide, you'd be advised to get in quick for this one. fredolsencruises.com
OFFER OF THE WEEK
Save $3000 per person on ecruising's 23-night fly/stay/cruise package from Honolulu to Sydney, sailing on Celebrity Solstice when it returns for its fourth season in Australia in 2015. Departing on October 2, the package includes flights to Honolulu, five nights pre-cruise at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and 18 nights on board Celebrity Solstice, sailing to French Polynesia and New Zealand. Fares start at $4429; phone 1300 369 848, see ecruising.travel.
STAR CLIPPERS is offering 25 per cent off the regular price of its 2015 Panama Canal tall-ship cruises. Fares for the 14-night Barbados to Panama and the 14-night Panama to Cienfuegos itineraries start at $4840 and $4685 respectively. Offer valid until January 31, 2015. Phone 1300 362 599, see starclippers.com.
SCENIC TOURS' earlybird deals for 2016 Asia river cruises made by April 30 include free return flights – a saving of up to $3190 per couple. For example, fares for the 13-day Treasures of the Mekong trip, which includes a seven-night cruise on the new Scenic Spirit, three nights in Siem Reap and two nights in Ho Chi Minh City, start at $5245. Phone 1300 723 642, see scenictours.com.au.