New, giant cruise ships launching in 2018, including the world's biggest

Megaships 2018

The coming year has plenty in store for fans of megaships – those mighty floating resorts that carry 4000-plus passengers and are packed with ever more adventurous activities, dozens of restaurants and bars and dazzling entertainment to suit all age groups.

MSC Cruises kicked it off late last month with the star-studded launch of its 14th ship, the 4134-passenger (5179 full capacity) MSC Seaside in Miami (Take a look at the ship in the gallery above). MSC is spending $US12 billion on expanding its fleet and MSC Seaside's identical sister, MSC Seaview, will launch in June 2018. Standout features of the new Seaside class of ships include an extra-wide wraparound waterfront boardwalk, a 40-metre-high "Bridge of Sighs" glass-floored catwalk, full-size bowling alley and the longest zip-line at sea. Seaside is sailing Caribbean itineraries out of Miami and Seaview will cruise the western Mediterranean. See msccruises.com.au/en-au/Homepage.aspx

See also: New, high-tech MSC Seaside sets sail

Carnival Cruise Line's 26th ship, the 3974-passenger (5056 full capacity) Carnival Horizon, will set sail from Barcelona on April 2 for a short Mediterranean season before heading to the US to sail Caribbean itineraries.

Carnival Horizon.

Carnival Horizon.

Like its similar (but not identical) fleetmate Carnival Vista, Horizon will boast the SkyRide bike track, which is suspended 46 metres above the 12th deck, and an IMAX theatre; a first for the line is the huge, colourful Dr Seuss-themed waterpark. See carnival.com.au/promotional/carnival-horizon.aspx

Also launching in April is Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas. At 18 decks high, 362 metres long and carrying up to 6870 passengers, Symphony will take over the title of the world's biggest cruise ship from its slightly older sister Harmony of the Seas. Symphony introduces the multistorey Ultimate Family Suite (complete with a slide connecting the kids' room to the family room), a New England-style seafood restaurant overlooking one of the pools, and the interactive Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade.

Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's newest Oasis-class ship, under construction at the STX shipyard in France. The ship is scheduled to be delivered in 2018.

Symphony of the Seas under construction.

Like its Oasis-class sisters, Symphony of the Seas has seven "neighbourhoods" – including Central Park, complete with living trees – as well as two FlowRider surf simulators, the 10-deck Ultimate Abyss slide, Perfect Storm waterslide trio and popular dining venues such as Izumi, Chops Grille and Wonderland. See royalcaribbean.com.au

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Norwegian Cruise Line's 16th ship, the 4004-passenger Norwegian Bliss, heads off to Seattle for its first Alaska season in June; in September it will move to the Caribbean via a short season cruising the Mexican Riviera out of Los Angeles.

Norwegian Bliss

Norwegian Bliss.

Norwegian Bliss sports a two-deck go-kart racetrack (bigger than the one that made its debut on Norwegian Joy last year), a space-themed laser tag course and a 180-degree observation lounge. See ncl.com

See also: Amazing new ship has its own racetrack on board

THE PORT

Muscat, Oman

WHO GOES THERE Azamara, Celebrity, CMV, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Fred.Olsen, Hapag-Lloyd, MSC Cruises, Oceania, P&O UK, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking.

WHY WE LOVE IT Oman's picturesque port capital is set on the Gulf of Oman, surrounded by mountains and desert. Muscat's crescent-shaped waterfront corniche is book-ended by 16th-century Portuguese forts – no buildings can be taller than 10 storeys high, by decree of the sultan – and it's one of the world's most beautiful ports to sail in and out of, particularly at sunset or sunrise.

TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? The old town centre, souk and the waterfront's Qasr Al Alam Palace are an easy walk from the port, although you have to take a shuttle from the ship through the port's gates first. An organised tour is the best way to explore beyond the city, whether you go on a half-day snorkelling and dolphin-spotting cruise on an Arabian-style dhow, a four-wheel-drive desert safari or full-day journey to Nizwa Fortress, the Grand Canyon and the lovely village of Al Hamra.

MUST SEE Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the third largest in the world and home to the second largest handmade Persian carpet in the world; Bait Al Zubair, a privately owned museum that houses the acclaimed Gallery Sarah art gallery; Muttrah Souk, on the waterfront; The Royal Opera House, built in 2011.

MUST EAT Traditional Omani dishes include gabooli (rice, nuts, raisins and mutton or beef), harees (meat stew, thickened with wheat) and shuwa (tender, lightly spiced, slow-roasted meat). Sweet treats are dates and halwa, a blend of sugar, semolina, ghee, saffron and rosewater.

NEED TO KNOW Men and women must wear long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants when visiting the Grand Mosque and other religious sites; women should also cover their heads with a scarf.

ESSENTIALS tourismoman.com.au

CRUISEFACT

1,281,159 Australians took an ocean cruise last year (across all CLIA-member cruise lines).

NEWS

The Vikings are coming

With a couple of weeks until Viking Sun makes its debut in New Zealand and Australian waters on the line's first (sold out) world voyage, Viking Ocean Cruises is announcing plans for the arrival of Viking Orion in December this year. Retired NASA astronaut Dr Anna Fisher will christen the line's fifth ship, which is still being built, in July. Like its sisters, Viking Orion will accommodate up to 930 passengers; at least one excursion in every port is included, along with beer, wine and soft drinks at mealtimes, free Wi-Fi and free self-service laundry. Three new pre and post-cruise extensions in Australia and New Zealand have been added to the 15-day cruises between Sydney and Auckland in December 2018 and February 2019. See www.vikingcruises.com.au

World's first luxury icebreaker

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Ponant is taking its reputation for polar adventures to a new level – it is building a hybrid electric icebreaker that can plough through thick ice to reach the geographic North Pole, cross the Arctic Ocean to Greenland's extreme north-east and venture further into Antarctica than any other expedition ship. The luxuriously appointed 135-suite Polar Icebreaker, which is due in 2021, will be powered by LNG and equipped with 16 Zodiacs and two onboard helicopters. Nicolas Dubreuil, Ponant's head of expeditions, says: "The Ponant Icebreaker is going to enable us to visit places previously unexplored until now due to their extreme remoteness. I've already imagined winter expedition cruises across the Nunavut ice field, and to Greenland, to get within close proximity of the Inuit camps." See ponant.com

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