4500-passenger ship MSC Bellissima to make maiden voyage in March

We have a lot of ship launches to look forward to in 2019 – and who doesn't love cruising on a pristine new ship? There are 25 vessels getting ready to hit the ocean waves, ranging from 120-passenger expedition ships to 6000-passenger megaships, plus 21 river ships setting sail on the world's waterways.

This week we are taking a quick look at the larger ladies of the seas to see what is in store. First to set sail is Viking Ocean Cruises' sixth ship, Viking Jupiter, which heads off on its maiden Mediterranean season in February. Like its fleetmates, Viking Jupiter accommodates 930 passengers (adults only) in all-balcony suites and cabins and it will have the same modern Scandi-style interior design throughout. A standout feature is the planetarium that made its debut on Viking Orion.

On March 4, MSC Bellissima will make its maiden voyage from Southampton to Barcelona. The 4500-passenger Bellissima is MSC's second Meraviglia-class ship and it will cruise the western Mediterranean. Highlights include exclusive-to-MSC Cirque du Soleil at Sea shows. MSC Grandiosa makes its debut in October and will be the first in the line's Meraviglia Plus class, carrying up to 6300 passengers.

Royal Caribbean's 26th megaship, Spectrum of the Seas, will launch in April for the Chinese market. It is the first Quantum Ultra-class ship, accommodating the same number of passengers as the three Quantum-class ships (4180) but introducing the line's new private suite complex, complete with its own pool and restaurant.

British company Saga's Spirit of Discovery is the first of two identical, 999-passenger ships and is due to launch in July – for over 50s only. All suites and cabins have balconies and 109 are designed for solo cruisers.

Costa Cruises' new 6522-passenger megaship, Costa Smerelda, is one of the first international cruise ships to run on liquefied natural gas. From October onwards, it will cruise the Mediterranean and will be christened in Italy on November 4.

Princess Cruises' fourth Royal-class ship, the 3650-passenger Sky Princess, will depart on its inaugural voyage from Athens to Barcelona on October 20, then reposition to the Caribbean in November. Hot on the heels of Sky Princess's debut, NCL's 3998-passenger Norwegian Encore – the fourth and final model in the Breakaway Plus class – will make its 11-day maiden cruise from Southampton to its winter home port of Miami on November 2.

Carnival Cruise Line's third Vista-class ship, the 3934-passenger Carnival Panorama, is due to leave the Italian shipyard in November to start operating cruises from Long Beach, California, in December. It will be CCL's first ship to sail from America's West Coast.


THE PORT Malaga, Spain


WHO GOES THERE Azamara, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Disney, Fred.Olsen, HAL, Hapag-Lloyd, MSC, NCL, Oceania, P&O UK, Princess, Royal Caribbean, RSSC, Seabourn, SeaDream, Silversea, Star Clippers, Viking, Windstar.

WHY WE LOVE IT One of Spain's oldest cities, Malaga has traditional whitewashed houses, intriguing narrow streets, beautiful plazas and Moorish architecture, along with high-rise buildings, cool new bars, cafes and a burgeoning arts scene. It is also renowned for its beaches and as the gateway to Andalusia, particularly Granada and its fabled Alhambra Palace.

TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Cruise ships dock at the modern cruise terminal, which is about two kilometres from the historical centre – some ships provide shuttles but it is an easy walk and taxis are always available. Bike, Segway, hop-on hop-off bus and walking tours of the city take in all the essential sights in three or four hours, leaving you time to explore tapas bars, the Atarazanas Market, shops and monuments in and around the Calle Larios on your own. Day tours from Malaga go to Granada, Ronda, Cordoba and fishing villages and coves along the Costa Tropical that stretches from Nerja to Motril over about 70 kilometres.

MUST SEE Malaga has more than 30 museums and galleries, including the Picasso Museum (the artist was born in Malaga), Pompidou Centre (the only branch outside France of the renowned Paris establishment) and Museo Carmen Thyssen (19th-century Spanish art housed in a renovated 16th-century palace in the Moorish quarter). Don't miss the Roman theatre, the 11th-century Alcazaba Fortress, La Manquita cathedral and the 14th-century Gibralfaro Castle.

MUST EAT Tapas, with a local wine; dishes include chacina (ham, salami chorizo); porra Antequerana, similar to gazpacho but thicker and served with chopped egg, ham or tuna on top; espeto, barbecued sardine skewers; gazpacho Malagueno, a warm potato and seafood soup; and fritura Malaguena, fish and seafood lightly fried in olive oil and flour.

NEED TO KNOW Siesta usually lasts from 2pm until 5pm and shops and businesses are closed during this time. Lunch starts about 2pm, so bars often don't open until 1.30pm. Many tapas bars and restaurants do not open at night before 8.30pm as dinner is traditionally eaten much later.

ESSENTIALS www.spain.info  


More than 9360 songs will be performed in the Rolling Stone Rock Room on board HAL's latest ship, Nieuw Statendam, during its first year.


Second Wind

Almost as soon as Silver Wind emerged from dry dock last month, sporting major improvements to its public spaces and dining venues, Silversea announced that the "classic luxury" ship would be refurbished again in August 2020. The next upgrade will give the 254-passenger, 212-crew ship ice-class classification and equip it for polar voyages as well as its popular Mediterranean and Caribbean itineraries. As well as being given an ice-class hull and a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, Silver Wind will feature further enhancements to its suites, spa, salon, bars and lounges. After it comes back into service in November 2020, the ship will sail six Antarctic voyages ranging from 10 to 18 days, plus a 21-day Ushuaia to Cape Town itinerary that departs on February 15, 2021. See www.silversea.com .

Aqua Mekong with uber-chef David Thompson

Following sold-out chef-hosted cruises in 2018, Aqua Expeditions has scheduled two special departures on Aqua Mekong with acclaimed Australian chef David Thompson in 2019. As consulting chef for the sleek, 40-passenger Aqua Mekong since its inaugural cruise in October 2014, Thompson continues to expand his adventurous menus, incorporating culinary traditions of Mekong River cultures to create indigenous-inspired dishes such as river prawns with ginger, shallots, tamarind and palm sugar served on betel leaves, Cambodian green curry of catfish and lemon basil cashew-nut pudding with coconut cream. Thompson will host four-night Explorer Cruises from Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) from August 16–20 and September 13–17. Thompson will lead market tours, master cooking classes and host Q&A sessions. See www.aquaexpeditions.com