Seven new cruise ships will debut in 2012 -- all with some striking similarities, but also obvious differences.
Here is the list:
1. Celebrity Reflection -- PSR* 40; 126,000 tons 2. Disney Fantasy -- PSR 32; 128,000 tons 3. Oceania's Riviera -- PSR 52.5; 65,000 tons 4. Carnival Breeze -- PSR 30; 130,000 tons 5. Costa Fascinosa -- PSR 30.3; 114,500 tons 6. MSC Divina -- PSR 33.9; 140,000 tons 7. AIDAmar -- PSR 34.6; 71,000-tons
*PSR, or passenger space ratio, is the gross registered tonnage -- a measure of interior space on a ship -- divided by passenger capacity, so PSR gives an indication of relative spaciousness.
The first four on the list are slated for the North American market - mostly sailing out of U.S. ports or at least marketed primarily to U.S. cruisers with English as the main language onboard.
Celebrity Reflection is the fifth and last iteration in Celebrity Cruises' popular Solstice class, due to debut on November 1, 2012. It will have one major difference from the other Solstice class vessels -- an additional 100 staterooms, 32 of them a new style of "AquaSpa suite" located close to the Thermal Suite area of the onboard AquaSpa.
The lawn area has been improved, with "alcoves" for rent around the lawn on the top open deck. These private spaces will rent for about $100 a day, and come with an iPad for playing games and listening to music. You can opt to access the Internet on the iPad over the ship's Wi-Fi network (added cost), and you can order special "picnic basket" meals from any of the ship's specialty restaurants for delivery to the alcove (also at an additional cost). The nearby Lawn Club Grill, a new dining attraction on Silhouette and Reflection, features fine cuts of meat and fish that you can grill yourself with the assistance of a staff member.
Reflection is currently under construction at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany.
Disney Fantasy is the sister ship to the recently revealed Disney Dream. The ship is identical in superstructure but slightly different in decor; its more toned-down ambiance focuses on Art Nouveau touches rather than the newer and more industrial-influenced Art Deco style. The maiden voyage for Disney Fantasy is March 31, 2012. It was also built in Papenburg, Germany but has already been floated out for final outfitting. The naming ceremony will take place in New York City.
The official "master" of Fantasy is Minnie Mouse (on Dream, it was Donald Duck); a statue of her will grace the ship's main atrium. The ship will have an adults-only area known as Europa, similar to the one on Dream. Europa will feature a series of nightspots such as La Piazza; Ooh La La (the champagne bar); The Tube (named after the subway system of London) nightclub for late-night dancing; O'Gills (Irish Pub); and the Skyline, which will feature different cities of Europe slowly transitioning from daylight to sundown through virtual windows.
Oceania Cruises' Riviera, the sister ship to the line's highly regarded Marina, will be introduced in Monte Carlo on April 19. It was built at the Sestri Ponente (Italy) Fincantieri shipyard near Genoa. As the sister to Marina, Riviera stands to become one of the nicest new ships ever introduced, if its predecessor is any indication. Marina pleased all critics in every detail -- from decor to service, staterooms and cuisine.
The only difference with be a slightly larger spa also from Canyon Ranch, same as the one on Marina. The specialty restaurants on deck 14 -- Polo and Toscana --will have slightly higher ceilings.
Carnival Breeze, like all of this year's new vessels, is also a sister ship - she is the third in the Carnival Dream class. Breeze is under construction in Europe and will enter service in October, in Amsterdam. The ship is 130,000 tons -- as big as they come for Carnival -- and carries 3,960 passengers.
Like Carnival Dream, the ship features a new Lanai area on the Promenade deck - one of the first open-deck public areas on lower decks with outdoor seating and open hot tubs (such features are usually found on the highest open decks on most ships).
The second ship in this class, Carnival Magic, was introduced last summer in Italy. The maximum capacity for these ships is 4,631 passengers.
Costa Fascinosa is a sister ship to the Costa Favolosa; both were ordered in 2007. The ship belongs to the Costa Concordia class, coming in at 114,500 gross tons and able to accommodate 3,780 passengers. It will be the 16th ship in the Costa fleet, and is being built at the Fincantieri shipyard at Monfalcone, Italy.
Costa is best described as the pan-European version of Carnival Cruise Lines, since it is owned by Carnival Corp. and all of its vessels have superstructures identical to ships in the Carnival Cruise Lines family. The only difference is the decor. Costa is marketed mainly to Europeans, with cruises communicating to passengers in the four main European languages -- Italian, German, French and Spanish.
MSC Divina is the third ship in MSC's Fantasia class. MSC is a direct competitor to Costa, offering mainstream cruises mostly to Europeans who want to sail on ships that speak their native languages.
It is true that many Europeans speak English since they are exposed to it on a regular basis and it is the Lingua Franca of the European Union. But European nationals have told me that while they enjoy cruising on Holland America, NCL, Royal Caribbean, Princess and other lines that offer European cruises with English as the sole language onboard, they feel like they are missing part of the experience because much of it is tuned to American culture. One German gentleman told me, "We didn't like the entertainment because there were too many American jokes that you don't get if you are not American."
There are actually not many differences between MSC and Costa, except that MSC has a special "Concierge Club" category of staterooms with a private sun deck, private restaurant including wine with dinner, and a private club for complimentary drinks, snacks and movies.
AIDAmar is one of the smaller new ships coming online in 2012 at just 71,000 tons for about 2,200 guests. The ship looks surprisingly like an NCL ship with the hull art work. This one even has a tall, forward suite complex that reminds me of Norwegian Epic. AIDA serves the German market and is partly owned by Carnival Corp.
What these Ships Have in Common
The most noticeable thing about this year's generation of cruise ships is the need to make every vessel yield as much revenue as possible, a sign of the new economic reality. The new cruise paradigm is for bigger, more crowded ships. The idea is to improve "yield," the amount of profit a cruise line makes per passenger per day. When you put more passengers onto a ship, you tend to have better yield per passenger because you are spreading the fixed costs (navigational crew, propellers, entertainment, etc.) over more people.
Higher yield ships will definitely be the trend with newly designed ships coming out in 2013 - but the concept has already been incorporated as much as possible into these 2012 arrivals, even though most were designed before the economic meltdown of 2008.
For ships before 2008, it was common to see passenger space ratios (PSRs) between 35 and 40 square meters per passenger. The PSRs on these newer ships tend to be lower, in the neighborhood of 30. Here are the details:
Passenger/Space Ratios on 2012 ships
1. Oceania's Riviera PSR 52.5 2. Celebrity Reflection PSR 40 3. Disney Fantasy PSR 32 4. Carnival Breeze PSR 30 5. Costa Fascinosa PSR 30.3 6. MSC Divina PSR 33.9 7. AIDAmar PSR 34.6
Here are the passenger/space ratios on some older ships:
Â· Seabourn Quest 71 Â· Seven Seas Mariner 70 Â· Crystal Serenity 62 Â· Silver Spirit 60.6 Â· Veendam 43.8 Â· Azamara Journey 43.6 Â· Oasis of the Seas 39.4 Â· New Princess 39 (33 full capacity) Â· Pride of America 37 Â· Norwegian Epic 36.4 Â· Norwegian Breakaway 36 Â· Grand Princess 35 Â· Splendour of the Seas 33.8