Some weeks you scratch your head wondering what the next big thing in the cruise business will be; other weeks the cruise lines just come right out and scream it at you. Last week was one of the latter. Between February 7 and February 16, four major cruise lines announced new ships or surprising details about vessels due to debut in the coming year.

A New Queen Takes Shape at Cunard

Queens don't birth easy.

Way back in December 2001, Cunard (tel. 800/728-6273; and parent company Carnival Corporation announced construction of a new, 1,968-passenger vessel, to be built on a hull design identical to Holland America's Vista-class ships (Zuiderdam, et al). In April 2003 the line dubbed the not-yet-begun vessel Queen Victoria. One year later, with the vessel well under construction, she was stripped of her title and transferred to Carnival's recently acquired P&O brand, where she later launched as Arcadia.

Still with me?

The decision to forgo the HAL-hulled Queen came in the aftermath of QM2's tumultuously successful debut, when the ocean liner mystique was very much on the minds of both the public and Cunard's marketing and sales departments. In place of the defrocked vessel, Cunard ordered a new vessel with a greater family resemblance to QE2 and QM2.

"The design of the new Queen Victoria will be more consistent with the grand ocean liner style," explained Cunard's then president, Pamela Conover. "We want to be sure that our new ship has all the luxurious Cunard attributes our clients expect."

Now, nearly a year after she was originally to have launched, the new Queen Victoria finally got some meat on her bones as Cunard released details of her design and amenities.

Cunard style she's got, with the line's classic black-and-red hull livery. At 90,000 gross tons, she'll also be the second-largest Cunarder ever, after QM2. Though still based to some degree on the HAL Vista-class design, Queen Victoria's hull has reportedly been lengthened and strengthened to improve the vessel's sea-keeping abilities on transatlantic passages.

Inside, she has a number of striking spaces that preserve elements of the ocean liner days, including a two-story, wood-paneled library with a spiral staircase and some 6,000 books; a classically styled ballroom with a 1,000-square-foot dance floor; and a colonial-esque Winter Garden with tropical foliage, a fountain, wicker furniture, and a retractable glass roof.

Another element of the old ocean liner experience -- it's class structure -- will also be on display. In addition to the dining scheme that's become a Cunard staple (in which suite guests dine in a different restaurant than other passengers), the ship will feature an alfresco dining option and lounge just for those suite passengers.

"Cunard has the unique distinction of having the only true liners in the industry, and we're proud to be able to expand this heritage with our new Queen Victoria," said Carol Marlow, Cunard's president and managing director.¿"This vessel will offer our guests the classic Cunard luxury and experience they have come to expect while at the same time providing the most up-to-date amenities and facilities, along with a few impressive innovations."

Queen Victoria is scheduled to be christened on December 10, 2007, at her homeport of Southampton. No word yet on who'll do the honors. On December 11th she'll depart on her maiden voyage, a 10-night Northern Europe itinerary calling at Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo, Hamburg, and Bruges. Fares currently start around $1,900 per person, including early-booking discounts.

NCL Keeps Its Populist Edge, Planning First Onboard Bowling Alley

While Cunard sometimes remind us that "exclusive" means some people are excluded, Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/333-7300; is steadily reinforcing its place as the most populist of the major cruise lines, with an always-casual onboard vibe and a total dedication to the idea of "mainstream." How mainstream? How about the cruise world's first onboard bowling alley?

"Bowling is one of America's most popular recreational sports, with more than 69 million participants in the United States," said the line's president and CEO, Colin Veitch.¿"What better than to bring one of the most popular landside activities in the nation onto a ship?"

The full-size, four-lane, ten-pin alley will debut aboard NCL's next ship, Norwegian Pearl, when she launches in 2007. It's part of a new concept appropriately called "Bliss": a sports bar and bowling alley by day, a hipster lounge by night, with dance floor, DJ, cushiony day beds for lounging, and mood-lit bowling.

But don't ships tend to, y'know, move?

"Will the ball roll perfectly true?" said Veitch in announcing the attraction. "Much of the time yes, and some of the time no. We won't be hosting the world bowling championships; it's just fun we're shooting for! Bowling, drinking, dancing, and laughing with your friends and family. That's a strike every time in our book."

Ya gotta love it.

Royal Caribbean to Cruisers: Put Up Yer Dukes

Continuing on the brand-identity tip, Royal Caribbean International (tel. 800/327-6700; kicks it's active-lifestyle image up another notch with the announcement that the new Freedom of the Seas will feature a full-size twenty-by-twenty foot Everlast boxing ring and a range of related training programs.

The ring is part of what the line bills as the largest fitness center at sea, offering workouts that are rare even in shoreside gyms. Options include:

  • "Fight Klub" Boxing Training: Passengers can sign up for one-on-one training sessions with an experienced instructor using speed bags, jump ropes, heavy bags, and padded punching mitts. Groups of three can set up supervised sparring sessions with freestanding body master bags, and those wanting the full monte can arrange three one-hour sessions with a boxing coach.
  • ShipShape Class Program: The first-ever dedicated Pilates reformer studio at sea will offer personal training with Pilates instructors, while onboard yoga classes throughout the week bracket a class on the beach at Labadee, Royal Caribbean's private resort in Haiti. Other onboard classes include stretching, toning, "Boot Camp X-Treme Training," "Salsamania" dance workouts, and a group class using six linked treadmills cycling through various intensity levels and inclines.
  • Life Fitness' Cable Motion Weight Machines: New equipment gives exercisers the freedom to move their limbs independently of one another within a user-defined range, or to use different weights for each limb.
  • Mapped Running/Jogging Routes in the Ports of Call: Part of a new deal between Royal Caribbean and New Balance, which also includes stretch and fitness tips at intervals along the onboard running track.

"We have a legacy of offering the unexpected to our guests," said RCI president Adam Goldstein, "and we knew with Freedom of the Seas we had to come out with something fabulous at every turn -- our fitness center, the largest one found on any cruise ship, is no exception."

The Fight Klub boxing program is the latest onboard innovation announced for the 160,000-ton, 3,634-passenger Freedom, which will debut in May with a season of 7-night western Caribbean itineraries from Miami, calling in Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay (Jamaica), and Labadee. Previously announced wows include an onboard surfing simulator, a kids' water park, and hot tubs cantilevered out over the side of the ship, hanging 112 feet above the sea.

Freedom is scheduled to be christened on May 12 as part of a live broadcast on NBC's Today show, with whom Royal Caribbean in a contest to choose the ship's godmother. More than 171,000 viewers submitted the names of people in their lives who have "demonstrated exceptional spirit, courage and integrity." The winner was Katherine Louise Calder of Portland, Oregon, who over the past 27 years has served as foster mother to more than 400 special needs children, and acted as an an adoption advocate in the Portland area. For serving as godmother, Calder receives a lifetime ticket for annual sailings with Royal Caribbean, as well as $25,000 that will go toward the charity of her choice.

Celebrity Makes It a Pair for New Solstice-Class Vessels

In July, Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111; ended a three-year new-building dry spell by announcing construction of a new, 118,000-ton, 2,850-passenger vessel at Germany's Meyer Werft shipyard. New ships, though, are like potato chips: You can't just stop at one. So, last week, Celebrity exercised its option by ordering a second vessel on the same design. The first ship, due for delivery in fall 2008, will be named Solstice. Her sister, scheduled for summer 2009, will be named Equinox.

"The Solstice-class ships accelerate the tremendous growth and excitement that continues to build with this brand," said Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO of Celebrity's parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "We owe a lot of our inspiration to guests and travel partners, and we think they will be enormously pleased with this collaboration. We also thank our shipbuilding partner, Meyer Werft, for working with us to produce so many of our beautiful ships."

In more immediate terms, Celebrity's first-ever megaship, the 1,750-guest Century of 1995, is on schedule for a major, top-to-toe, $55 million makeover set to begin in April and run all through May. Changes and updates will include the addition of 314 new verandas added to existing staterooms; creation of a new specialty restaurant along the order of those on Celebrity's Millennium-class ships; new casual-dining options, including a sushi cafe; a Spa Cafe, offering light, healthy cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; a new martini bar offering more than thirty formulae; an expanded children's center; a new teen center; an expanded spa; and a dedicated home for Celebrity's "Acupuncture at Sea" program, offering guests acupuncture treatments, therapies, and enrichment lectures by licensed doctors of Oriental medicine. Once work is complete, the ship will sail a series of Baltic, Mediterranean, and Norwegian Fjord sailings before returning to the Caribbean in November for a season of 4- and 5-night round-trip cruises from Miami.

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