The year 2010 marked the launch of new cutting-edge ships with NCL’s Norwegian Epic and Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas. In 2011 new ships continue, including Disney Cruise Line’s first newbuild in over 10 years. Beyond new ships, cruise lines are carrying over some of their new innovations to existing ships as well. For group leaders, this presents more options available for your groups.

New Ships

Oceania Cruises’ new Marina, (Photo courtesy of Oceania Cruises)

Oceania Cruises’ newly launched Marina is its very first newbuild, and the ship enhances the special features that the line has developed since launching in 2004. The Marina features 10 different dining venues, all at no additional charges; six of them are open-seating gourmet restaurants. One is Jacques, named after master chef Jacque Pépin, who oversees Oceania Cruises’ cuisine. The Marina is 66,000 gross registered tons and carries 1,250 guests. It features the Bon Appétit Culinary Center and Canyon Ranch SpaClub.

In the river cruise line segment, Avalon Waterways newest, the Avalon Panorama, is being called the “Suite Ship” because it introduces the line’s Panorama Suite design. There are 64 Panorama Suites on the top two decks, each measuring 200 square feet. In addition, these suites have a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall window with a seating area adjacent to it, so when this 11-by-7-foot-tall window opens, it transforms the suite into a balcony.

Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream, which just made its debut, is its first newbuild in over 10 years. Keeping the streamlined exterior of its two previous ships, Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, and avoiding the boxy exterior of many new ships, the Disney Dream maintains the “ocean liner” feel and is larger – 4,000 guests, 128,000 gross registered tons. In addition, the Disney Dream features the cruise industry’s first shipboard water coaster ride, AquaDuck, where guests seated on inflatable rafts go through a 765-foot-long tube from the ship’s highest point and then through a funnel and a loop that extends 13 feet off the ship’s side.

Another first? Disney Dream’s interior staterooms have “virtual portholes” that  offer live video feeds from cameras outside the ship, so guests in these staterooms have an outside view, just like they would if they had reserved an oceanview stateroom. The portholes also have an animated pirate ship or starfish. Another magical touch, “Enchanted Art,” appears throughout the ship – it animates when guests approach it and then changes.

As far as dining, the Disney Dream continues with the rotation dining concept that Disney Cruise Line pioneered. Guests and their servers move to a different dining room each evening, including the Royal Palace Restaurant (with décor inspired by four Disney princesses), Animator’s Palate (this time featuring an underwater motif) and Enchanted Garden, which gradually transforms from day to night and is fashioned after the gardens of Versailles.

MSC Cruises’ newest ship, the MSC Divina, debuts in May 2012 in Marseilles, France, continuing the line’s tradition of christening new ships in different ports of call. Originally named the MSC Fantastica, the ship has been renamed MSC Divina in honor of Sophia Loren, the fleet’s godmother. This Fantasia Class ship  (137,936 gross registered tons, approximately 1,739 cabins) features an enlarged MSC Yacht Club, a “ship within a ship,” for guests who desire more privacy,  including special suite accommodations, exclusive areas, round-the-clock butler service, an exclusive 24-hour concierge reception lounge and swimming pool. The Aft lounge, an adults-only area that surrounds the Aft Infinity Pool, is being enlarged onboard the MSC Divina.

Passengers of all ages will love the Twister waterslide on the new Carnival Magic. Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Magic debuts in May and will also unveil some firsts. At 130,000 gross registered tons and 3,690 passengers, Carnival Magic will have the cruise industry’s first ropes course, part of the SportsSquare Complex.  Guests can traverse across nets suspended above the ship’s Spa Deck 12 and have views of the sea 150 feet below. Another first is an outdoor weightlifting area, along with a two-level miniature golf course. Included in the Aqua Play splash park (for families) is the Twister spiral water slide and a 500-gallon dump bucket.

The Cucina del Capitano specialty restaurant, also called the Captain’s Kitchen, will feature recipes selected by Carnival’s captains. For dinner there will be small surcharge, but during the day this area will feature a made-to-order pasta bar with no surcharge.

The Carnival Magic will also have the cruise line’s first pub, RedFrog Pub, which will offer its very own private label beer, ThirstyFrog Red. The Caribbean-themed pub will serve island-inspired snacks, plus Caribbean rums and beers.

The Lawn Club is a popular feature on Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice Class ships. Photo courtesy Celebrity Cruises

When Celebrity Cruises’ next Solstice Class ships, the Celebrity Silhouette and Celebrity Reflection, are introduced in 2011 and 2012 respectively, they will include some new enhancements, particularly with The Lawn Club. The cruise industry’s first outdoor grill venue, the Lawn Club Grill, will feature interactive cooking demonstrations and classes, grilling secrets and a casual lunch menu. In the evening guests will be able to choose from a selection of top-quality meats to grill with Celebrity chefs at their side or have it grilled to order. A nominal surcharge will apply. The Lawn Club Grill will replace the Corning Museum of Glass, which has glass-blowing demonstrations on the first three Solstice Class ships – Solstice, Equinox and Eclipse.)

Another new area of The Lawn Club will be The Porch, which will provide guests with an intimate dining venue to enjoy complimentary salads, paninis, sandwiches and fresh pastries along with views of the sea and the lawn. In addition, The Art Studio appeals to guests who love art, offering them the chance to participate in hands-on instruction from experts in areas of drawing, beading and painting. Another new feature is The Alcoves, which includes exclusive cabana-style settings, offering two to four guests a private retreat overlooking the lawn and sea. The Alcoves will be available for all-day or partial-day rentals and include WiFi.

The restyled Michael’s Club onboard the Celebrity Silhouette and Celebrity Reflection provides a casually elegant bar where guests can enjoy a selection of more than 50 beers, rare malts, scotches and whiskies while watching major sporting events on 46” TV screens.

As for accommodations, the Celebrity Silhouette and Celebrity Reflection will include the new AquaClass Suites (251 square feet plus 57-foot verandas) as well as the amenities already included for AquaClass guests, such as complimentary access to the specialty restaurant Blu. The Celebrity Reflection will be slightly larger than her sister ships, coming in at 126,000 gross registered tons.

Enhancements and Revitalizations

Royal Caribbean International is in the process of revitalizing a few of its existing ships as part of its “Royal Advantage” initiatives. Radiance of the Seas has new restaurants – Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse, the Italian Giovanni’s Table, Mexican-themed Rita’s Cantina, the exclusive Chef’s Table dining experience and the Pak Cafe deli-style restaurant. Splendor of the Seas will have the Park Cafe as well as two new specialty restaurants. During the first quarter of 2011, Oasis of the Seas will have some new onboard programs – 3-D movies in the main Opal Theatre, DreamWorks Experience and a Starbucks coffee shop.

In 2011 Celebrity Cruises is expanding its onboard activities program, Celebrity Life, with Smithsonian Journeys speakers on 99 cruises to six destinations. Celebrity Life activities will include more game show-format contests, karaoke, trivia and pool games. Celebrity is also expanding the use of the iPad mobile device for presenting onboard scavenger hunts.

With more new ships, as well as enhancements to current ships, your group has more to choose from. And it’s good to know your group won’t have to trade off if it decides to sail on an existing ship rather than a brand new one.