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Bigger is better for new cruise ships

Written by editor

A game of constant ante-upping has long been what’s kept the cruise industry afloat.

A game of constant ante-upping has long been what’s kept the cruise industry afloat. And even in times of worldwide recession, the new ships of the world set to launch in 2009 are competing with each other in prices and amenities as never before.

To be sure, wave rider machines, water parks and glass blowing classes continue the over-the-top onboard entertainment theme that grows fancier with each passing year. In keeping with cruising decadence, Royal Caribbean’s new Oasis of the Seas will debut the world’s first onboard zip-line and the deepest pool afloat, the AquaTheater (to be used for high dive spectacles).

But where 2009’s best new ships make the biggest overall impression is sheer size.

Five of the 10 ships on our list this year are the largest boats in their classes. Even river ships, accustomed to complying with size restrictions, are kicking the size factor up a notch. When the Viking Legend arrives in April, it will offer Europe’s largest river cruise suites to passengers exploring locales such as Slovakia and the Netherlands.

Still, the biggest news is the late autumn release of the Oasis of the Seas. With room for 5,400 passengers, this scale-buster (220,000 tons) will be the biggest cruise ship in the world by a long shot. Onboard, the ship is broken into seven ‘neighborhoods’ to make navigating what is essentially a floating city a little bit easier.

“This ship’s going to be phenomenal,” says Steven Hattem, Vice President of Marketing for South Florida-based CruiseOne & Cruises Inc. “The loft suites on the Oasis of the Seas will rival any luxury ship — and also rival any luxury accommodation at the nicest hotels in Las Vegas or New York.”

Oasis of the Seas’ lofts are the first multi-deck staterooms afloat — and they’re also the tallest accommodations at sea. The 28 contemporary dual-level lofts, outfitted with modern art and every imaginable amenity, have floor-to-ceiling windows that make for unprecedented views. That said, the ship’s routing will be fairly staid: Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Oasis of the Seas’ will stick to standard Caribbean cruises.

The Yachts of Seabourn will unveil the latest addition to its fleet in mid-June — the $250 million Seabourn Odyssey. The launch marks the first introduction of a new build on the ultra luxury cruise market in six years. The Odyssey will become the largest in the fleet, at nearly three times the size of any other Seabourn ship.

All that extra room, however, accommodates only about twice as many passengers, putting the emphasis on larger staterooms and increased onboard amenities. The Odyssey will boast the largest spa in the fleet, complete with private spa villas with their own sunbathing terraces.

But top luxury lines have been slower to increase their numbers.

“Despite the incredible growth of the cruise industry over the last decade, the luxury brands — Seabourn, Silversea, Regent, Crystal — haven’t grown much at all,” says Tom Coiro, co-founder of Direct Line Cruises.

Perhaps surprisingly, Coiro says the relative stagnation on the luxury market has little to do with the economy.

“It’s due to the fact that some of the non-luxury brands — the premium brands — have actually captured a significant part of the luxury market with the concept of a ship within a ship,” says Coiro.

That said, Silversea Cruises will debut its first new build since 2001 later this year. The Silver Spirit brings the largest staterooms to the fleet, as well as a new Asian restaurant and supper club concept. Also ready for a 2009 launch is Celebrity Cruise’s Equinox, the sister ship to the much-lauded Solstice, which debuted in late 2008.

“The penthouse suites (on the Equinox) have a separate dining room and a living room with a baby grand piano, walk-in closets, surround sound,” says Coiro. “There are private verandas with whirlpools in these suites, at 400-square-feet, larger than the standard stateroom in the so called luxury ships,” he says. “We’re talking about an apartment at sea.”