If 2016 was the year of large new ships, 2017 is almost the opposite. Last year saw seven new cruise ships join the cruise industry; 2017 will see eight (not including two ships being used exclusively by the Chinese cruise market). But where seven ships equaled 18,500 new beds in 2016, in 2017 eight will only bring 13,900 new beds -- with just two ships accounting for nearly 10,000 of those berths! This includes what will become the world's largest cruise ship (in terms of passenger capacity) -- MSC Meraviglia, which will hold 5,700 cruisers at maximum occupancy. Of the eight new cruise ships in 2017, six will hold fewer than 1,000 passengers, with three holding fewer than 500.
We'll also see some highly anticipated first-in-class ships, like MSC Meraviglia, as well as new-builds from Silversea and National Geographic.
Image: MSC Cruises
Viking Sky, February 2017, and Viking Sun, October 2017
The third and fourth ships in Viking Ocean's fleet, Viking Sky and Viking Sun, will be virtually identical to sister ships Viking Star and Viking Sea when they launch in 2017. Just like their fleetmates, the intimate, 930-passenger ships will feature the Explorer Lounge, a two-deck observation deck cum library with lots of comfy chairs and couches; the Nordic-inspired spa with Finnish sauna and snow room; the indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace dining venue; and a magrodome pool, with a glass roof that opens in warm weather.
Viking Sky and Viking Sun will be all-balcony cruise ships with the smallest cabins measuring a sizable 270 square feet; the largest suites comes in at 1,300 square feet.
Also like their sister ships, Viking Sky and Viking Sun will specialize in destination-oriented cruise experiences with long days in ports, plenty of overnights in major cities and few days at sea. Cruise fares provide a good value to cruisers; they include a selection of free shore excursions, complimentary Wi-Fi, and beer and wine at lunch and dinner.
Viking Sky Itineraries: Mediterranean, Baltic, Northern Europe, Holy Lands
Viking Sun Itineraries: Central America & Cuba, Panama Canal, Northern Europe, World Cruise
Image: Viking Cruises
Silver Muse, April 2017
The 596-passenger, all-suite Silver Muse -- Silversea's first new-build since 2009 -- will be the largest ship in the fleet and will serve as line's flagship. Onboard highlights include four two-bedroom, apartment-style Owner's Suites measuring 1,389 square feet; eight restaurants (including three outdoors); and a sophisticated indoor/outdoor cigar and whisky bar.
Of the eight restaurants onboard, all will be included in the cruise fare except one. Kabuki will be the ship's Japanese eatery with teppanyaki tabletop grills for dinnertime, and sushi and sashimi available during the day. Silver Note is a jazz club that doubles as a tapas bar, with musicians playing jazz and blues at dinner. Hot Rocks will be a fun outdoor, pool deck venue where cruisers can grill their own seafood and meats. The only for-fee restaurant will be La Dame, a Relais & Chateaux venue with upscale French cuisine using locally sourced ingredients.
Among the suites on offer on Silver Muse will be entry-level rooms starting at 387 square feet, with spacious 64-square-foot balconies and more signature Silver Suites (measuring 786 square feet) than on any other Silversea ship.
Silver Muse Itineraries: Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Canada, Caribbean, South America, Africa, Asia
MSC Meraviglia, May 2017
With a name that means "wonder" in Italian, the 5,700-passenger MSC Meraviglia will become the largest cruise ship -- in terms of passenger capacity -- when it launches in spring 2017. Like most other MSC ships it will be based in Europe and cater to an international crowd. It will also be one of the most technologically advanced cruise ships with wristband technology that can be used in place of keycards to make purchases; the wrist bands will also have geo-location so parents can locate their kids. The Mediterranean-style indoor promenade will feature a 262-foot-long LED "sky" that changes throughout the day.
Onboard MSC Meraviglia, cruisers will find 12 restaurants and the fleet's largest MSC Yacht Club, spanning three decks, with 78 suites, 15 inside cabins and two apartments -- each of which features a living room and two balconies (one with outdoor dining table and private hot tub). Families will appreciate a series of interlocked "cluster cabins" designed to allow up to three cabins to be joined to accommodate up to 10 cruisers.
Entertainment on MSC Meraviglia will be highlighted by two Cirque du Soleil shows, created exclusively for MSC Cruises. Performed six nights a week in The Carousel Lounge, the dinner theater show will feature Cirque du Soleil's signature acrobatics and special effects. Outdoor fun will be available at the large outdoor water park and amusement park.
MSC Meraviglia Itineraries: Mediterranean, Northern Europe
Image: MSC Cruises
American Constellation, May 2017
American Cruise Lines' 163-passenger American Constellation will set sail in May 2017 as the first coastal cruise ship new-build in several years. Built to navigate the Eastern coastline, as well as inland waterways, American Constellation will sail seven- to 10-night East Coast, Hudson River and Intracoastal Waterway itineraries. It is the largest of the cruise line's coastal ships, boasting nine cabin categories, with the smallest rooms larger than 250 square feet and most having private balconies. There is also a selection of single rooms for solo cruisers.
The ship has one dining room; seating is open and the overall dress code is casual. Menu items reflect regional cuisine and food is often locally sourced at ports visited. Complimentary wine and beer are free-flowing at lunch and dinner; Wi-Fi and unlimited soda, coffee, tea and snacks are also included in the cruise fare.
Other onboard amenities include a small fitness center, putting green and elevator to all decks.
American Constellation Itineraries: Chesapeake Bay, New England, Hudson River, Mid-Atlantic Inland Passage, Southern U.S.
Image: American Cruise Lines
National Geographic Quest, June 2017
Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Quest, scheduled to sail in late June, is also the first new-build in several years for that cruise line. It will be the largest ship in the line's existing fleet, holding 100 passengers in 50 cabins, nearly half of which will have balconies. It will also be the first ship in the fleet to offer family-friendly accommodations with eight rooms that can be connected.
National Geographic Quest will feature a suite of technological tools to enhance passengers' connection to wildlife, including remotely operated vehicles (ROV), a hydrophone and bow-cam designed to hear humpback whale vocalizations and film bow-riding dolphins, a high-tech audiovisual system for onboard presentations and National Geographic photography classes.
Onboard spaces will include a restaurant and lounge with bar, sun deck with an outdoor walkway and alfresco bar and grill, fully equipped fitness room and a spa (a rarity on expedition ships!). National Geographic Quest will also feature a mini-fleet of sea kayaks, paddleboards and expedition landing craft. Passengers will be able to make use of full warm- and cold-water diving gear.
National Geographic Quest Itineraries: Alaska, Pacific Northwest, Central America
Image: Lindblad Expeditions
MSC Seaside, December 2017
The second new cruise ship for MSC Cruises in 2017, MSC Seaside will be the first in the new Seaside class of ships being designed specifically for the North American market. (MSC Seaview will launch in 2018.) Holding 5,179 passengers, the ship will boast a whopping 463,000 square feet of public space, the highlight of which will be an outdoor promenade filled with shops, bars and alfresco dining. Other onboard attractions will be a giant five water slide aqua park, ropes course, 426-foot-long zipline, see-through glass walkways that hang over the ocean and open-air spa treatment facilities.
Among the innovative cabins cruisers will find onboard MSC Seaside will be terraced balcony cabins, which feature sea views but also overlook the promenade below; cluster cabins, designed specifically with families in mind; and suites with private outdoor hot tubs. Dining choices will include a Pan-Asian restaurant created specifically for MSC by acclaimed chef Roy Yamaguchi.
Fitness gurus will enjoy the ship's partnership with TechnoGym, which has created an extra-fee package that includes one free fitness class, one free personal training session, healthy food items, free laundry and in-cabin fitness equipment like yoga mats and resistance bands, among other inclusions.
MSC Seaside Itineraries: Caribbean
Image: MSC Cruises
Flying Clipper, late 2017
The five-masted Flying Clipper will be the first new-build tall ship for Star Clippers in 15 years. It is modeled after a legendary sailing ship -- France II -- that was the world's biggest when it launched in 1912. When Flying Clipper debuts, it will be Star Clippers' largest ship, carrying 300 passengers; it will be powered by nearly 68,000 square feet of sail, in addition to fuel-efficient engines (for when there's no wind).
Flying Clipper will have 150 cabins, but only 34 will have balconies, including the four Owner's Suites. There will be one two-deck restaurant onboard offering open-seating for all meals. The alfresco Tropical Bar, a Star Clippers signature lounge, is the focal point of the ship; it's where passengers go for destination talks, musical entertainment and even exercise classes. There will also be an indoor Piano Bar for cruisers who prefer shelter and air conditioning. New to Flying Clipper will be a Dive Bar, by the scuba diving pool on the aft deck, which will serve as an alternative to the Tropical Bar in the evening. (The scuba dive pool descends 18 feet through two decks with glass sides so passengers can watch the divers.)
A water sports platform will be available when the ship is at anchor. Free options will include snorkeling, sea kayaking, dinghy sailing and water skiing.
Flying Clipper Itineraries: Mediterranean, Caribbean
Image: Star Clippers
Editor's Note: Flying Clipper's launch date has been pushed back to 2018.
Norwegian Joy and Majestic Princess, both summer 2017
Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises also have new ships coming out in 2017, but both ships have been purpose-built for the Chinese market and will be sent to Asia for yearlong cruising. Princess' new ship, Majestic Princess, will sail a short season of Mediterranean cruises before deploying to Asia.
The 3,600-passenger Majestic Princess will be the third ship in the line's Royal Class, but will not be identical to sister ships Royal Princess and Regal Princess as it has been designed specifically with Chinese cruisers in mind. Nevertheless, it will feature some Princess signature elements such as the adults-only Sanctuary, Movies Under the Stars and the SeaWalk, a glass walkway that juts out over the ocean.
Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Joy, the second in its Breakaway-Plus class, will carry 3,900 passengers. Like Majestic Princess, it will be custom-built for the Chinese market with Mandarin as the official language onboard; it will homeport in Shanghai and Tianjin (Beijing). Among its most innovative onboard attractions will be a two-level racetrack for electric carts on the top deck, an open-air laser tag course and indoor hovercraft bumper cars.
Majestic Princess Itineraries: Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, Asia
Norwegian Joy Itineraries: Asia
Image: Princess Cruises
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.