Cruising highlights for Aussies to look forward to in 2017

What does 2017 have in store for the world's major cruise lines?

Decision-makers at the cruise lines may be continuing to procrastinate on how to take that big next step forward for Australia’s cruise industry, however despite this, there are still so many exciting developments well past the drawing board for 2017.

While most are, not all of these are necessarily new ships. For travellers setting sail from the United States, Cuba returns as a hot new destination on the menu which is bound to entice intrepid explorers from around the world. Another destination which has been making its mark is Iceland, and this is expected to continue into next year.

In its ‘State of the Industry’ report released today, cruise industry representative body CLIA (which stands for Cruise Lines International Association) detailed 26 brand new ocean and river ships of different sizes will debut in 2017, worth a combined US$53 billion. Worldwide, passenger forecasts for 2017 are expected to surpass 25 million – with more young people than ever tipped to take a cruise, recognising the value of a sea holiday as being better than all-inclusive resorts, escorted tours, holiday homes and camping – land holidays in general.

But for now, in no order of preference, let’s go through the major and Australia’s most popular ocean and river cruise lines one by one to see what each one has to look forward to unwrapping under their Christmas trees and looking forward to for the coming 12 months.

1. Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Vista was the first in a new design for Carnival this year, and a second will come in 2018.

It has been a big year for Carnival Cruise Line as it took delivery in April of Carnival Vista, the first in a new design of ship for the company. After a short but successful stint of cruises close to its construction yard, Vista crossed the Atlantic to join the rest of its Northern Hemisphere fleet in North America.

The company will be keeping its powder dry in 2017 as anticipation builds for 2018 & 2019 when the second – Carnival Horizon – and third (currently unnamed) ships from this new class take to the seas.

2. Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean made history both in Australia and internationally with new arrivals in 2016.

If Royal Caribbean is able to top the year they had in 2016 over the next 12 months, it will be an achievement worth marvelling. The line made history on a global scale and also in Australian waters, delivering to both the biggest cruise ships ever seen. At the end of May, Harmony of the Seas became the largest cruise ship in the world, launched with a maximum capacity of 6,780 paying guests, plus crew. It really is a staggering statistic.

Then, earlier this month, local history was made and Australia took another big step out of the shadows and into the light as a major global cruise market when the 4,905-passenger Ovation of the Seas docked in Sydney Harbour and became the largest ship local waters had ever seen.

In what will be a sense of relief to its competitors, Royal Caribbean will be taking something of a break in 2017, with no new ships due to be delivered for the first time since 2013. That doesn’t mean the line is resting on its laurels or its achievements to date, as it will instead be gearing up for another spree of new ships – five more in five years – starting in 2018. Expect names for some of these new behemoths to be disclosed as the days tick away.

3. P&O Cruises Australia

Fans of P&O Cruises have a new ship to look forward to in 2017 in Pacific Explorer, which will feature the Black Circus Theatre.

Even though it is now customary for Australia’s home grown cruise line, P&O Cruises, to be the beneficiary of sorts in the hand-me-down department from other cruise lines, there’s no denying that it makes the most of this used hardware and turns them into something special.

We saw it with the ships currently sailing as Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden. More than 20 years have passed since both first took to the seas, but you wouldn’t know it by looking onboard. Both vessels are now well integrated in their new guise into the P&O fleet, and this “tradition” of sorts will continue into 2017 when Dawn Princess is transformed into Pacific Explorer.

It stands to reason then that when the 2,000-passenger vessel returns from Singapore with its new name emblazoned on the side, it will be loaded with plenty of new features including two water slides, a summer pub and the Black Circus Dinner Theatre which will be taking the cruise tradition of dinner followed by a show (or vice-versa) and mashing them together.

Pacific Explorer will be the second major event for the line in 2017 and will follow a similar refurbishment for fleet-made Pacific Dawn, which will enter dry dock in February and emerge with water slides of its own. In turn, the fleet will also say goodbye to Pacific Pearl, which will head to the Northern Hemisphere for a new life with UK brand Cruise & Maritime Voyages.

4. Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line can ignore the growth in Australia no longer, with two different ships to see local waters in 2017.

It will be all quiet on the proverbial Western Front for Norwegian Cruise Line in 2017, but far from it in the East. While it’s unclear how much noise will be made in the US and Australia about it, particularly as cabins on this ship are not on sale in these markets, the brand will take the covers off a new ship designed specifically for its entry into the Chinese market.

Norwegian Joy will be something of a new front for NCL. The second of four Breakaway Plus ships, this new fleet member will feature all the results of extensive research into the tastes of Chinese travellers including Mandarin-speaking crew, signage, entertainment and more.

Back at home, the line will see highlights come at both ends of the year. Norwegian Star will become the first NCL branded ship since Norwegian Wind in 2001 to sail into Sydney Harbour on a short little exploratory adventure between Asia and New Zealand.

It’s a good warm-up act but the main event takes to the stage in November when Norwegian Jewel arrives from Los Angeles for a full three-month season of cruising from Australia. The 2,376-passenger vessel will be sailing itineraries ranging from five nights through to 40-night repositioning voyages from the US and then back to Asia at the end of its maiden visit.

5. APT

The RV AmaLotus completed a major refurbishment and is back in service on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Kicking off the year with a brand new ship – the R/V Samatha – has kept APT in a position of strength on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. This part of Asia has been untapped until just recently and is now seeing good numbers of Aussies keen on exploring new horizons.

Further south on the Mekong, the R/V AmaLotus completed a major refurbishment and is now delighting travellers up and down the strait between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and the Cambodian city of Siem Reap. Part of this work saw an expansion of the public spaces aboard to increase the room available to guests to enjoy viewing the villages and communities along the river banks.

There are no new ships scheduled to join the APT fleet in 2017, so fans of the brand can expect the same familiar and enjoyable experiences will continue as they know it.

6. Scenic

New to river cruising in 2017 comes the first cooking school on a Scenic ship.

River cruising as a travel style continues to develop each year and this will continue in 2017, with one of the world’s major players – Scenic – unveiling the first cooking school in operation onboard one of these vessels.

Dubbed Scenic Culinaire, the first of these facilities will appear on Scenic Diamond from around the middle of next year as it cruises between Paris and the Bordeaux wine region, visiting plenty of small family-run wineries and indulging travellers in some of the finest fresh produce the region can grow.

Two new small ships recently launched on the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers in Vietnam and Myanmar in 2016 – Scenic Aura and Scenic Spirit respectively – will continue to grow their fan bases and develop their presence on their home rivers as next year ticks along.

7. MSC Cruises

MSC for Me will allow you to locate your kids anywhere onboard if they happen to sneak off to the water park.

After a few years waiting its turn, European line MSC Cruises will burst into the spotlight on multiple occasions next year, with two brand new ships being handed over from their French builders and put into service as the newest members of the MSC fleet.

First up will be MSC Meraviglia, which for the next three years at least will become the line’s largest ship with a maximum capacity of over 5,500 passengers. This ship will feature a virtually new interior design with an internal promenade lined with boutique retail outlets, cafes, dining and entertainment options including a tenpin bowling alley.

Families and groups will also be catered to in a new way with more staterooms grouped together especially to house these larger travelling parties to allow them to stay together if so desired. It will come in handy for multi-generational families cruising around Europe.

The second major foreseeable event for MSC next year is the debut of a second ship known as MSC Seaside. This 5,000-guest ship will become the line’s first ship to be christened in the United States, which is where it will spend its time cruising year-round to the Caribbean from its Florida base.

Highlights of this new star will be a wrap-around ocean side promenade which will become a central hub for travellers to spend their day, sunbathing or wandering shops & dining venues.

8. Princess Cruises

Majestic Princess will be the third of Princess Cruises' Royal class of ship, based year-round in China..

Modest growth will be enjoyed by Princess Cruises next year. Similar to Norwegian Cruise Line, a new ship will join the fleet and will head immediately to sail permanently in China.

Majestic Princess will be the third in a line of ships which also include Regal Princess and Royal Princess – both of which can be found in Europe. Launching in the first half of the year, the new vessel will be the same size as its sisters but will be more geared toward its Chinese clientele with Mandarin-speaking crew, a larger casino, shorter itineraries to suit local holiday styles and multi-language signage.

Like its sisters, it will feature the Princess Live! television studio onboard, a boardwalk which stretches out over the side of the ship and a multi-floor glass atrium.

9. Celebrity Cruises

The new Celebrity Xperience will be put into service in March on completion of a major post-purchase upgrade and refurbishment.

Still nearly two years away from the debut of Celebrity Edge – the first brand new major ocean-going ship in the fleet, Celebrity Cruises will see perhaps its biggest movements of 2017 come from the smallest ships – its often-forgotten expedition craft sailing around the Galapagos Islands. Following their recent purchase and renaming, the new Celebrity Xperience and Celebrity Xploration will increase to three a fleet which has been long served by just the one vessel for many years – Celebrity Xpedition.

Both of the new ships are significantly smaller, catering to just 48 and 16 guests respectively per voyage, well down on the 96 on their elder sibling.

Elsewhere in the fleet for 2017, it’s largely a case of maintaining the status quo. Celebrity Solstice will continue to delight guests in Australia and New Zealand during the summer before making its annual autumn and spring Pacific crossings to journey in Alaska during the cooler Australian months.

10. Holland America Line

The newest addition to the Holland America Line fleet - MS Koningsdam - made its debut in April 2016.

Another line planning a bit of a breather in 2017 will be Holland America Line. Now settled with its newest vessel MS Koningsdam fully integrated in the fleet and cruising both in Europe and the Americas, the line can now begin to ramp up excitement for its sister – MS Nieuw Statendam – which will be coming towards the latter end of 2018.

In the meantime, the premium mid-size line will continue on its course of refurbishing the existing fleet to offer similar staterooms, features and amenities as Koningsdam as part of its US$300 million revitalisation program.

11. Viking Cruises

The fourth of six Viking Ocean Cruises vessels - Viking Sun - will be ready towards the end of 2017.

Fresh from floating its fourth ocean-going ship – Viking Sun – just the other day, the line well known for its rapid rate of expansion will say hello to this ship as well as its predecessor Viking Sky in 2017. True to Viking tradition, both will be identical to the two ships currently in service – Viking Star and Viking Sea.

What won’t be the same however will be the destinations these ships sail. Formerly limited to Europe, Viking Sun will initially begin life in the United States, foraging the line’s debut in Cuba. Late in the year, it will head west from Miami and will keep going on a mega 141-day saga which will visit 66 ports in 35 countries – including Australia and New Zealand – the line’s first foray into local waters.

Over in the river cruise department in Europe, Russia, Egypt and Asia, there are no plans for any further expansion of its existing fleet of 70 ships.

12. Silversea Cruises

A rendering of the Verandah Suite on Silver Muse - the next addition to the Silversea Cruises fleet.

One of the quieter lines which does its own thing and continues to look after a huge army of fiercely loyal clientele, the luxury Silversea Cruises will surely make a big splash in 2017 when it launches its first brand new ship in eight years – Silver Muse.

The brand new vessel will cater to around 596 passengers but interestingly, will feature a huge array of eight different restaurants for guests to choose from. This upmarket range will stretch from the formal La Dame by Relaix & Chateaux to the stylish Silver Note. On a more casual level, guests have the Hot Rocks DIY grill down to the come-as-you-are Regina Margherita pizza bar.

Across the office in the Expedition department, it will also be a big year as the line completes the transformation of Silver Cloud from a luxury cruise ship to a luxury expedition vessel. The ship’s capacity will be significantly decreased – nearly halved in fact – to make for larger cabins for travellers and more space for exploration equipment including a fleet of zodiac craft, presentation lounges and facilities for a team of experts in a variety of fields.

13. Seabourn

The pool deck on the brand new Seabourn Encore - which will probably the first ship launched for the year.

Whether or not they’re really trying, cruise lines must take a certain level of satisfaction to be involved in the first big story of the calendar year.

The year will only be a week old when Seabourn Encore is christened in glittering style in Singapore, overseen by one of its sister ships Seabourn Sojourn. The brand-new luxury build has just been unpacked from the box and successfully completed its sea trials, is running well and now on its maiden voyages which will see the ship eventually end up in the Lion City.

As many of us know, once the champagne has been broken on the hull to formally bring the ship to life, she will head south to Australian waters – marking the first time this part of the world has seen a ship quite as new as Encore will be.

The rest of the year will be largely uneventful for the line, having exploded all its fireworks in the first week. That’s until its second new ship – Seabourn Ovation – comes a year later.