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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Top 10 cruises in 2010

MS Majesty of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean...Image via Wikipedia
Top 10 cruises in 2010
February 23rd, 2010

It’s a brand-new year, and 2010 is bringing with it boatloads of opportunity for adventure on the high seas. Our editors cast a wide net across worldwide waters to find the buzzworthiest new boats and most interesting itineraries, each set to make massive waves in the cruise industry.

From innovative mega-ships to dreamy, tall-mast schooners, and from sailing circuits debuting in our own backyard to those kicking off halfway around the globe, our picks for the Top 10 Cruises in 2010 cover all of the bases.

Best of all, our deal-savvy experts expect cruising to continue to offer some of the best-value vacations out there in 2010, with last-minute and shoulder-season cruises granting the most jaw-dropping savings, while luxury cruise lines are primed to sweeten the pot with plenty of extra perks, like free airfare and two-for-one pricing.

Be sure to check out the hottest cruise promotions on the deals section of, and to keep up-to-date on the latest cruise industry happenings over at our Cruise News blog!

Best big ship debut

Cruise line: Norwegian
Ship name: Norwegian Epic
2010 itineraries: Western & Eastern Caribbean

She may be the biggest cruise ship in the world, but Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas is so 2009. Come summer 2010, the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic is set to steal the show as this decade’s hottest new super-sizer.

Norwegian’s largest ship, the tricked-out Epic heralds intrepid innovations like an ice bar, two-story Nintendo Wii screen, rappelling wall, and the largest “bowl slide” (designed for adrenaline-packed inner-tube runs) at sea — not to mention 20 different dining options and on-board performances by the Blue Man Group and The Second City comedy troupe.

Its sumptuous suite complex touts two decks worth of spacious private villas, while its sleek spa staterooms feature curved walls, circular beds, domed ceilings, and in-room hot tubs.

After making her maiden voyage from London to New York on June 24, the Epic will embark on year-round 7-night itineraries out of Miami to the Western (Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras) and Eastern (St. Maarten; St. Thomas; Nassau, Bahamas) Caribbean. From $649/person (for Caribbean sailings); select sailing dates from July through December.

Best small ship debut

Cruise line: Island Windjammers
Ship name: Diamant
2010 itineraries: The Grenadines

If froufrou and formalwear aren’t your idea of a fun cruise, then trade in the floating-city-at-sea feel for a more authentic pirates-in-the-Caribbean adventure. Island Windjammers debuted in November 2009 in the name of tall-ship, barefoot sailing, offering year-round, 6-night cruises to the Grenadines (aka the “Spice Isles”) aboard the intimate Diamant.

A vintage brigantine schooner (built in 1978), the 12-passenger ship (which accommodates an additional six crew members) is outfitted with wood paneling, loads of deck space, and six cabins featuring A/C, portholes, and private baths. Each week, Captain Matt Thomas (formerly at the helm for Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, before it folded in 2008) designs a flexible itinerary based on weather, guest interests, and what’s happening on shore.

Begin the day with Bloody Marys before calling upon one of the 600-plus islets dotting the turquoise waters, many out of reach to the mega-boat masses (who are restricted largely to the main islands of St. Vincent and Grenada).

Snorkel off the Tobago Cays, visit a turtle sanctuary in Bequia, shop at celebrity-laden Mustique’s boutiques, or simply succumb to limin’ (local lingo for “relaxing”) beneath the sails with a swizzle (rum punch) in hand. Later, dine on fresh-caught lobster whipped up by the onboard chef before unwinding over games or a drink on deck, or heading out to go bar-crawling ashore. From $1,599/person, includes beverages, gratuities, and use of leisure equipment; year-round sailings.

Best old-world style ship debut

Cruise line: Cunard
Ship name: Queen Elizabeth
2010 itineraries: Northern
Europe, Mediterranean & Caribbean

The Cunard name has been making waves in maritime history since the mid-19th century, when it became the first cruise line to carry passengers on routine voyages across the Atlantic. Although times have changed, Cunard’s classic black ocean liners, romantic itineraries, stellar white-glove service, and refined British heritage have not ceased to fan the flames on our fascination with the sea.

The long-awaited Queen Elizabeth will debut October 12, marking a return to the three “Queens of Cunard” (she’ll join the QM2 and Queen Victoria). Named after her legendary 1930s predecessor (which was decommissioned in 1972), the new ship combines tradition with modern comfort, showcasing balconies in the majority of staterooms; a two-tiered library; private theater boxes; and a plant-filled, glass conservatory lounge.

Though her maiden voyage sold out in just 29 minutes — space is still available on the Iberian Discovery sailing on December 1. Granting an identical itinerary to her first-ever expedition (at a reduced rate, to boot), the 13-night voyage departs from Southampton, England to call on ports in Portugal, Spain, and the Canary Islands.

Don’t miss the boat on her 2010 sailings (scattered between the Meditteranean, Northern Europe, and Caribbean) — Queen Elizabeth will begin an epic 103-night world cruise come January 2011. From $2,620 (for the Iberian Discovery voyage); embarks December 1.

Best river ship debut

Cruise line: Victoria Cruises
Ship name: Victoria Jenna
2010 itineraries: China’s Yangtze River

Raising the bar on luxury river cruises, American-managed Victoria Cruises’ Victoria Jenna, launched in fall 2009 along China’s Yangtze River, is touted as the world’s largest river cruise ship, offering amenities one would expect only on more mammoth open-sea vessels: all staterooms have wireless Internet access, full bathtubs, and private balconies.

But while the numbers may indeed impress — two full-service restaurants, four elevators, five decks, 189 staterooms – nothing upstages Victoria’s incredible Yangtze itineraries. The eight-vessel cruise line’s most popular itinerary is the 3- or 4-night Three Gorges Highlights program, which sails past timeworn pagodas and ancient temples on a journey between Chongqing and Yichang.

While high-season base rates are remarkably affordable (ringing in at under a grand), be sure to factor in extra cash flow for the stellar shore excursions, which include options like visits to Ming-Dynasty-era cities or to the massive Three Gorges Dam. From $980/person; select sailing dates from April to May and September to October.

Best expedition ship debut

Cruise line: Abercrombie & Kent
Ship name: MV Le Boreal
2010 itineraries: Antarctica

The White Continent, with its unspoiled terrain of majestic mountains, giant glaciers, and plentiful penguins, has sent out a siren call to the most intrepid of travelers since commercial tourism first dawned there some half-century ago.

Accessed primarily by sea, the expedition-ship experience — long defined as ruggedly functional, at best — is due for an upgrade in the new year, when luxury travel provider Abercrombie & Kent rolls out journeys to this last frontier aboard what is being heralded as the world’s finest expedition vessel: the MV Le Boreal.

To be chartered from upscale French cruse line, Compagnie du Ponant (following its May launch and subsequent European tour), the ship is raising the bar on Antarctic adventuring as per style and comfort, as well on cruise lines’ expected environmental sensibilities in the region (with high-tech features overseeing waste management and energy conservation). The sleek, 199-passenger Le Boreal offers all-balcony, spacious staterooms and onboard amenities that include an outdoor heated pool, spa, fitness center, duo of restaurants, and theater — but even with all the extras, it’s small enough in size to ensure access to the narrow fjords and bays that larger ships miss out on.

Of the two scheduled itineraries planned in December, we like the 13-night Classic Antarctica tour, leaving from Ushuaia, Argentina (via Buenos Aires), with numerous landings scheduled during its full 5-day stint on the continent — expect adventurous, hands-on options for shore excursions, led by a team of scientists, historians, and photographers. From $9,995/person (though 20 percent booking discounts are available through March 31), includes beverages, one-night hotel stay in Buenos Aires, ground transfers, all excursions and guides, and gratuities (note that airfare between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia is additional); embarks December 7;

Too pricey? Cruising to the southernmost continent is a costly endeavor, with expedition cruise itineraries that factor in Zodiac boat transfers and on-land excursions rarely selling for less than $5,000 per person. However, a handful of mainstream cruise companies cater to those who are happy to take in the scenery from deck, sans disembarkation. Try Princess Cruises’ 16-night sailing from Buenos Aires (round-trip) in early February, which takes in ports in the Falkland Islands; Ushuaia, Argentina; Punta Arenas, Chile ; Montevideo, Uruguay; and no less than three full days of scenic cruising off of the Antarctic coastline aboard the Star Princess (though not a genuine expedition ship, it offers plenty of big-ship comforts and a fresh refurbishment from fall 2009). From $1,999/person; embarks February 2.

Best new domestic itinerary

Cruise line: MSC Cruises
Ship name: MSC Poesia
2010 itineraries: New England & Canada

This fall, experience North America’s autumnal glory in European style aboard the MSC Poesia (christened by Sophia Loren in 2008, she’s MSC Cruises’ “greenest” ship and the 3,000-passenger sister to the new MSC Magnifica, debuting in March).

During September and October 2010 (the height of foliage season), the Italy-based line is offering its first-ever U.S.-specific itineraries with brand-new leaf-peeping cruises to New England and Canada. While a host of mainstream competitor lines (like Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity, to name but a few) offer similar jaunts at comparative rates, MSC offers a solid variety, with a half-dozen 6- to 10-night itineraries to choose from.

Pick the 6-night Maple Leaves and Mansions tour from Quebec City to New York, and you’ll call upon Sydney, Canada; Boston; and Newport, Rhode Island. Plus, kids under 17 sail free (a family-friendly policy the other lines simply can’t beat)! From $599/person (for the Maple Leaves and Mansions itinerary); embarks October 23.

Best new exotic itinerary

Cruise line: Sea Cloud Cruises
Ship name: Sea Cloud Hussar
2010 itineraries: Mediterranean, Red Sea & Persian Gulf

German-operated, luxury Sea Cloud Cruises’ fleet of three is set to grow by one this fall, when the line’s Sea Cloud Hussar debuts as the largest full-rigged, three-mast passenger ship ever built, dreamily equipped with 28 billowing white sails (to be manned solely by crew hands). This traditional, 69-cabin beauty exudes intimate atmosphere and classic design, with tall arched windows, spacious sea-view cabins and verandah suites, and an elegant dining room with 180-degree panoramic views.

Journeying along the ancient world’s exotic Red Sea and Persian Gulf routes, the Sea Cloud Hussar is ready to romance the seas with several unique itineraries charted for 2010, starting with an Eastern Mediterranean maiden voyage on November 4: an 8-night Athens-to-Cyprus trip. In December, the ship makes its home base in the Middle East with Dubairound-trip cruises scheduled through winter 2011.

These Persian Gulf expeditions feature ports of call in Manama, Bahrain; Doha, Qatar; and Sir Bani Yas and Abu Dhabi in the U.A.E. Our pick of the bunch for the inaugural season, though, is its 10-night, November 12 sailing, which embarks from Cyprus and visits two ports in Syria (passengers will have two full days to explore UNESCO villages, ruins, and ancient fortresses) then sets course to Egypt where she’ll make several stops (allowing time to venture to the Giza pyramids, Luxor, and Mount Sinai), crosses the Red Sea, and anchors in Aqaba, Jordan. From $5,995/person (for the 10-night Cyprus to Jordan sailing), includes beverages and use of leisure equipment; embarks November 12;

Too pricey? For a more affordably priced Dubai-based itinerary that’s similar to what the Hussar will offer come December, look to Italian-operated Costa Cruises — they’ve announced new 7-night sailings from Dubai to Muscat, Oman; Abu Dhabi , UAE; Bahrain; and more on the brand-new Costa Deliziosa (debuting in February). From $899/person; select sailing dates from March through May.

Best new educational cruise

Cruise line: Voyages to Antiquity
Ship name: MV Aegean Odyssey
2010 itineraries: Mediterranean & North Africa

Sure, those beach-hopping, fiesta cruises have their appeal, but there’s a certain breed of pleasure-ship sailor in search of a bit more substance at sea. Enter Voyages to Antiquity (created by the founder of now-defunct luxury Ocean Cruise Line and Orient Lines), a one-ship cruise line launching in May with a series of 15-night Mediterranean and North African itineraries steeped in the history and culture of the region.

Cruising to empires of the ancient world — Egypt, Greece, and Italy — the itineraries will incorporate special sightseeing tours (to sites like ancient Carthage and Palmyra) and expert speakers on board. Sail aboard the luxuriously refurbished, 380-passenger MV Aegean Odyssey, equipped with three restaurants, a gym, spa, outdoor pool, well-stocked library, and plenty of open deck space (don’t miss the free morning yoga sessions held there).

Of the nine themed itineraries scheduled in 2010, we especially like The Light of Greece Opened My Eyes sailings as an alternative to the typical Greek isle party circuit (departing from Athens on May 3 and September 6, with stops in Mycenae, Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos, and Istanbul). Another standout, Carthage is to Be Deleted, combines Mediterranean hot-spots in Europe (sails November 20 from Athens to Sicily and Malta) with exotic North African capitals (continuing on to Tunis, Tripoli, and Alexandria, before disembarking in Cairo). From $3,495/person, includes airfare from several East Coast cities and ground transfers (though cruise-only rates are available from $2,695), as well as all shore excursions, beverages, and gratuities; select sailing dates from May through November;

Too pricey? For an alternative, bargain-priced itinerary with a scholarly slant, look to Italian cruise line, MSC Cruises’ 7-night Turkish Treasures & Croatian Coasts, sailing from Venice aboard the new MSC Magnifica (launching in March) with stops in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Croatia. From $799/person; select sailings from March through November.

Best new culinary cruise

Cruise line: Silversea
Ship name: Varies
2010 itineraries: Worldwide

Most cruisers will admit that one of their favorite parts of a cruise vacation is the food, glorious food. For serious gourmands, though, culinary cravings surpass the midnight buffet — they’d rather pick up new epicurean skills than pile on the refills.

Eager to please palates, the cruise industry has responded of late with a series of culinary-themed cruises, with one of the tastiest offerings for 2010 to be served up via Silversea’s new L’Ecole des Chefs cooking school, in exclusive partnership with Relais & Chateaux.

The interactive program will feature on 11 fleet-wide voyages of the luxury, small-ship cruise line in 2010 (including onboard the December 2009-debuted Silver Spirit), with itineraries scheduled to South America (we’re particularly keen on the 15-night Panama Canal crossing, from Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles; embarks April 28), Alaska, the Caribbean, and beyond.

The program will be spearheaded by the line’s executive chef, David Bilsand, a former instructor at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in London, in cooperation with Jacques Thorel, a Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux. Aside from the fine-dining onboard options that Silversea is well-regarded for, expect the special culinary curriculum to reflect the cultural flavor of the itinerary, and to incorporate extras like guided market tours, culinary outings to local eateries, specialized cooking workshops and demonstrations, wine pairing instruction, and plenty of recipes to take home — the ultimate souvenir from your trip! From $3,678/person (for a 12-night Alaska sailing embarking May 13 — the above-cited Panama Canal sailing starts from $4,838/person), includes all beverages, gratuities, and L’Ecole des Chefs programming; select sailing dates year-round;

Too pricey? Holland America’s savory Culinary Arts Center program, presented by Food & Wine magazine (and first established in 2005), is spicing things up in 2010 with a series of special prominent chef appearances. Attend hands-on classes and experience cooking demos in a high-tech culinary theater, with cuisine inspired by the ports of call and led by the likes of Lars Kronmark, the executive chef instructor at The Culinary Institute of America, in Napa Valley. He’ll lead the segment on a 10-night Mediterranean sailing from Venice, with ports of call in Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Montenegro, aboard ms Nieuw Amsterdam, the cruise line’s newest ship. From $1,799/person; embarks July 4.

Best new family cruise

Cruise line: Princess
Ship name: Varies
2010 itineraries: Alaska

“Happiest Place on Earth” may be moving waaaaay north come 2011, when Disney Cruise Line is set to enter the Alaska cruise market. Looking to get a jump on the all-ages appeal, Princess will be rolling out their own kid-friendly cruisetour packages this spring, designed specifically with family in mind. The 12-night “WOW” and “FUN” itineraries pair the line’s 7-night Voyage of the Glaciers cruise with 5-night land tours.

Set sail from Vancouver or Whittier on to the frozen beauty of Glacier Bay National Park and to charming ports like Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan (depending on departure date, passengers sail on the Diamond Princess, Coral Princess, or Island Princess). Onboard, kids can participate in the Junior Ranger or Teen Explorer programs, developed with the National Park Service to learn about the Alaska wilderness.

Land tours can be tacked on either before or after the cruise portion, and include activities like scenic railroad rides, jet boat and riverboat tours, guided excursions into Denali National Park, gold-panning outings in Fairbanks, and more. Five nights’ lodging at the Princess lodges at Mt. McKinley, Denali, and Fairbanks is also included. From $1,743/person (third and fourth travelers pay $1,191) includes cruise and land tour (with hotels and daily breakfast); select dates from May through September. Home Security Systems.

Tags: cruise industry, cruises, high seas, meditteranean, royal caribbean’s oasis, spice isles

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 at 11:34 am and is filed under Bahamas, Business Travelers, Culture, Holiday, Tourism Industry, World Tourism, World Tourism Day. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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