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The best new cruise ships for 2019

The cruise boom is continuing full steam ahead into 2019, with plenty of new ships -- piled high with innova...

Posted: Dec 18, 2018 2:28 PM
Updated: Dec 18, 2018 2:28 PM

The cruise boom is continuing full steam ahead into 2019, with plenty of new ships -- piled high with innovations -- lined up to sail the seven seas.

Shipbuilding trends are leaning toward sustainability (with industry-first hybrid and LNG-powered ships on the roster) and high-tech gadgetry (from onboard AI-enabled digital assistants to excursion submarines).

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And it's not just ocean-going ships that are being revolutionized: New modernized designs are redefining the riverboat travel experience, too, while an explosion of extravagant expedition vessels will bring unprecedented luxury to the farthest reaches of the globe.

So get ready for some serious vacation daydreaming, with these 10 exciting new cruise ships on the horizon for 2019:

Costa Smeralda

Italian-flavored Costa Cruises debuts its newest flagship and largest vessel to date -- the 5,200-passenger Costa Smeralda -- in October, for a series of 5- to 7-night Mediterranean sailings.

Jam-packed with the line's signature whiz-bang megaship amenities (waterslides, kids' clubs, rock climbing, mini-golf and more) and a design scheme inspired by Italian locales, the ship will bring plenty of innovations for the brand, too.

Among the new-for-Costa highlights: an onboard Italian design museum (dubbed CoDe, or Costa Design) and a glass-bottomed skywalk that reaches more than 200 feet above sea level.

But where Costa Smeralda really innovates is in its standing as the first major cruise ship to be powered by clean-burning, eco-friendly liquified natural gas (LNG), affording a significant reduction in emissions. The first of two LNG-powered vessels slated for the brand, its to-be-named, LNG-powered sister ship will follow suit in 2021.

MSC Bellissima & MSC Grandiosa

The new year introduces a duo of technologically tricked-out ships for MSC Cruises, including the 4,434-passenger MSC Bellissima in March and the 4,880-passenger MSC Grandiosa in November (each are running inaugural seasons in the Med, with 7-night sailings).

MSC Bellissima is a sister ship to the 2017-launched MSC Meraviglia, and will replicate some of its predecessor's most popular innovations, including an indoor, Mediterranean-styled retail-and-dining promenade capped by a 262-foot-long LED ceiling; high-tech RFID-chipped guest wristbands (that will even let you geo-locate your kids on board); and two new show concepts from Cirque du Soleil at Sea.

But MSC Bellissima ups the ante with some cool new features all its own, too, including a magic school for kids; a tapas restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Ramón Freixa; and the absolute coup: an in-cabin digital personal assistant dubbed "Zoe."

This voice-enabled AI device is on hand to answer all of guests' cruise-related questions -- in seven languages -- from the comfort of their cabins (think Alexa, but for the high seas).

Zoe will sail along with the MSC Grandiosa, as well, which will be the first of the line's Meraviglia-Plus class of ships, and MSC's largest vessel to date; ship details are still emerging, but you can expect returning favorites like an even longer LED screen-capped promenade and new Cirque shows, as well as novel twists like the first fine art museum at sea.

Celebrity Flora

The Galapagos archipelago is tailor-made for cruise-based exploration, and thanks to Celebrity Cruises' new Celebrity Flora, you can island-hop here in style.

The 100-passenger vessel -- purpose-built for the destination and proposing all-inclusive pricing -- will run 10- and 11-night Galapagos journeys year-round (including a two-night, pre-cruise hotel stay and air transfers from Quito), following its launch in May.

When not snorkeling with sea turtles or admiring the showy dance of the blue-footed boobies, you can retreat on board to the plunge pool, private cabanas or telescope-equipped stargazing platform, or simply hunker down in the all-suite staterooms -- the largest accommodations on offer in the region -- many of which come trimmed with touch-of-a-button "infinite verandas."

Or, opt in for the first glamping experience at sea, a sunset-to-sunrise, top-deck, extra-fee experience that bundles in naturalist-guided stargazing; alfresco, camping-themed wining-and-dining; and sleeping under the stars in a cabana.

AmaMagna

It's not just ocean-going ships making waves in 2019 -- AmaWaterways' 196-passenger AmaMagna will be revolutionizing riverboat design with its expanded shape, measuring roughly twice the width of standard riverboats, at 72 feet wide.

That extra interior real estate means more room for multiple dining venues (four in all), a heated pool, an expansive wellness studio and a water sports platform at the ship's aft, offering intimate excursions aboard the 14-passenger Sundowner boat.

Plus, most onboard accommodations are roomy, full balcony-trimmed suites, measuring upward of 355 square feet. Golf connoisseurs, meanwhile, will appreciate the rollout of a new-for-the-line Concierge Golf Program, matching golfers with select European courses en route.

Hop aboard to experience it all firsthand come May, when AmaMagna puts on a season of 7-night Danube River sailings, between Budapest and Vilshofen an der Donau, Germany.

Sky Princess

Princess Cruises' 3,660-passenger Sky Princess is unveiled in October, offering a brief run of 7- to 14-night Mediterranean voyages, before moving on for a winter season in the Caribbean.

The line's 18th ship -- and the fourth in Princess's Royal class of ships -- Sky Princess will import some fleet-mate favorites (like poolside Movies Under the Stars and SeaWalk, a glass-bottomed, ocean-spanning walkway that cantilevers the ship's side), but will tout some unique evolutionary features for the brand, too, including a new suite category.

A duo of top-deck crowning Sky Suites, with space for five guests, boast Princess' largest private balconies at 700 square feet. Expect, too, enhancements over previous Royal class ships, including upgrades to the adults-only Sanctuary that will double the number of cabanas; as well as the addition of two more Jacuzzis and a new pool at the aft of the ship.

MS Roald Amundsen

In July 2019, Hurtigruten sets out to prove that in no way does expedition cruising have to mean roughing it.

With a sleek aesthetic, the 530-passenger MS Roald Amundsen is literally the Rolls-Royce of cruise ships (the luxurious car brand designed the ship's engine).

Expect modern Scandinavian design and plenty of exciting features: a bi-level indoor/outdoor observation deck, a gadget-filled science center (where guests might hobnob with expedition staff or review footage from the ship's underwater drones), a wellness area with a panoramic sauna, an infinity pool, and aft suites with private outdoor Jacuzzis.

But standing out above all is the vessel's sustainability minded technology: As the first hybrid cruise ship in the world, it will reduce fuel consumption by roughly 20% (Hurtigruten will debut a second hybrid ship, the MS Fridtjof Nansen, in 2020); the green technology is a stepping stone in Hurtigruten's ultimate goal of sailing fully electric polar expedition ships in the coming years.

In true expedition style, MS Roald Amundsen will offer longer itineraries (averaging two weeks-plus) to wilderness locales like Patagonia and Antarctica, or along the Norwegian coast.

Scenic Eclipse

River cruise line Scenic isn't just testing the waters on ocean-bound cruising: It's positively making a splash with the April debut of its upscale 228-passenger expedition ship, Scenic Eclipse.

On board, passengers enjoy a one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio, while luxuriating in the 6,000-square-foot spa, refueling at nine eateries and eight bars, swimming in one of four pools, or retreating to the all-suite, balcony-trimmed accommodations.

Explore destinations with incredible perspective, thanks to intimate excursions offered via a fleet of Zodiacs, two helicopters or a six-person submarine that can reach depths of nearly 1,000 feet. A series of 7- to 21-night voyages in its inaugural year run to Antarctica, Cuba, the Baltics and beyond.

Hanseatic Nature & Hanseatic Inspiration

German cruise line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is flexing the muscles of its expedition arm in 2019, tripling its expedition fleet with the addition of luxe, 230-passenger sister ships Hanseatic Nature (in April) and Hanseatic Inspiration (in October). While Hanseatic Nature will cater primarily to German-speaking guests, the Hanseatic Inspiration will accommodate English speakers, too.

On both ships, expect three restaurants; a spa with two saunas; a retractable glass-floored viewing platform off the main sundeck; a high-tech lounge for expedition briefings (that transforms into a bar each evening); and an "Ocean Academy" for independent ocean study and research.

Both ships' itineraries (averaging around two weeks in duration) will span remote parts of the globe, from the Arctic to the Amazon to Antarctica, but for something close to home, look to a more unusual offering in the Great Lakes aboard the Hanseatic Inspiration in June 2020.

Spectrum of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International (RCI) is known for its bigger-is-better mantra, treating every new ship as an opportunity to one-up the last.

Next up in June is the 4,246-passenger Spectrum of the Seas, which, while catering primarily to the Chinese cruise market (with 3- to 14-night Asian itineraries embarking from various Chinese ports), is one to watch as the first in the line's brand-new Quantum Ultra class of ships.

You'll get plenty of RCI's wow-factor carryovers, like the top-deck Sky Pad (a virtual reality-enhanced bungee trampoline), a revamped SeaPlex indoor sports complex (now featuring "augmented reality" walls and floors), RipCord by iFly skydiving simulator, and the North Star observation pod.

But also some first-for-the-line features, too (with more announcements forthcoming), including regionally targeted enhancements like a karaoke venue and a tea parlor, as well as a new suite-only, ship-within-a-ship concept, set within a private four-deck enclave at the forward of the vessel. These Suite Club guests also get exclusive access to their own restaurant, lounge, shopping area and outdoor sundeck.

American Harmony

The U.S. river cruising scene has long maintained a vintage air, synonymous with paddle wheelers chugging along the Mississippi; American Cruise Lines is stepping in to change all that with a new fleet of game-changing modern riverboats.

The 187-passenger American Harmony rolls out in August on the heels of sister ship American Song (which launched in October) as the first modern riverboats in the country (with three more vessels in the works over the next few years).

The Harmony will carry over plenty of Song signatures -- with highlights like a multistory glass atrium, a retractable gangway (connected to the ship's bow), and all-balcony cabins that measure in as some of the roomiest in the industry (at over 300 square feet) -- but will offer a whole extra deck (six versus Song's five), too, affording extra space for additional suites and outdoor lounging and games.

Hop on board for inaugural 7- to 21-night Mississippi River itineraries embarking from New Orleans, Memphis or St. Paul, Minnesota.

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