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Smaller ships will have big presence in 2013

Most of this year's new cruise ships carry fewer than 200 passengers. Cruise trends for 2013 include on-the-ocean experiences, beverage packages, options for priority boarding and updated food menus.

January 27, 2013|By Beverly Beyette
  • The Viking Freya cruises on the Rhine. Ships debuting this year will have similar designs.
The Viking Freya cruises on the Rhine. Ships debuting this year will have… (Viking River Cruises, Viking…)

Big, bigger, biggest is not what cruising is all about in 2013.

In fact, most of this year's new ships are designed for river cruising, carrying fewer than 200 passengers.

Woodland Hills-based Viking River Cruises leads the way, introducing 10 new longships on its European routes — with eight more coming in 2014.

River cruising is so popular, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com, that "they're running out of rivers."

Well, not quite, but it's no longer just the usual suspects. A cruise on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar will be featured on Azamara Club Cruises' voyage on the renovated Azamara Journey from Singapore on Dec. 23. Orient-Express' new 50-passenger Orcaella will cruise Myanmar's rivers in July, and Viking will introduce the "Memories of Mandalay" itinerary aboard the Viking Mandalay on Jan. 1.

Viking's new 443-foot longships will be identical, carrying 195 passengers in 90 double staterooms and suites. They will have free ship-wide Wi-Fi, putting greens and walking tracks and organic herb gardens. First to enter service will be the Bragi and the Skadi, sailing March 21 on the "Tulips & Windmills" itinerary from Amsterdam.

The longships' décor is Scandinavian-inspired with lots of glass ceilings and walls. Corridors have been realigned to create space for balconies on suites and staterooms. The square hull design makes possible the Aquavit Terrace for alfresco dining.

Other new river ships will include Australia-based Scenic Tours' Scenic Jewel, whose all-inclusive fares include private butlers, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's River Orchid, a small colonial-style ship that was to begin cruising the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia on Wednesday. Uniworld's new Queen Isabel will ply Portugal's Douro River starting March 28. AmaWaterways has two new ships, the AmaVida and the AmaPrima, entering service in Europe in April.

River ships are looking more and more like ocean-going cruise ships. Avalon Waterways' Expression, debuting in the spring in Europe, will have in-room breakfast service. Both AmaVida and AmaPrima have swimming pools (the latter's with a swim-up bar) and fitness centers. Next year, Uniworld will introduce all-inclusive fares.

Spencer Brown summarized the appeal of river ships: "They're more intimate, it's easier getting on and off, there's not much nickel-and-diming and there's something different to see every few minutes." Not to mention that most offer complimentary wine with lunch and dinner.

Neither of the two new ocean-going cruise ships — Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Breakaway and Princess Cruises' Royal Princess — is out to wrest the "world's largest" title from Royal Caribbean's 6,000-plus-passenger Allure of the Seas.

The 4,028-passenger Norwegian Breakaway, debuting April 28 on a cruise from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Southampton, England, will feature solo cabins with a key card-access lounge, introduced in 2010 on NCL's Epic. The Breakaway has 59 to Epic's 128 single accommodations. Although these studios are "still hugely popular," said Vanessa Lane, NCL'S public relations manager, the Breakaway is a slightly smaller ship — and NCL anticipates a more family-oriented clientele embarking at its New York home port.

The Breakaway will be christened May 8 by the ship's "godmothers," the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, and two Rockettes will give fitness classes onboard on some sailings. The ship's Big Apple theme includes hull art by Peter Max and ice sculptures of Manhattan landmarks in the 17-degree Ice Bar. The bar, introduced on the Epic, proved that perfectly sane people will happily don parkas to shiver over a quick cocktail.

The Breakaway will sail from Southampton to New York on April 30, then make weeklong Bermuda cruises and, starting in October, make year-round cruises from New York to the Bahamas and Florida and the Caribbean. A sister ship, the Getaway, is to launch in 2014.

There's a trend toward creating a "Hey, I'm on the ocean!" experience. The Breakaway will have the Waterfront, a quarter-mile-long open-air boardwalk fronting eight bars and lounges, including a gelato bar. The ship's 28 dining venues, seven of them complimentary, will include the line's first seafood restaurant, Ocean Blue.

Carnival Cruise Lines' 17-year-old Destiny is getting a $155-million face-lift and will return April 15 as the Carnival Sunshine, making Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona, Spain, or Venice, Italy, before crossing in October to New Orleans, its new home port. From there, it will cruise the Caribbean year-round. Features will include the Havana Bar, with live music and dancing; a full-service Asian restaurant, complimentary at lunchtime; and NASCAR-inspired Speedway Splash, where side-by-side racers will compete for the checkered flag.

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