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New Norwegian, Princess luxury liners offer boatload of perks

As spring winds down, two precedent-setting cruise ships are entering service in the United States.

Norwegian Cruise Lines' 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway started year-round cruises out of New York City on May 12. Princess Cruises' 3,600-passenger Royal Princess will be christened by Britain's Duchess of Cambridge next month. Both vessels are the first of a new series and incorporate a number of features new to cruising.

Norwegian Breakaway's innovations include the Waterfront, an open-air boardwalk; an Aqua Park with five water slides and other features; celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian's first restaurant at sea; a seagoing branch of Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro's bakery, Carlo's Bake Shop; the first Ice Bar at sea, kept at 17 degrees; entertainers like comedy troupe Second City and Howl at the Moon dueling pianos; and fireworks on every cruise. It will offer year-round trips from New York to Bermuda and the Caribbean and back.

Royal Princess, which will become Princess' largest ship, will debut a spectacular new feature, a glass-bottom walkway that extends 28 feet from the side of the ship. Other new elements include private poolside cabanas; a greatly expanded atrium that is expected to become the social hub of the ship; a television studio, the first at sea, which will put on culinary shows, live concerts, game shows and late-night comedy; an evening water and light show; and a new dance club. The ship will cruise in European waters before coming to Fort Lauderdale for winter sailings in the Caribbean.

Breakaway and Royal Princess are two of only five new large ships debuting this year, the fewest in many years. The other three large new ships will not operate in the Western Hemisphere: The 3,501-passenger MSC Preziosa, which debuted in March, is MSC Cruises' new flagship.

Among its new features are Vertigo, a water slide longer than a football field, and Doremi Castle, an aquatic park for kids. It will operate in the Mediterranean.

Aida Cruises, which serves the German market, put the 2,192-passenger AidaStella into service this spring. Like its six sister ships, it features Nordic design elements, among which is a unique birch forest. It is currently cruising out of Hamburg, Germany, then shifts to the Canary Islands in September for fall and winter sailings.

Hapag-Lloyd's all-suite Europa 2 was christened May 10. The 512-passenger luxury vessel is cruising in the Mediterranean until fall, when it will shift to fall and winter sailings from the Arabian Peninsula and Asia.

While this year's fleet of five new large liners is the smallest in many years, smaller ships are being built in record numbers. At last count, more than 20 vessels were scheduled to enter service this year.

Most are river cruises ships destined for service in Europe. Viking Cruises alone is launching 10 new river cruisers this year, all of them of the line's new longships design. Uniworld has four new ships coming on line, three of them destined for rivers in the Far East. AMAWaterways, Avalon and Vantage each are putting two new river ships into service, and Scenic Cruises and Orient Express each have one. Last, Compagnie du Ponant debuts its new 264-passenger Le Soléal in June. The French ship will sail in Arctic waters this summer.

Jay Clarke, the former travel editor of the Miami Herald, is a freelance writer based in Coral Gables.

New Norwegian, Princess luxury liners offer boatload of perks 05/15/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 6:25pm]

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