Florida will once again be the beneficiary of the cruise industry's biggest and best offerings, but it's not just ships that will be of interest to Sunshine State cruisers in 2019.
The big news is private islands. Both Royal Caribbean and MSC have sunk millions into developing private islands in the Bahamas for those sailing out of Florida.
Royal Caribbean's offering is at its existing destination CocoCay, but now renamed Perfect Day at CocoCay, with all the trappings of a theme park.
That includes a 13-slide water park, one of which will be the tallest in North America at 135 feet. In comparison, Disney's Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach is 120 feet tall and Volcano Bay's tallest slide, Ko'okiri Body Plunge, is 125 feet tall. CocoCay will also feature a helium balloon that rises to 450 feet, a 1,600-foot-long zip line featuring a splash landing in the harbor, a new set of overwater cabanas and the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean.
"By adding a water park, pools, cabanas and other fun family activities, the appeal of a visit to Perfect Day at CocoCay will now be in the same conversation as Central Florida attractions," said Matt Hochberg, who runs the website RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com. "I think when new cruisers see everything Royal Caribbean is adding, it is going to get a lot of attention because there really is nothing else like it that is so easily accessible in the cruise market."
The majority of CocoCay's offerings will be available in May, with the entire refurbishment slated to be up and running by November.
MSC Cruises, meanwhile, is aiming for November to get its own private island online while also bringing the most ships ever to Florida.
Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve will be a 95-acre resort with 11,400 feet of beach and its own pier. The destination will have bars, restaurants and a new lighthouse that the line said will be a focal point of evening entertainment. It will support four MSC ships sailing the Caribbean, including the arrival of the largest MSC ship to sail North America, the 171,598-gross-ton MSC Meraviglia, which is joining MSC Seaside, MSC Divina and MSC Armonia out of Miami.
Meraviglia, which means "wonder" in Italian, is the largest class of ship for the cruise line, and can support 4,500 passengers based on double occupancy. One of its unique offerings is the 450-person venue for original Cirque du Soleil shows. The ship, which debuted in 2017, is the sixth largest in the world behind the four Oasis-class vessels of Royal Caribbean and the German cruise ship AIDANova.
While 2018 saw five brand-new ships make their way to Florida, including Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas, Celebrity Edge, Carnival Horizon, Holland America's Nieuw Statendam and Norwegian Bliss, all now sailing the Caribbean from PortMiami or Port Everglades, 2019 will still welcome a couple more.
The fourth Breakaway-Plus class ship from Norwegian Cruise Line, Norwegian Encore, is set to debut in November and sail out of Miami.
A sister ship to Norwegian Escape, Joy and Bliss, the 169,000-gross-ton ship will have the largest go-cart track in the fleet with 1,150 feet of track across a 10-turn course that has four sections that extend up to 13 feet beyond the side of the ship. Encore will also have an open-air laser tag course, aqua park with two water slides and the 10,000-square-foot interactive entertainment center Galaxy Pavilion. For marquee entertainment, the ship will stage the Tony-award-winning show Kinky Boots.
With Norwegian's new ship will also be a new place to park, the new Terminal B at PortMiami, which will be adjacent to Royal Caribbean's new terminal that just opened. The 166,000-square-foot facility that will have its own parking garage will feature three giant arcing see-through domes that allow visitors to get great views of downtown.
"At night when this terminal is lit up, it is going to be something that you will probably see in every postcard for Miami from here into the future," said Miami-based design firm Bermello Ajamil & Partners CEO Luis Ajamil.
The other brand-new ship coming to Florida year is Princess Cruises' latest Royal Class ship, Sky Princess, which will makes its way to Port Everglades in December.
The sister ship to the Royal and Regal Princess, Sky Princess features the line's new Sky Suite, which offers 270-degree views from atop the ship as well as its own vantage point for the line's Movies Under the Stars screen. The suite is designed for up to five guests and is touted as having the largest balcony at sea.
Not new, but reworked and renamed will be Carnival Cruise Line's existing ship Carnival Triumph, which will go under the knife in the spring for a $200 million overhaul and re-emerge as Carnival Sunrise.
This is a similar approach to what the cruise line did when Carnival Destiny became Carnival Sunshine in 2013, and what's on tap for Carnival Victory in 2020 when it becomes Carnival Radiance. The new ship will eventually make its way to Fort Lauderdale. It will feature dozens of updated venues, including the cruise line's newest restaurant and bar concept, Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que, which debuted on 2018's Carnival Horizon.
Other ships getting refurbishments in 2019 include Celebrity Millennium, Summit and Equinox, Oceania Sirena and Regatta as well as Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, which will be migrating from Port Canaveral to PortMiami by November. Royal Caribbean will replace Oasis of the Seas with the newer Harmony of the Seas in May, and also send Allure of the Seas back to Port Everglades.
For Port Canaveral, Harmony is an upgrade. The ship that debuted in 2016 has many innovative touches that Oasis of the Seas does not. Top of that list is the 10-story twisting dry slide the Ultimate Abyss as well as a water park with three water slides called the Perfect Storm.
Port Canaveral will also welcome a newer ship from Norwegian Cruise Line when Norwegian Breakaway takes over for Norwegian Epic's Caribbean duties in November. The ship that debuted in 2013 features 27 dining options, a five-slide water park and a challenging ropes course that features the Plank, for those brave enough to walk a tiny walkway 8 feet out over the ship's edge looking more than 100 feet below to the water. Norwegian is also returning for summer sailings to Cuba on Norwegian Sun.
While Disney Cruise Line won't be adding to its fleet until 2021, its existing four-ship fleet will continue to bank on specialty cruises including Star Wars and Marvel-themed sailings out of Port Canaveral this spring and Halloween and Christmas-themed sailings in the fall and winter.
Demand for cruising out of Florida is keeping pace, with more than 14 million passengers among PortMiami, Port Everglades and Port Canaveral in fiscal 2018. That's more than half a million more people than the previous year.