Saturday, January 28, 2012

Best Cruise Ships of 2012

As you prepare to cruise in 2012, read about the top rated ships for the year - rated by Frommers.  Which will you board?

Ships of the Future:     Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class

Royal Caribbean's 5,400 passenger sister ships Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas are more than just the biggest cruise ships ever.  They're also the best designed, most imaginative, most experentially diverse, and most forward-thinking megaships out there - they're living up to the cliche of being "cities at sea".

Beauty Queens:     Celebrity's Solstice Class

Introduced in consecutive years, from 2008 to 2011, the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice, Equinox, Eclipse and Silhouette are the most stylish megaships ever built.  Outside, their form is both massive and sleek, while inside a unifying high-end aesthetic ties the many moods and experiences of their public rooms into a satisfying whole. 

Best for Families:  Disney Cruise Line's Disney Dream & Disney Fantasy

Disney Cruise Line's 2,500 passenger Disney Dream (launched in 2011) and her soon-to launch sister ship Disney Fantasy (debuting in February 2012) are the first new ships Disney  has debuted since 1998's Disney Magic and 1999's Disney Wonder - and they're totally worth the wait.  As elegantly designed, entertainingly whimsical, and functionally practical as their older fleetmates, they also offer to raise the bar with more space (they're about 50% larger, more and larger kids' facilities, more dining options, more adults-only retreats, more high-tech wizardry, while still retaining that classic Disney mix of old-time nostalgia and wide-eyed, childhood wonder, all wrapped up in an operation that ticks like a Swiss watch.

Bringing Back the Mississippi:  Great American Steamboat Company's American Queen

Beginning in mid-April 2012, the 436-passenger American Queen will be again sailing the Mississippi River. American Queen is the largest stern-wheeler ever built - a grand wedding cake of filigree and curlicues crowned with two huge fluted smokestacks.  Ornamentation and decoration are everywhere, framing an assortment of vintage period furniture and antiques.  She looks so authentically 19th century that it's hard to imagine she was actually built in 1995.

Refined Relaxation:  Seabourn's Odyssey Class

The 450-passenger sister ships Seabourn Odyssey (launched in 2009), Seabourn Sojourn (2010) and Seabourn Quest (2011) update the classic Seabourn experience, whose watchwords have always been calm, relaxing, smoothe and uber-professional.  Like all the Seabourn ships (and all true luxury ships), they're less about knocking passengers over the head with gimmick and nonstop activity.  Instead, the Seabourn experience is more about providing a relaxing venue as staff members scurry around bringing you things:  a cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich in the afternoon, suntan lotion while you're out by the pool, a drink when you want from the bar (gratis), and even a moist wipe for your sunglasses, if a server spots a smudge.

The Entertainment Ship:  NCL's Norwegian Epic

Though not even close to being a perfectly conceived and executed vessel, the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic makes this list for three reasons:  1)  Along with Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, she's the best ship at sea for entertainment, featuring innovative production shows, fantastic music, and best of all, performances by the Blue Man Group; 2)  she offers NCL fun, casual, unconventional experience; and 3) she's the best ship today for solo travelers (128 super-mod cabins are designed for hipsters traveling alone).

Midsize, MidMarket Luxury:  Oceania's Marina Class

We live in the era of the super-megaship, with new vessels carrying 3,000 or 4,000 passengersand drawing crowds through big-budget wow.  Oceania's 1,250-passenger Marina (launched in early 2011) and upcoming sister-ship Riviera (launching in May 2012), on the other hand, hark back to an earlier era of cruising, when you could walk from bow to stern without breaking a sweat and where the vibe was more quiet romance than blockbuster adventure.

The Finest of the Fine:  Silversea's Silver Spirit

Launched in December 2009, Silver Spirit was Silversea's first new ship in nearly a decade.  And like Seabourn's Odyssey-class ships, it represents a refinement of the line's already refined experience.  She's 27% larger than Silversea's previous generation of ships, and the luxury line has taken advantage of this space to add new dining options (six restaurants in total, including a supper club and a Japanese venue), an 8,300 square-foot spa, a greater percentage of stateroom verandas (95% of the ship's staterooms have 'em) and new lounges - all while giving passengers a huge amount of personal space.

Casual Luxury:  SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream I & SeaDream II

If Seabourn and Oceania are the Fortune 500-style of luxury cruising, SeaDream represents the Steve Jobs model in a turtleneck-and-jeans kind of way.  Dress codes on SeaDream I and SeaDream II steer clear of the traditional tux and sequins dress up night by favoring "yacht casual wear" - jackets for men, perhaps, but never ties.  Itineraries are designed to favor small yachting ports, and the ships often stay late or overnight in port to give passengers an opportunity for nightlife.

Mass-Market Fun:  Norwegian Cruise Line's Jewel Class

The 2,390-passenger Norwegian Jewel, Jade, Pearl and Gem - some of today's most fun and contemporary ships at sea - are the ideal megaships for Generations X and Y.  Each ship has a super-social atmosphere, creative decor, 10 restaurants (from teppanyaki to Tex-Mex), and music and pop culture references tailored to a surprisingly youngish demographic.

Fun Ship 2.0:  Carnival's Carnival Breeze

The third of three sister-ships, the 3,646 passenger Carnival Breeze will stand out by being the first Carnival vessel purpose-built to showcase the line's new "Fun Ship 2.0" initiative, which aims to transform its onboard experience for a new era of mass-market cruising.  Fun Ship 2.0 will add a poolside burger joint created by spikey-haired restaurateur and Food Network star Guy Fieri; a sports bar created in partnership with videogame maker EA Sports; a Mexican Cantina bar; a comedy club concept created with comedian and TV personality George Lopez; a pharmacy-themed bar prescribing cocktails custom-made for what ails ya, and more.

A New Lease on Life:  Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas

Launched in 2001, the 2,100 passenger Radiance of the Seas has always been a particularly good-looking ship, with an open, airy feel that belies her relatively large size.  Still, an 11-year old vessel normally doesn't make a best of the year list - and this one wouldn't have either, had Royal Caribbean not sent Radiance to British Columbia's Victoria Shipyards last summer for a nearly tip-to-toe rebuilding so radical that it practically amounted to a relaunch.

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