By Arlene Satchell
South Florida seaports will welcome a new crop of cruise ships later this year, adding more oceangoing vacation options for travelers.
Five newly built cruise ships are slated to call Port Everglades or PortMiami home starting in the peak 2018-19 fall-winter cruise season.
Travel specialists say the new vessels at two of the world’s busiest cruise ports will bring a slew of onboard features and amenities aimed at attracting more first-time cruisers, while also boosting repeat business.
“The new ships that are creating the most buzz in our offices are the Celebrity Edge and the Norwegian Bliss,” said Don Walker, co-president of Delray Beach-based WMPH Vacations, parent company of cruise websites iCruise.com, CruiseCheap.com and AlaskaCruises.com, among others. “The demand for the Celebrity Edge is overwhelming.”
The ships will mean increased competition in key markets like the Caribbean, which could lead to more promotional pricing, particularly for older vessels.
But cruise sellers like Walker say inexpensive getaways overall are getting tougher to find with consumer demand for cruising at an all-time high. “There are deals in the Caribbean from late August to early December even on the newer ships. A great value on a shorter cruise is the Norwegian Sky to Cuba on a four-night itinerary,” Walker said.
Before the five new vessels arrive, the Port of Palm Beach will also get a boost in its cruise business this month when sole cruise operator Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line adds a second ship for two-night sailings to the Bahamas.
The 1,680-passenger Grand Classica will join its existing 1,900-guest Grand Celebration on April 13 to operate a new daily schedule of short cruises from the Riviera Beach seaport to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island.
Grand Classica has 658 cabins, multiple dining venues, a casino, spa, pools and a range of entertainment and recreational activities.
Cruise rates for Grand Classica’s inaugural April 13 sailing from Port of Palm Beach start at $179 per person for an interior stateroom, according to Bahamas Paradise’s website.
Here’s an overview of the new ships in store for South Florida’s two largest seaports.
ms Nieuw Statendam: From mid-December through April 2019, the new 2,660-passenger ship will sail from Fort Lauderdale on three- or four-day Bahamas cruises and longer eastern and western Caribbean voyages, according to Seattle-based operator Holland America Line. Holland America’s second Pinnacle-class ship will sport similar features as its first, ms Koningsdam, while showcasing its own unique style elements. Shipboard offerings will include 10 dining venues, a spa and salon and multiple recreational and entertainment options such as B.B. King’s Blues Club, America’s Test Kitchen and the BBC Earth Experiences productions.
Celebrity Edge: Celebrity Cruises’ first ship in its new Edge class of vessels will spend its inaugural season sailing alternating seven-night eastern and western Caribbean trips from Port Everglades, starting Nov. 21, and then reposition to Europe in 2019. The innovative cruise ship will have staterooms without sliding doors, new Iconic Suites and Edge Villas accommodations and a traveling edge-of-the-ship entertainment destination called the Magic Carpet. It will also feature Eden, a three-deck glass-walled venue with lounge and relaxation spaces, a dinner theater restaurant and bar with a living wall of plants and herbs.
“Celebrity has hit a home run with Edge,” Walker said of the ship’s standout design elements. “While pricing is and will continue to be higher for the Edge than its other ships, we are not seeing that stopping bookings.”
Others agree the new Celebrity ship is poised to be a head-turner.
“It’s a ship that South Florida residents can look forward to having here,” said Annie Davis, president of Manalapan-based Palm Beach Travel, who’s excited about sailing on Celebrity Edge in November.
Davis says she’s looking forward to seeing the accommodation innovations aboard the new ship, especially the Edge Stateroom with Infinite Veranda, which the cruise line described as offering a seamless design from entry to water’s edge.
Carnival Horizon: Carnival Cruise Line’s new 133,500-ton, Vista-class ship will arrive in the third quarter. The 3,974-passenger ship enters service in April in Europe and will operate six- and eight-day Caribbean cruises year-round from Miami starting Sept. 22. Ship offerings will include the new Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse and Brewhouse, the first Dr. Seuss-themed water park, a SkyRide attraction and IMAX theater.
Symphony of the Seas: Royal Caribbean International’s newest vessel to hold the title of world’s largest cruise ship will arrive at PortMiami in late November for seven-night sailings to the eastern and western Caribbean, after entering service in early April in Europe. At 228,081 gross-tons and 1,188 feet long, Symphony is Royal Caribbean’s fourth Oasis-class ship and joins sister ships Harmony of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas.
“We’re excited to introduce Symphony of the Seas, our boldest composition yet, offering the best of Royal Caribbean with some new surprises for our guests to create a vacation that adventurers of all ages can enjoy together,” company President and CEO Michael Bayley said of the new ship.
The 2,759-cabin Symphony can accommodate up to 6,680 passengers and will feature Royal Caribbean’s first Ultimate Family Suite, a two-level, two-bedroom suite for up to eight people. Features inside the interactive, adventure-packed suite include a slide, floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall, air hockey table, 3D movie theater-style TV room and a climbing experience on its wraparound balcony.
“People like the newest [ship] in whatever market they’re sailing,” said Lauren Jacob, president of Reid Travel in Boca Raton.
Symphony will have more than 20 restaurants, including new concept Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade, Mexican eatery El Loco Fresh, New England-style restaurant Hooked Seafood and Sugar Beach, a candy and ice cream shop. The ship’s entertainment offerings include the Ultimate Abyss, a 100-foot-long twisting dry slide, an AquaTheater, Perfect Storm trio of water slides, a glow-in-the-dark laser tag adventure, surf simulators and kids waterpark Splashaway Bay.
“The innovations on those bigger ships — people just love [them],” Jacob said. Symphony “is a fabulous ship for families and there’s something for everyone.”
Norwegian Bliss: Norwegian Cruise Line’s first ship built with custom features and amenities designed to offer the ultimate Alaskan cruise experience will sail from Miami starting in late 2018 on a series of Caribbean cruises after completing its inaugural summer season of cruises from Seattle to Alaska.
Marine wildlife artist Wyland designed the signature hull artwork for Norwegian Bliss, which depicts humpback whales, giant manta rays, dolphins, sea lions and sea turtles. Ship highlights include the largest two-level racetrack at sea; new dining experiences such as Q Texas Smokehouse and Coco’s, a chocolate and treat shop, and for entertainment the Broadway show “Jersey Boys.”
“There is very little space left and pricing is 50 percent higher than all other ships in that market,” WMPH Vacations’ Walker said of Norwegian Bliss’ inaugural Alaska cruise season. “The racetrack on top of the ship and the laser tag area have proven to be a huge hit for adults and families alike.”