Luxury Cruises: What’s New in 2017

Viking, which is launching new ships in rapid progression, will introduce Viking Sky and Viking Sun in 2017. Seen here is the Viking Star in Venice.

It’s hard to think of a brand more synonymous with expansion than Crystal Cruises. For 2017, the whirlwind continues.

On the rivers of Europe, Crystal Bach joins the Crystal Mozart this spring. It’s the first new build in the fleet for Crystal River Cruises. A second ship, Crystal Mahler, debuts in August. Two additional ships will be launched in both 2018 and 2019.

Branding itself as “The World’s Only Luxury River Cruise Line” wasn’t a decision taken lightly. Crystal officials note that river cruise lines slapped labels on themselves when the industry took off 15 years ago.

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But, there’s never been much consensus.

The Crystal definition of luxury includes in-stateroom iPads; bathrooms equipped with Toto personal washlets; a pop-up bar; four dining options; and an evening at a Michelin-starred restaurant on each cruise.

On the ocean-going front, the company is revitalizing Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity in 2017 and 2018. It’s a move designed to achieve two key results. First, it will add more suites, due to guest demand. Second, it will allow single-seating dining.

There’s no new ship on the horizon this year for the Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises division. But, the brand’s Crystal Esprit will sail to the West Indies in 2017 with popular features such as submarine excursions. New polar-class megayachts are on tap for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Crystal River Cruises will launch Crystal Bach in spring and Crystal Mahler in August.

This spring, Silversea Cruises debuts its first new build in eight years. The 596-passenger Silver Muse is the line’s largest vessel to date. With the Muse, the ultra-luxury line is doubling down on the plush suite accommodations it’s long been known for. Options include four Owner’s Suites with two bedrooms and close to 1,400 square feet of space. Four Grand Suites come in at close to 1,500 square feet, while the two Royal Suites measure 1,528 and 1,130 square feet, respectively. The popular Silver Suites (34 of them) include a new 1,000-square-foot-plus version with two bedrooms.

In addition to the increased number of top suites, Silver Muse has eight dining venues. Notable among them are La Dame, created in conjunction with Relais & Châteaux, and Silver Note, a jazzy tapas eatery where musicians play live music.

Silversea is also polishing up its fleet with a $170 million refurbishment program. Silver Discoverer, Silver Wind and Silver Whisper underwent big makeovers in 2016. And Silver Cloud will be transformed into a luxury ice-class vessel by November 2017. It will house the largest suites in expedition cruising, with more than 80 percent of them having a private veranda.

The freshly christened Seabourn Encore is already making waves. The new all-suite, ultra-luxury small ship entered service in January 2017. The design world has taken note of the interiors by Adam D. Tihany, who is known for his work with luxury restaurant and hotel brands. The 600-passenger Encore is Tihany’s first cruise ship.

With the Encore, the line has continued its partnership with Thomas Keller by housing a signature eatery by the acclaimed chef / restaurateur. Also generating excitement is the new partnership with wellness guru Dr. Andrew Weil. The multi-component program will roll out to the entire Seabourn fleet in 2017, as well as to the Seabourn Ovation, set to debut in 2018.

Viking Ocean Cruises is a relative newcomer to the ocean-going arena. But, it’s borrowed a lesson or two from its river cruise heritage, propelling itself quickly up the ranks.

Launching new ships in rapid progression is one of those lessons. The line will introduce Viking Sky and Viking Sun in February and November 2017, respectively. Highlights of the 930-passenger, all-balcony ships include heated bathroom floors, cantilevered infinity pools and a Scandinavian spa complete with a snow grotto.

River cruise crossovers are evident in the Viking Inclusive Cruising concept, which includes complimentary shore excursions in every port, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, Wi-Fi, a self-service laundry, and 24-hour room service.

Oceania Cruises added Sirena to its fleet in 2016, with a new dining concept, a Canyon Ranch SpaClub and upgraded entertainment offerings. Seen here is the living room of the 786-square-foot Vista Suite.

No sooner had Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 completed its mid-2016 remastering than the accolades began to roll in. That’s not surprising as the $132 million project was the most extensive in the history of the line.

Newly redesigned / transformed on the Cunard flagship are public spaces and restaurants, including the Queens and Princess Grills. The ship has a new specialty restaurant, redesigned suites and 50 new staterooms. Four-legged passengers will also find more abundant accommodations, with the addition of 10 new kennels.

For 2017, Queen Mary 2 will reprise popular event cruises, such as Transatlantic Fashion Week (August 29-September 7, 2017). Guests on the Southampton-New York crossing will witness fashion shows, exhibitions, lectures and hosted dinners, all in the company of special guests from the fashion world.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Regent Seven Seas Cruises and the line is celebrating the occasion with 25 voyages featuring special programming.

Regent is also celebrating the first full year in service for Seven Seas Explorer. Regent’s first new build in 13 years was christened in July of 2016 by Princess Charlene of Monaco.

Billed as the most luxurious cruise ship ever, the 750-passenger Explorer has some impressive digs. Atop the list of 10 different suite categories is the 4,433-square-foot Regent Suite. Highlights of the suite include a wraparound balcony, grand piano, private spa and a private car and driver. It comes with a hefty price tag to match — a cool $10,000 per night.

The rest of the Regent fleet is completing a $125 million spruce up to bring it more in line with Explorer.

Foodies have always had an appetite for Oceania Cruises and its newest vessel enhances that trend. The 685-passenger Sirena (a refitted R-class ship) debuted in 2016. It extends the purview of Executive Culinary Director Jacques Pepin with a new dining concept, Jacques Bistro.

The lunchtime venue (in the Grand Dining Room) will please the most ardent Francophile. The menu includes comfort food classics such as croque monsieur and peppercorn flap steak with brandy demi-glace, as well as chalkboard-listed daily specials.

Of course, man does not live on French bread alone.

Sirena’s other noteworthy features include a Canyon Ranch SpaClub and upgraded entertainment offerings. Top-level accommodations include six Owner’s Suites, coming in at nearly 1,000 square feet. They feature a living and dining room, private bedroom with marble-appointed bath, wraparound teak veranda and guest bathroom. Each of the four Vista Suites are spread across 800 square feet of space.

Queen Mary 2 completed a $132 million remastering in mid-2016.

SeaDream Yacht Club’s twin megayachts continue to head up the industry’s barefoot elegance segment. The tag line, “It’s yachting, not cruising,” has long summed up the SeaDream I and SeaDream II experience. And the company sees little reason to rock the boat.

Carrying 112 passengers and a crew of 95, it’s the closest thing to a private yacht.

New for 2017 are seven Wine Voyages. They include tastings at celebrated Mediterranean wineries, a Winemaker’s Dinner and meetings with distinguished wine industry personalities. Shore excursions include a winery at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, a truffle hunt and cooking classes.

The French small-ship line Ponant may not be the first in mind with luxury cruisers, but that may soon change. The world’s only French-flagged fleet consists of five luxury yachts carrying up to 264 passengers. Its newest ship joined the fleet in 2015, the same year France’s Pinault family bought the company. They’ve steered the line into the luxury expedition arena ever since.

The task will become easier in 2018 as that’s when Ponant is set to introduce its first two “Ponant Explorers.” Equipped with Zodiac launches and ice-class certification, the 184-passenger ships will travel from polar climates to the sub-tropics. Two additional Ponant Explorers will debut in 2019. All are named for French explorers.

Ponant also plans to hit hard on its unique selling points — that is, the ability to reach destinations that other lines cannot. And the “French Touch” will provide an edge on everything from crew service to food and wine to room amenities.

The line will also sail the first luxury cruise to Cuba in 2017. Another point of pride for Ponant is that the fleet’s “Clean Ship” label fits in nicely with the U.N.-designated International Year of Sustainable Tourism for 2017.

Windstar Cruises’ new president, John Delaney, wants the line to “own” small ship cruising. Therefore, he’s making strides in that direction in 2017.

Reaching out to agents with the “Windstar story” is a big part of the strategy. The line has evolved from sailing ship-only to a small ship cruise line, offering a range of experiences.

Silver Whisper underwent a big makeover in 2016. Le Champagne is a Relais & Châteaux restaurant on the ship that has a rotational menu and serves seasonally inspired dishes.

The Windstar fleet has recently undergone upgrades to public areas, suites and decks. It also partnered with the James Beard Foundation in 2016 to offer unique culinary experiences. And the Star Promise agent program that was rolled out in 2016 will, in 2017, see additional enhancements such as new educational initiatives, sales tools, incentives and additional agent support. Also coming in 2017 are a new booking engine, Windstar Online, and Windstar Travel Agent Hub, a revamped travel agent training center.

Another Twist on Luxury

As an alternative to the luxury line experience, some clients may prefer top-level categories on other lines. That’s especially true for multigenerational family travel.

Options to consider for a mother-daughter trip include the overhauled suites aboard Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. Both emerged from a 2016 drydock with new spa suites adjacent to the Sanctum Spa. The spa suites boast rain showers with ocean views, double vanities and outdoor soaking tubs overlooking the sea. They also offer exclusive access to spa amenities.

An enticing option for families is Royal Caribbean International’s Royal Suite Class, introduced in 2016. The three-tiered initiative offers exclusive access to lounges, dining venues, complimentary Wi-Fi, beverage packages and more. Top-tier Star Class suite guests also have access to a personal concierge called a “Royal Genie.”

Royal Suite Class is available on Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas (Singapore and Sydney departures only).

Star Class accommodations include the two deck-high Royal Loft Suite, Owner’s Loft Suite, Four Bedroom Family Suite (Harmony of the Seas), Grand Loft Suite, Sky Loft Suite and the Two-Bedroom AquaTheater Suite (Oasis-class ships only).

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