Scarlet Lady

Scarlet Lady, which debuts in April, is the first of four vessels planned by the fledgling Virgin Voyages line. — Virgin Voyages image

Then don’t just hop aboard any old boat: When it comes to planning your perfect trip, travel foresight is “20/20,” thanks to this sneak peek at the most exciting cruise ships on the roster for the year ahead.

This next generation of vessels comes hot on the heels of some buzzy late-2019 arrivals: Shiny new megaships such as the Norwegian Encore, MSC Grandiosa, Carnival Panorama, Sky Princess and Costa Smeralda have glided onto the marketplace in just the last few months, foreshadowing bigger 2020 industry trends to come.

Costa Cruises’s Costa Smeralda, for instance, has ushered in a movement toward big ships embracing greener energy via cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas (LNG) — a power source that at least two of the new-for-2020 vessels will likewise rely upon.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Encore has wowed adrenaline-seekers with the largest racetrack at sea — a need-for-speed cruise craze continuing on with the upcoming Carnival Mardi Gras’ first at-sea roller coaster.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s tech-forward Encore also rolled out augmented reality features in its laser tag arena and virtual reality gaming center; Royal Caribbean, which had been previously toying with the technology, furthers the trend on its forthcoming Odyssey of the Seas, which will showcase an augmented reality-enhanced arcade, too.

So whether its on-board tattoo parlors, roller coasters, cantilevered platforms, or skydiving simulators that float your boat, the new cruise ships of 2020 have got you covered.

Virgin Voyages: Scarlet Lady

The cruise industry is amping up for a seriously sexy upgrade come springtime, courtesy of Richard Branson’s first maritime foray via Virgin Voyages. April brings the much-anticipated debut of the fledgling line’s flagship, the 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady — the first of four planned Virgin vessels.

Making a play for first-time “sailors” (as the line dubs them) and a younger, hipper, adults-only crowd, the fleets’ design-heavy concept has been realized by a team of designers and architects with zero former ties to cruising.

The result is a completely fresh take on what a cruise ship should be, courtesy of industry-first spaces like a tattoo parlor and vinyl shop; “Rockstar”-themed suites with hammock-trimmed balconies; and yoga-dedicated sundecks and DJ-hosted spa parties reflective of Virgin’s signature “detox-and-retox” ethos.

More than 20 dining experiences are bundled in the rates — inclusive of vegan menus and drag-show brunches — as are other extras like nonalcoholic drinks, Wi-Fi and gratuities. The ship will sail three- to seven-night Bahamian and Caribbean voyages out of Miami, including a stop at the line’s private Bimini beach club.

Carnival Cruise Line: Mardi Gras

Carnival’s latest “fun ship” will feature a whiz-bang, first-at-sea roller coaster that zooms around 800 feet of track at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour on the ship’s top deck — including a hairpin turn that whips around the vessel’s funnel.

It’s the crowning innovation aboard the 5,280-passenger behemoth, the largest in Carnival’s 28-ship fleet, which debuts in the fall. Look out, too, for the line’s biggest water park (touting a trio of slides); a 600-foot-long ropes course; a new-for-the-line, suites-only enclave (dubbed “Excel”) and a brewery.

Restaurants from Emeril Lagasse, Guy Fieri and Shaquille O’Neal will be neatly packed into the ship’s six themed zones including “Ultimate Playground” and “French Quarter.”

Mardi Gras will also be the first ship sailing North America to be powered by LNG. After an inaugural summer season of sampler voyages in Europe and out of NYC, Mardi Gras will permanently homeport in a brand-new cruise terminal in Port Canaveral, Florida, to offer a year-round series of weeklong Caribbean itineraries.

Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Apex

Following the debut of Celebrity’s mod, year-old, state-of-the-art Celebrity Edge, sister ship Celebrity Apex will be unveiled in April with many of the same innovations that have made the Edge the industry’s “it” ship.

Touting next-level contemporary design, with an emphasis on bringing the outside in, guests aboard the 2,910-passenger Celebrity Apex have a bevy of options before them.

For starters, they can nosh in 29 culinary venues, rest their heads in staterooms trimmed by push-of-a-button “infinite” balconies, first-for-the-line solo cabins or lavish bi-level villas with their own outdoor plunge pools.

Soak up the ocean scenery from spots like the foliage-filled rooftop garden event space and grill. Lounge in the indoor/outdoor Eden lounge, with its three-story high windows or aboard the “Magic Carpet,” a floating deck that comes cantilevered off the ship’s side. The dynamic space flits between decks 2 and 16, transitioning in function along the way (it might be a Happy Hour lounge one moment, and an alternative restaurant the next).

Celebrity Apex will kick off its inaugural sailing season with a series of seven- to 14-night European voyages, before repositioning to Fort Lauderdale in November for a winter season of week-long Caribbean sailings.

Royal Caribbean International: Odyssey of the Seas

Trendsetting Royal Caribbean has made a name for itself with the steady stream of one-upmanship reflected by its fast-expanding 27-ship fleet, with each new vessel reflective of the brand’s bigger-is-better, all-the-bells-and-whistles approach.

The 5,498-passenger Odyssey of the Seas, launching in November, isn’t the line’s biggest in size, but it comes positively loaded with wow-factor attractions.

Look out for an action-packed top deck, where a bi-level pool deck, kids’ aqua park, North Star observation pod, skydiving simulator, bungee trampoline, dining options and a “rooftop”-style bar converge.

Then there’s SeaPlex, the largest indoor activity space at sea, featuring glow-in-the-dark laser tag, a trapeze school, bumper cars and a virtual reality arcade employing augmented reality-enhanced walls and floors for interactive, high-tech gaming.

Plus, look out for other returning fleet favorites like the robot bartender-helmed Bionic Bar and the adults-only Solarium pool and relaxation space. Odyssey of the Seas will sail its inaugural season of six- and eight-night Caribbean itineraries out of Fort Lauderdale.

P&O Cruises: Iona

The biggest ship ever built to serve the British market, the 5,800-guest P&O Cruises’s Iona, debuts in May. The vessel boasts 19 decks of diversion.

Catch a flick in the four-screen cinema or take a dip in the top-deck infinity pool (one of four on-board pools). Perhaps you’d like some exercise? Stroll the half-mile promenade deck and when you get peckish, stop at one of the alfresco dining and drinking options.

Catch an aerialist show in the glass-enclosed SkyDome and then refuel at one of 30 eateries (one touts a partnerships with celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, while the main dining room features new-for-the-line open seating). Later, go for a nightcap at one of a dozen watering holes — including a gin distillery.

This is P&O Cruises’s greenest ship to date, running on LNG. Iona will concentrate on European voyages, with seven-night fjord itineraries in summer and longer winter itineraries scheduled for Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Seven Seas Splendor

What’s been declared “the world’s most luxurious cruise ship” is getting ready to ready to roll out its sequel.

Debuting in February, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ sophisticated, 750-passenger Seven Seas Splendor is the follow-up to the luxe line’s lauded, three-year-old Seven Seas Explorer, and will feature much of the original’s swank signatures.

Like the Explorer, expect elegant public spaces and an all-suite configuration (units boast balconies, marble bathrooms and butler service) albeit with some detail-perfecting revisions on the Splendor. For example, the popular coffee bar will now feature an outdoor seating area.

During its inaugural season of seven- to 20-night itineraries in Europe, followed by a winter run of seven- to 14-night sailings in the Caribbean, the ship will debut 65 brand-new shore excursions for the line.

Excursions — along with business-class airfare to port of departure, Wi-Fi, all beverages, specialty restaurants and gratuities — are all bundled into the ultra-inclusive rates.

Oh, and the ship will be helmed by Serena Melani, the first-ever female captain of the brand-new cruise ship.

MSC Cruises: MSC Virtuosa

Debuting in November, the massive 6,334-passenger MSC Virtuosa is the latest in a ship-launching frenzy from European line MSC Cruises (the company, with its 17-ship fleet, has rolled out six vessels since 2017 alone).

On board, expect distinguishing features like a bi-level, LED screen-domed, indoor promenade for dining, imbibing and shopping; two original Cirque du Soleil at Sea shows; and AI-powered personal assistant devices in each stateroom.

A diverse array of attractions abounds, such as a water park, amusement park, karaoke bar, comedy club and sports center.

The ship will offer an inaugural season of four- to seven-night itineraries in the Mediterranean. The ship will call at Genoa, Rome and Palermo in Italy; Valletta, Malta; Barcelona, Spain; and Marseille, France.

Bonus for the eco-conscious: Come January, MSC Cruises will be the first line to declare itself carbon neutral, thanks to its carbon offsets program and emissions-reducing initiatives.

Princess Cruises: Enchanted Princess

Princess unveils its 3,660-guest Enchanted Princess in June: Anticipate more pools and hot tubs of any other ship in the line’s 19-ship fleet.

The Enchanted Princess also boasts the largest balconies at sea, at around 1,000 square feet — trimming its top-deck duo of splurge-worthy Sky Suites).

Expect the return of some of Princess’s most popular spaces, including “SeaWalk” — an over-the-ocean glass walkway, outdoor “Movies Under the Stars,” the adults-only Sanctuary retreat and an infinity pool set at the ship’s aft (a feature pioneered by sister ship Sky Princess).

Plus, look out for new and enhanced public spaces, including a brand-new French bistro (conceived by Michelin-starred chef Emmanuel Renaut) and jazz club along with a gastropub.

Adding to the ship’s list of superlatives is the cruise line’s largest thermal suite, which includes thermotherapy and crypotherapy, a hydro-therapy pool, heated stone beds, a hammam and more.

It’ll sail week-long Mediterranean voyages through summer, with a stint out of New York City for fall New England/Canada sailings, before making way for Fort Lauderdale for a winter season of seven-night Caribbean itineraries.


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