Perhaps the biggest cruise story of the year was the June debut of MSC Cruises’ 171,598-ton MSC Meraviglia — the fourth largest cruise ship ever built. Nineteen decks high and chock full of eateries, bars and entertainment zones, Meraviglia is a floating mega-resort on a scale only matched by the biggest vessels from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. Designed for an international audience including North Americans, it can hold up to 5,714 passengers.
Meraviglia wasn’t MSC’s only new ship in 2017. Determined to break into the North American market in a bigger way, the Europe-based line also unveiled the 153,516-ton MSC Seaside — a vessel specifically designed with Americans in mind. Scheduled to sail year-round from Miami starting this month, Seaside boasts a Miami Beach style that mimics its new home and on-board elements that will be familiar to North Americans. Among them: A Pan-Asian restaurant by celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi.
Also touting two new ships in 2017 was fast-growing Viking Ocean Cruises. The upscale line doubled its size during the year with the debut of Viking Sky and Viking Sun. Identical to Viking’s first two vessels (Viking Star and Viking Sea), the newcomers hold 930 passengers a piece and offer a stylish Scandinavian design.
Other notable new ships in 2017 include Silver Muse — the biggest vessel ever for luxury line Silversea. Billed as one of the most luxurious ships ever launched, it boasts some of the biggest and most elegant accommodations at sea including four apartment-like, two-bedroom Owner’s Suites that measure up to 1,389 square feet.
The year also saw the debut of a new Mississippi riverboat from the operators of the famed American Queen. Dubbed American Duchess, it features two-level loft suites — a first for a riverboat in North America.
In addition to adding new ships, cruise lines in 2017 were busy upgrading older vessels. Cruise giant Carnival added new eateries and bars to nearly half a dozen of its 25 ships including Carnival Elation, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Dream and Carnival Ecstasy. Princess subjected its 13-year-old Caribbean Princess to what was billed as the biggest overhaul ever to the food and beverage operations of a Princess ship, and German luxury line Hapag-Lloyd gave its award-winning Europa 2 a significant update.
Luxury line Silversea in 2017 spent $40 million transforming one of its traditional luxury ships, the 23-year-old Silver Cloud, into what’s being billed as the most elegant polar expedition ship at sea. The transformation included a notable reduction in capacity as passenger rooms were made bigger. Upscale tour company Tauck also was busy reducing capacity on two river vessels that it operates in France.
Royal Caribbean made news in 2017 with the announcement that it would resume sailings from New Orleans after a three-year absence, even as Carnival revealed that it soon would be expanding capacity in the city. Carnival also said it would expand capacity in Charleston, S.C.
But perhaps the biggest cruise trend of the year was the explosion of voyages from the USA to Cuba. Norwegian Cruise Line made the biggest move in May with the launch of weekly sailings from Miami to Cuba’s capital, Havana. The trips kicked off just days after Royal Caribbean and Regent Seven Seas Cruises operated their first voyages to the destination. Two other lines, Oceania and Azamara, began Cuba cruises in March, and Carnival joined the fray in June.
Other lines that started Cuba cruises in 2017 include Pearl Seas Cruises and Victory Cruise Lines. Holland America’s first Cuba cruise departs on Friday.
The cruise industry in 2017 also continued to expand in China. The multi-year trend got a boost in April with the unveiling of Norwegian’s first ship custom-built for the China market. Dubbed Norwegian Joy, the vessel is one of the 10 largest cruise ships in the world. Still, as the year went on, there were signs of softness in the China market, and some lines began announcing plans for cutbacks. In April, Princess said the ship it custom-built for the China market, Majestic Princess, would shift away from China in 2018 for a good chunk of the year. In November, Royal Caribbean said it would move its own built-for-China ship, Ovation of the Seas, to Alaska in 2019.
Another big story for the cruise industry in 2017 was the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which barreled through the region in September. Dozens of sailings were canceled, delayed or rerouted, and several big cruise destinations including St. Thomas and St. Maarten were closed to cruise ships for weeks.
The cruising arm of Disney got some attention in 2017 with the first sailing of a passenger vessel through the new, bigger locks at the Panama Canal. Disney Cruise Line’s 83,308-ton Disney Wonder passed through the one-year-old locks in April as part of a 14-night voyage from Port Canaveral, Fla. to San Diego.
Disney in 2017 also unveiled a live version of the hit musical film Beauty and the Beast on one its ships, and it announced plans for its first voyages to Bermuda and Quebec City. But perhaps the biggest news from Disney was that it would build yet another new ship. Scheduled to debut in 2022, the as-yet-unnamed vessel is one of three the line now has on order.
Joining Disney in announcing a new ship in 2017 was Cunard, which currently operates just three vessels. When the as-yet-unnamed ship arrives in 2022, it’ll mark the first time since 1998 that Cunard has had four ships in simultaneous service. It’ll also be Cunard’s first new ship since the arrival of Queen Elizabeth in 2010.
New ship orders in 2017 also came from Celebrity Cruises, which revealed plans for a new Galapagos-based vessel to debut in 2019, and MSC Cruises, which announced plans for two larger versions of the new MSC Seaside to arrive in 2021 and 2023. Viking Ocean Cruises also ordered two more ships for delivery in 2021 and 2022, and its sister line Viking River Cruises revealed plans for seven more river ships.