There was a time when “cruising” meant standing in the buffet line and playing trivia with a bunch of olds. And while that might still be a lot of people’s idea of a perfect vacation, the industry has evolved. Cruises are actually, dare we say it, kind of cool now. If you haven’t been on a cruise liner in the past few years, you should -- you’ve got many, many more options than you probably realized.
Gone are the days when ice sculptures and blackjack tables were considered cutting-edge draws. Today, every new floating city that launches raises the bar in terms of size, amenities, and crazy onboard activities (think: skydiving, "snow" rooms, and waterslides). Which is why we thought it'd be fun to take a closer look at some of the coolest new ships currently on the water, plus one that’ll hit the high seas later this year.
Nashville Absinthe Cocktails & the Hottest Chicken (Literally)
Carnival Cruise Lines Routes: Caribbean Homeports: Miami and Galveston, Texas The Galveston port just debuted in September, but Carnival’s largest and newest ship hit the water in late 2016 with a whole slew of amenities nobody had ever seen before. First, it’s home to the RedFrog Pub and Brewery, which makes all its (actually delicious!) beer from desalinated sea water. On the top deck, you’ll find the SkyRide, where passengers pedal around a track with panoramic views over the sea. It also has the WaterWorks water park, with slides built for speed and stomach-churning twists. Even on rainy days, the Vista is a great time -- there’s a barbecue joint from Guy Fieri and an IMAX theatre, keeping everyone both full and entertained.
Silversea Cruises Routes: South America, Caribbean, Mediterranean Homeports: Fort Lauderdale, Barcelona, Monte Carlo If you’re looking for refined European luxury, Silversea’s largest ship is for you. The top suites have fancy Savoir Beds -- a famed bedmaker whose previous clients include Winston Churchill. The ship has the widest selection of large suites of any in Silversea’s fleet, including the 1,000-square-foot Owners Suite complete with a Chesterfield chair and ottoman, and a full complement of vintage ports. The onboard library is curated by London bookshop Heywood Hill and is nestled in the Arts Café, which hosts rotating exhibitions of paintings and sculptures. Your food options are every bit as impressive as the ship’s design, with eight restaurants including the fresh seafood concept Atlantide, and La Dame, the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea.
Viking Routes: Caribbean, extended world cruise Homeport: Miami Viking ships aren’t ever going to have attention-grabbing headlines like “World’s biggest cruise ship” or “We could fit the population of Luxembourg on deck 6 alone!” But this new ship does offer ample staterooms -- the smallest start at 270 square feet -- all with balconies. The Sun also has a supersized gym and a spacious Explorers’ Lounge, with 180-degree, multi-level glass panels providing a spectacular view in air conditioning. Better still, the price includes beer, wine, Wi-Fi, and one shore excursion in each port. While most itineraries run through the Caribbean, the 930-passenger ship also sails from Miami on a 141-day world cruise, stopping at 66 ports in 36 countries on its way to London.
Symphony of the Seas
Royal Caribbean Routes: Mediterranean, Caribbean Homeports: Barcelona, Miami When it set sail earlier this year, the Symphony of the Seas took over the mantle of world’s biggest cruise ship. The 1,200-foot-long, 6,800-passenger floating city reprised the greatest hits from Royal’s Harmony of the Seas -- the Bionic Bar, Perfect Storm waterpark, 10-story Ultimate Abyss slide -- and added a fully functioning sports bar, more restaurants and a family suite straight out of Silver Spoons. It also has an original production of Hairspray alongside ice skating and water acrobatics shows featuring former Olympians. If you feel like taking out aggression on your shipmates, Symphony houses the world’s largest floating laser tag arena, particularly useful for burning energy after a visit to the onboard confectionary.
Norwegian Cruise Lines Routes: Alaska, Mexican Riviera, Caribbean Homeports: Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami All these routes debuted in the last couple of months. Though Norwegian’s newest ship was designed with its surroundings in mind -- there’s a 180-degree observation lounge for spying eagles and glaciers -- the onboard activities might make you forget where you are. Start with the largest go-kart track ever to grace a cruise ship, looking like someone dropped a miniature Formula One course on the top deck. Bliss also has waterslides jutting from the sides of the ship, sending passengers careening out over the ocean after a sheer initial drop. There’s a extensive laser tag arena, an original production of Jersey Boys and a Beatles cover band. For food and drinks, there’s a Michael Mondavi wine bar, alongside Mexican, steakhouse and barbecue restaurants.
Carnival Cruise Lines Routes: Mediterranean, Caribbean, Bermuda Homeports: Barcelona, Miami, New York Carnival had a mega-hit with Vista, and now it’s upping the ante with Horizon. The water park on this ship is Dr. Seuss-themed, complete with a Cat in the Hat waterslide. The Guy Fieri barbecue adds an onboard brewery to the mix, and there’s a craft cocktail bar called Alchemy and an Asian-fusion joint called JiJi. The top deck keeps the SkyRide around the perimeter, while inside there’s a new ropes course in case you feel like some impromptu team building. Movies are played on the big screen by the pool, so you won’t have to leave even when the sun does down.
Princess Cruises Routes: Asia, Fiji, Australia/New Zealand Homeports: Shanghai, Sydney Princess’ newest ship might be the coolest way to see the Far East from the lido deck. The most hair-raising new feature is the Seawalk, a glass walkway stretching 28 feet out from the ship’s side that allows passengers to look straight down at the ocean. At the end you’ll find the SeaView bar, where glass panels allow that same sensation, plus cocktails. Majestic also brings the year’s best new cruise line restaurant: a Cantonese spot from Richard Chen, whose Wing Lei was the first Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the United States. There’s also a karaoke bar, as well as a glass-roofed indoor pool.
Seabourn Routes: Europe (summer 2018) Homeports: various This wanderer-ship has just launched 7-21 day routes through the Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea, Scandinavia and pretty much anywhere else in Europe you’d want to go. Cheap, it ain’t. But this luxury liner takes Seabourn’s reputation for the finer things and makes it bigger, with a new 12th deck and 600-passenger capacity. The ship includes a couple of exciting new restaurants, including a sushi joint and The Grill from Thomas Keller. There’s also a top-level sundeck called the Retreat, with private cabanas and cocktails crafted by Brian van Flandern. The all-suite ship’s rooms have private verandas, and the largest (1,300 square feet) has a private solarium. You’ll also find a sports marina on the rear of the ship, with kayaks, paddleboards and windsurfers.
MSC Cruises Route: Caribbean Homeport: Miami The Seaside easily outstrips the ho-hum experience of most ships that depart SoFla with a chic top-deck pool reminiscent of a swanky South Beach hotel, and Scarface-like glass elevators. The ship is among the world’s most high-tech vessels, with a waterpark that eliminates lines using the same slide-boarding technology as major water parks. You’ll find fast Wi-Fi and an app that lets you post pictures to social media, contact your concierges onboard, and manage your cruising experience. There’s also an outdoor fitness center and plenty of outdoor restaurants, so you can eat and work out while keeping your tan.
MSC Cruises Routes: South America, Mediterranean Homeports: Genoa The new flagship of MSC Cruises made its debut this summer, and its goal is to feel less like a cruise ship and more like a waterfront condo. Rather than just the traditional top-deck seating, the Seaview has a promenade a few decks up from the waterline, plus glass-bottomed catwalks and elevators with 360-degree views. There’s also a glass-walled atrium that spans four decks, so even the indoor space has an open-air feeling. The multi-level waterpark has five slides, including two see-through “racing” slides, and an extra-long 367 feet tube decked out with lights and music. And, the Seaview has Green 3 Star Design certification, which means it’s about as eco-friendly as cruise ships can get.
Holland America Line Routes: Caribbean, Mediterranean, northern Europe Homeports: Fort Lauderdale Did you know ships get godmothers? They do, and this ship got Oprah. Nieuw Statendam is making its maiden voyage in December 2018, and will be a sort of floating art gallery; it carries original works commissioned from more than 150 contemporary artists. There are live cooking shows and workshops in America’s Test Kitchen, plus you can blend your own red wine (for an additional charge), lounge in the B.B. King’s Blues Club, or take advantage of the many wellness activities in partnership with O, The Oprah Magazine. Book onto the Girls’ Getaway cruise departing January 30th, and the woman herself will join you on board.
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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer at Thrillist and really just needs a steel-drum band playing "Yellow Bird" to enjoy a cruise. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.