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We're all anxious to get back to sea. The proof? When Royal Caribbean put out a Facebook call for volunteers to help test out the line's stringent new COVID-19 protocols, more than 100,000 cooped-up explorers raised their digital hands. So even as cruise companies continue to cancel trips as they try to navigate the pandemic, consumers, it seems, can't wait to go.
"Travelers are picking up their dreams and trying to make them reality as fast as possible," says Barbara Muckermann, chief marketing officer of Silversea Cruises.
Much remains uncertain for cruising in the coming months, but the industry has used last year's unprecedented pause to prepare for a grand return. Here are four promising developments to watch.
New Ships Are Finally Arriving
The pandemic slowed both the delivery and the debuts of new vessels. But this April, at the very start of European yachting season, the first ship from the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, the 298-passenger Evrima, is scheduled to make its long-awaited first trip. Regent's Seven Seas Splendor will also sail the Mediterranean this year.
Guests will get to enjoy Virgin Voyages' new 2,770-passenger, adults-only Scarlet Lady — and its sister ship, Valiant Lady, due later this year. Silversea has three ships slated to make their inaugural trips in 2021.
The new expedition line Atlas Ocean Voyages plans to launch its first ship, the 196-passenger World Navigator, with all-inclusive fares that cover even emergency medical-evacuation insurance. Celebrity Cruises will unveil the 2,918-passenger Celebrity Apex — a sister to the well-regarded Celebrity Edge — along with new all-inclusive pricing across the fleet. And Carnival Cruise Lines will make a splash with its 5,282-passenger Mardi Gras, complete with an onboard roller coaster, a first for the industry. The Mardi Gras will also be Carnival Corporation's fourth ship to run on cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas.
Alaska Bounces Back
Around 1.3 million cruisers had to cancel their plans to visit the state in 2020. For those who want to try again this year, there are new options: Lindblad Expeditions plans to send five ships to Alaska in 2021. Itineraries will include September sailings that will spend four days in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest, the habitat of the elusive white spirit bear.
The Arctic Remains Strong
Expedition cruises were surging in popularity before the pandemic and will continue to be big for years to come, says Robin West, who heads expeditions for the luxury line Seabourn. The company's newest vessel, the polar-class, 264-passenger Seabourn Venture, will set off on 12- and 14-day itineraries along the coast of Norway this December. West says he can "practically guarantee" sightings of the northern lights — though guests may have to suffer a late-night wake-up call in order to admire the spectacle, he jokes.
Luxury Trips Go Over the Top
Some gung-ho travelers are making up for lost time by making ambitious bookings for the future. When Regent Seven Seas Cruises opened reservations on a 143-day, six-continent journey aboard the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner, all 60 of the luxury suites were gone within hours — at prices starting at $107,499 per person. Meanwhile, Oceania Cruises says its 2022 European season is already the best in company history, with one in three guests booking a first-ever cruise for next summer.
Other lines are offering tons of privacy. In the Galápagos, Ecoventura has two 20-passenger ships available for full buyouts for $169,000 a week. And AmaWaterways has put its entire 25-vessel fleet up for charter, at rates from $365,000 for 12 nights on the Zambezi — the ultimate onboard bubble.
A version of this story first appeared in the February 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline If The Oceans Are Calling.
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