It has been one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began and while the virus affected the whole world, it is arguable that no industry has been as negatively impacted as travel and tourism. Borders were closed to international visitors, hotels turned away guests, and airlines cut capacity across the board.
So, one year out from COVID-19 becoming the major issue in North America, some travel is back on track, with a few destinations even experiencing a renaissance. However, there is one segment of travel that has not been given the chance to restart in North America, and that’s the cruise industry.
Cruising, which has had successful restarts in the Mediterranean and Singapore, and has been approved in the U.K., is still awaiting final CDC approval to restart North America sailing. And while the timetable remains unclear, when it does resume, cruise execs expect pent-up demand to make 2021 a “boom time” for the industry. And that includes new capacity coming online.
Here are just five of the new builds, some of which would have already been sailing if not for COVID-19, set to hit the water once cruising returns:
Carnival Cruise Lines’ Mardi Gras
Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras was set to be the highlight new build of 2021 for Carnival. The ship was originally it was set to debut in April, a date that has since been moved to at least June, according to Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy.
The ship pays homage to the brand’s original and beloved “Fun Ship” from 1972, with a bright red-white-and-blue color scheme on its hull, but with features that are much more present than past, including the first roller coaster at sea, a cruise-ship version of Family Feud, the Ultimate Playground, and a brand-new restaurant from Emeril Lagasse.
Aside from those highlights, Carnival is debuting some new concepts on Mardi Gras that it expects to make waves in the industry.
One is the Loft 19 area for Carnival Excel suite guests. The “resort-style enclave on the very top of the ship includes a full bar, pool, and cabanas,” Carnival’s Duffy said when the line announced the plans in 2019. The area will be in addition to Serenity, which is Carnival's ship-within-a-ship concert on its Vista-class ships.
While Loft 19 will offer a private retreat for suite guests, it will also be open for reservations to all guests onboard.
Regent’s Seven Seas Splendor
Shifting from mass market to ultra-luxury, Seven Seas Splendor, the second ship in Regent’s Explorer Class, is the next one on the list.
Seven Sea Splendor scheduled to make its debut in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit. While Regent was able to welcome some onboard the vessel, which is a sister ship to Seven Seas Explorer, a ship that is often referred to as the most luxurious ship ever built, the plan now is to relaunch the ship once the line is able.
Splendor is outfitted with eye-popping luxury touches, such as its 15 different suite categories and more than 46,000 square feet of Italian marble onboard, including the marble-detailed bathrooms in each of its 375 guest suites and 500 crystal chandeliers illuminating the ship's interior. Each balcony space per suite will average 138 square feet.
Elsewhere, the ship’s Observation Lounge, inspired by an English garden, will incorporate a light and airy color palette. A chandelier comprised of hand-painted porcelain flowers, peonies, and roses are the centerpiece. Specially commissioned art by Gorman Studios incorporates hand-painted English roses and flowers on glass screens to reflect the look of porcelain chandeliers.
Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady
Scarlet Lady is the first of four upcoming debuts from Richard Branson’s new cruise line, Virgin Voyages. The ship was originally scheduled to debut in the spring of 2020 and while some members of the public were lucky enough to preview the ship, it has yet to have a full launch. Virgin expects the ship, along with Valiant Lady, to come into service sometime later this year.
Scarlet Lady is one of the most highly anticipated debuts for the industry ever and for good reason.
The ship will feature 20-plus eateries with no surcharges, 78 suites with eight different styles, access to a personal assistant that Virgin has dubbed a “Rockstar Coordinator,” the first tattoo studio at sea, an original craft beer, Virgin’s on-demand champagne delivery service, and much more.
Aside from its features, it will also debut as an adults-only line. While that is not a brand-new concept for the industry, it does offer adults who have been at home with their children during a year dominated by Zoom and Google Classroom, a chance to get some alone time on a new, brand-name, exciting cruise line.
MSC Cruises’ Virtuosa
Virtuosa, one of the new ships from MSC Cruises, won’t debut in North America, but that doesn’t mean that Canadian and American consumers can’t start dreaming about getting onboard.
The ship was delivered to MSC Cruises in February and is currently scheduled to welcome guests starting on April 16 with four Mediterranean sailings before moving to Kiel in northern Europe where it will start a series of sailings starting on May 8.
As a sister-ship to Grandiosa, and a Meraviglia-Plus ship, Virtuosa will feature the signature MSC two-deck promenade under a LED skydome; the MSC for Me experience, and MSC Yacht Club. Other features include 5 pools, a top-deck rope course, 21 bars, 4 main restaurants, 5 specialty restaurants, and more. All of the 19 decks on board will also be named after famous composers.
But there is one big factor that is grabbing headlines and his name is Rob. Rob will be the first-ever humanoid robotic bartender at sea. He will be able to mix drinks and interact with guests in eight languages from his post in the MSC Starship Club, a new integrated bar and entertainment venue that MSC said is inspired by its “vision of the spaceship of the future.”
Guests will be able to order cocktails using “designed vertical digital cockpits,” which will send the orders to Rob behind the bar. The status of the cocktail prep will be shown through digital monitors and a ticker-tape-style LED strip above the robotic island. The cocktail will then be served to guests in “custom-designed futuristic glasses” that guests will be able to take home as souvenirs.
Each time a guest visits the Club, they’ll have a different experience, with Rob’s personality evolving with the surrounding setting and atmosphere each time.
The second ship in Celebrity Cruises’ Edge Series, Celebrity Apex, was scheduled to start sailings in April 2020. A sister ship to Celebrity Edge, Apex made history after it became the first-ever ship to be virtually delivered at the end of March 2020, but had its inaugural season canceled because of COVID-19.
Like Edge, Apex is highlighted by the Magic Carpet, the moving platform that can move guests up and down the ship’s exterior whether it is to enjoy the view or to head to tender. It will also include 29 dining venues, Infinite Verandah staterooms, and outdoor plunge pools.
The ship will also launch as the first new-build to feature Celebrity’s all-inclusive fares that will include unlimited drinks, WiFi, and daily gratuities. It will mark Celebrity’s official shift to what Senior Vice President of Sales, Trade Support, and Service Dondra Ritzenthaler called the “new-luxury.”