From innovative new ships to pioneering itineraries, we've sifted through the many cruises making headlines and narrowed them down to the 10 best boats of the bunch. From sampling at-sea superlatives (try the world's largest or "most luxurious" ship) to wow-factor amenities (celebrity-chef eateries, onboard science labs) to far-flung ports of call (Aldabra, anyone?), get ready to book a sailing adventure to remember.
What's New: Come April, Holland America's largest ship to date—the 2,650-passenger MS Koningsdam—will usher in a new class of ship (the Pinnacle Class) for the line, and mark its first ship debut since 2010. On board, look for new features like dedicated family and solo staterooms; a live music hall presented in partnership with Billboard; a wine-blending venue (BLEND, by Chateau Ste. Michelle) where guests can create their own wine; several new eateries (like French seafood brasserie Sel de Mer); chamber music performances coordinated by Lincoln Center; and special onboard programming developed in partnership with BBC Earth. The Koningsdam's inaugural season in Europe (April through October) rotates out a series of 7- to 14-night Mediterranean and Baltic, British Isles, and more Northern Europe itineraries; look out for two especially appealing 14-night Baltic itineraries sailing round-trip from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and more.
What's New: The luxe small ships of Seabourn have always earned high marks, but 2016 elevates the brand to a new level with the December debut of the Seabourn Encore. The 600-passenger, all-suite ship radiates high design, as realized by preeminent hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany, while private verandas trim each stateroom. Gourmands, meanwhile, can indulge at a new French-American restaurant from Michelin-starred American chef Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se, and Bouchon); Chef Keller-branded restaurants will eventually be rolled out across the entire fleet (the first opens on Seabourn Quest in spring). Be among the first to see what the buzz is about on Encore's pre-inaugural 16-night voyage from Athens to Dubai, with stops in the Holy Land, Jordan, and Oman, including a pass through the Suez Canal. Encore’s first season features nine unique itineraries in all, in Indonesia, the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, and more.
Set Sail: The pre-inaugural "Holy Land & Arabian Gems" itinerary embarks December 4, 2016
REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES
What's New: Ultra-luxe line Regent Seven Seas Cruises' new 750-passenger Seven Seas Explorer is being billed as the "most luxurious ship ever built," and for good reason. The list of upgrades is indeed impressive: guests will benefit from some of the most spacious accommodations and the largest balconies in the cruise industry; two new gourmet eateries, including French-specialty restaurant Chartreuse and Asian-inspired Pacific Rim (bringing the total number of onboard restaurants to six); the brand’s first culinary instruction center; and a jaw-dropping infinity-edge plunge pool situated at the ship's stern. The ship debuts in July in the Mediterranean (where it runs itineraries through November), but for something a bit different, we especially like its duo of Panama Canal crossings between Miami and LA in December 2016/January 2017.
Set Sail: Book a 15- or 16-night Panama Canal crossing on December 28, 2016 (a perfect New Year's celebration cruise!) or January 15, 2017.
What's New: The industry's biggest innovator, Royal Caribbean, has upped the ante for 2016, when it's set to launch the world's largest cruise ship: the 5,497-passenger, 16-deck Harmony of the Seas. The behemoth vessel comes equipped with some repeat recent Royal innovations like the Bionic Bar (helmed by robot bartenders) and LCD-screen "virtual balconies" in inside cabins, but boasts some standout new features, too, like the tallest slide at sea (10 stories high), as well as some of the largest staterooms in the company's fleet. The ship debuts in May with an inaugural summer season in the Mediterranean; 7-night itineraries sail round-trip from Barcelona or Rome, calling on popular ports like Naples, Marseille, and more.
Set Sail: Sail the Mediterranean from May through November
The Harmony moves to Fort Lauderdale come November for weeklong Caribbean sailings.
VIKING OCEAN CRUISES
What's New: Viking Ocean Cruises—a new product from the popular Viking River Cruisesbrand—made a splash when it unveiled its first sleek ocean-going vessel (the Viking Star) in 2015. Her sister ship, the 930-passenger Viking Sea, follows up this spring with many of the same lovely features that made our jaws drop with the Viking Star's debut last year: an infinity pool off the stern, Snow Grotto spa room, luminous Wintergarden tearoom, and all-balcony staterooms. Sail the Viking Sea around Europe for its inaugural season—we especially love their 14-night, six-country "Bergen to the Bosphorus" itinerary that connects Nordic and Turkish cities, with stopovers in Paris, Lisbon, Athens, and Valletta, Malta.
Set Sail: Cited itinerary sails on July 16, 2016; Viking Sea sails Europe from April 2016 through early 2017.
What's New: Set out on an incredible Arctic voyage aboard the 110-passenger Kapitan Khlebnikov, one of the world's most powerful icebreakers (it was the first ship to circumnavigate Antarctica with leisure passengers, in 1997), which returns to tourism after a multiyear hiatus. Via Quark Expeditions, guests sail through the Northwest Passage from Canada to Russia to Alaska this September, on an epic 17-night journey from Ottawa, Canada, to Anchorage, Alaska. Excursions highlight Arctic wilderness and wildlife (polar bears! whales!), as well as indigenous cultures, with visits to Canadian Inuit and Russian Yupik and Chukchi communities. Bonus: Included flightseeing excursions soar over the Northwest Passage itself (the ship claims two onboard helicopters).
Set Sail: Expedition embarks September 6, 2016. Rates for this splurge-worthy sailing include alcoholic beverages, all excursions (including helicopter flightseeing excursions), on-loan expedition boots, a keepsake parka, and insurance.
What's New: Montserrat was dubbed the “Pompeii of the Caribbean” after a devastating volcanic eruption buried the island's capital city in 1995. In 2016, the island is being revived as a must-see Caribbean cruise destination, thanks in large part to Windstar Cruises, the first cruise company to make regular calls to Montserrat in the 20 years since the eruption. Choose from two brand-new, Montserrat-inclusive 7-night Caribbean itineraries ("San Juan and the Virgin Islands," sailing round-trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, or "Caribbean Hideaways" from San Juan to Bridgetown, Barbados) aboard the newly refurbished 212-passenger Star Legend. Shore excursion options in Montserrat explore the effects of the lava flow on the isle, including a visit to its "buried city."
Set Sail: The Montserrat-inclusive itineraries started in December 2015 and will run through February 2016 (they return again for the winter season in December 2016).
What's New: Silversea, a leader in exotic, ultra-luxury Africa cruises, is launching a new expedition in December 2016 that incorporates a visit to an array of far-flung African and Asian locales, including no fewer than five different UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Cruise the intimate 120-guest Silver Discoverer (part of the line's expedition fleet) on a brand-new 17-night voyage from the Maldives (in Asia) to Tanzania, for a rare visit to Aldabra, in the Outer Islands of the Seychelles, where guests will have two days to explore the UNESCO-protected marine sanctuary of the world’s second-largest atoll. The ship, equipped with 12 Zodiacs, calls upon several additional stops throughout the Maldives, Seychelles, Mayotte, Mozambique, and Tanzania, where additional UNESCO sites visited include the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve (in the Seychelles), Kilwa Ruins (Tanzania), Mozambique Island, and Stone Town (Zanzibar, Tanzania).
Set Sail: This holiday/New Year's Eve expedition embarks on December 17, 2016.
What's New: The 62-passenger Crystal Esprit, which debuted in December 2015, marks the first vessel in Crystal Cruises' expansion to include a new category of smaller yacht-based sailings (via their new Crystal Yacht Cruises arm). On board, the ship touts all-suite accommodations; a new menu anchored on locally sourced ingredients; and perhaps most notably, an onboard marina equipped with equipment and toys like Zodiacs, wakeboards, ocean kayaks, Jet Skis, snorkeling equipment, fishing gear, and get this: a two-passenger submarine (not to worry, there's room for the pilot, too)! We especially like her 7-night Adriatic voyages, sailing between Venice and Dubrovnik from March through early November; additional port calls cover stops in Slovenia, Montenegro, Cyprus, and Turkey.
Set Sail: Apart from its December 2015 debut in the Seychelles, the Esprit will spend 2016 exploring more locales throughout the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, the Holy Land, and more of the Middle East/Persian Gulf.
What's New: Hurtigruten, which specializes in voyages to Norway, Greenland, and Antarctica, is amping up its presence in the southern hemisphere in 2016. The line's MSMidnatsol, with a capacity for 500 guests, will mark the line's second ship to cruise Antarctica, making them one of the region's largest and most diverse travel providers. Embark on a series of 15- to 18-night itineraries to Antarctica sailing round-trip from Punta Arenas, Chile, with additional weather-dependent visits to the Chilean fjords, Strait of Magellan, Cape Horn, and more. Active guided excursions—hiking, kayaking among icebergs, snorkeling with sea lions—are conducted either by Zodiacs or Hurtigruten-exclusive Polarcirkel craft. On board, enjoy amenities like a Jacuzzi, two-story panorama lounge, and a brand-new interactive science lab, where guests can partake in expert-led field experiments. The lab is part of the line's newly upgraded "Discovery" style of cruising, which has also added more experts on board (meaning more scientific lectures and guides), and a Young Explorers Antarctica Program for kids ages 7 to 13.
Set Sail: Choose from 10 Antarctic itineraries between September 2016 and April 2017.