Last updated: 03:14 PM ET, Wed December 30 2015

Cruise Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories For The Year Ahead

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | MSC Cruises | Jason Leppert | December 30, 2015

Cruise Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories For The Year Ahead

For 2016, the cruise industry will consist of so many new and exciting things, from new ships to new destinations, oh and a little thing called “Star Wars” too.

China and Cuba

Undoubtedly on everyone's radar next year will be China and Cuba. As a growing source market, the Asian cruise industry is booming. International lines have already deployed some existing ships there, but many more, future vessels and even a new brand from Carnival Corporation are on the way. In China for 2016 alone, Carnival will have six corporate ships, and Royal Caribbean International will have the new Quantum of the Seas and upcoming Ovation of the Seas.

With loosening U.S. government restrictions on travel to Cuba, opportunities for “cultural immersion” (outright tourism is still not allowed under the embargo) are emerging, and Carnival Corporation will be the first mainstream American line to send its new Fathom brand and Adonia ship to the region in 2016. As an international company, MSC Cruises is free to homeport the MSC Opera there starting this winter with the MSC Armonia set to join her next year.

New destinations are always fascinating to travelers, and they are sure to shake up the status quo of cruise ship deployments well into the future. Indeed, current Caribbean itineraries will continue to change now that the once-skirted Cuban territory is becoming more legally accessible.

As for China, many new ships are already being earmarked for the international market with fewer dedicated to the U.S. Still, there are plenty to go around in the years to come, and a healthy industry is great for all cruisers.

Luxury Cruising

There has never been a more exciting time than now for luxury cruising as the once niche market rapidly expands. The new Crystal Yacht Cruises line launches this year and stretches into 2016 with its refurbished Crystal Esprit, and the new Crystal River Cruises brand also emerges next year as the redesigned Crystal Mozart comes online. Plus, Regent Seven Seas Cruises will introduce the world to the Seven Seas Explorer in July 2016, and Seabourn Cruise Line will unveil its Seabourn Encore in December 2016.

While Crystal is leading the charge here with more on the way than any other single luxury company, Regent and Seabourn have plenty of their own for loyalists and newcomers to be excited for. For one, the Seven Seas Explorer is being called “the most luxurious ship ever built” by the line, a lofty claim that promises a lot, and the Seabourn Encore is based on a beloved class of ships that is being plussed once more with an extra deck and expanded public spaces.

Newbuilds Galore

Including the aforementioned Seven Seas Explorer and Seabourn Encore set for later in the year, there are a staggering seven mainstream cruise ships scheduled for launch in 2016, a testament to the industry’s exponential growth. These upcoming ships will be a lot to cover, and their innovations are the very things that keep things in cruising forever interesting.

First at the end of March, Viking Ocean Cruises will welcome its next Viking Sea into its oceanic fleet, repeating a winning formula rolled out with its popular Viking Star sister ship earlier this year. Then things slip into high gear as April sees the introduction of Holland America Line’s Koningsdam, shaking the brand up with a more modern approach, and Royal Caribbean International’s third Quantum-class vessel, the Ovation of the Seas, headed for China.

In May, Carnival Cruise Line will unveil the Carnival Vista with a number of wave-making features like an IMAX theater and a suspended cycle ride, and Royal Caribbean International will launch a second ship for the year and its third Oasis-class vessel, the Harmony of the Seas, the largest ship in the world. Fresh features onboard include a newly revealed Ultimate Abyss slide, the tallest ever at sea, and a musical production of “Grease.”

Star Wars at Sea

At the time of this writing and very likely beyond, all things “Star Wars” are unbelievably popular as seemingly unstoppable sci-fi mania surrounds the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (As an unapologetic fanboy, I’m doing my part to contribute, I assure you.) And sustaining the buzz will be a series of fun theme cruises in 2016.

Disney Cruise Line will bring “Star Wars” Day at Sea to eight sailings onboard the Disney Fantasy spread across the first four months of 2016, and I will be on for the very first sailing, wetting myself – I mean sharing all the fun to inspire you to step aboard. There will be special guests (please let it be J.J. Abrams and/or John Williams), screenings of all seven films, galactic character meet-and-greets, a special “Star Wars” fireworks display and more. How cool is that?!

Viking Cruises

As mentioned, Viking Cruises will launch the Viking Sea next year for its Viking Ocean Cruises brand, but it will also launch another six riverboats for its Viking River Cruises brand, bringing its total fleet count to 66. The company continues to shake things up, offering an outstanding value on international waterways. Next, it will try its hand at reaching even farther as the Viking Star heads across the pond in September 2016 for a season of North American and Caribbean sailings that are likely to change the way cruisers view the regions.

Wish List

With so many wonderful things already on their way, it’s hard to think of an additional wish list for the year. But as a cruise writer who requires a stable connection at sea, I definitely can’t wait to see improved internet packages continue to flourish across the fleets.

And as new ships are conceived in the coming year, I’d also like to see more in the way of reconnecting with the sea, much like the Waterfront al fresco boardwalk does on the new Norwegian Cruise Line ships and the promenade deck and glass-enclosed atrium are expected to do on MSC Cruises’ forthcoming MSC Seaside. And can we please see more double-decker observation lounges (a return to smaller ones would even be nice) like on Viking’s Viking Star and Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class ships? Thank you and happy new year!

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