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Navigating 2011's cruise offerings

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Just when you thought cruise lines had done it all — Central Park at sea (on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas) and Cirque du Soleil afloat (on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Epic) — here comes Disney with a roller coaster aboard the Disney Dream, which debuts Jan. 26.

The Dream, the third and largest ship in Disney Cruise Line's family-oriented fleet, will carry as many as 4,000 passengers on three- to five-night cruises from Port Canaveral, Fla., to the Bahamas.

The cruise industry has enjoyed 7.5% average annual growth in the number of passengers since 1980, and that is expected to continue in 2011, said Jan Swartz, an executive vice president at Princess Cruises and the incoming head of the marketing committee of Cruise Lines International Assn., a nonprofit representing 25 lines. She attributes the success partly to "innovative, trend-setting" onboard experiences.

Fifteen ships from Cruise Lines International member lines — megaships to river cruisers — will be introduced in 2011. Among these is Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Magic, a 3,690-passenger "fun ship" that will make seven-, nine- and 12-day Mediterranean cruises May 1 through Oct. 16 before starting seven-day Caribbean cruises Nov. 14 from Galveston, Texas. Onboard innovations will include a white-knuckle ropes course suspended above Deck 12.

Celebrity Cruises' newest Solstice-class ship, the 2,886-passenger Celebrity Silhouette, debuting July 23 with a seven-night cruise from Hamburg, Germany, to Rome, will introduce classes in pizza making — including the dough toss — and a grill-your-own-steak option at its Lawn Club Grill.

Seabourn's newest luxury yacht, the 225-suite Quest, will make a three-day, pre-inaugural voyage round trip from Monte Carlo on June 9. The 2011 itinerary includes a 36-day grand voyage from Monte Carlo to Istanbul, Turkey, on June 12.

Other lines will mark special occasions with special sailings. The Norwegian passenger and freight line, Hurtigruten, will observe the 150th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian explorer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Fridtjof Nansen with an eight-day "climate voyage" to the northern Arctic on the Fram, departing July 21 from Reykjavik, Iceland.

Holland America Line, which 40 years ago changed its focus from transatlantic voyages to cruise vacations, will note the anniversary with two nostalgic nine-day crossings aboard the Rotterdam. The ship will sail July 3 from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to New York, with a call at Southampton, England, and July 12 from New York to Rotterdam, calling at Cobh, Ireland. There will be big-band music, themed menus and a museum at sea chronicling the line's 138-year history.

Crystal Cruises has replaced several Mexican Riviera cruises with Pacific Coast voyages round trip from Los Angeles in 2011 aboard Crystal Symphony. "Coastal Escape" and "Pacific Sunsets," each seven days, will visit Santa Barbara, San Diego and Ensenada, Mexico, with overnights in San Francisco. Departures are Nov. 20 and Dec. 4.

Princess Cruises will debut two voyages melding land and sea adventures. The 16-day "Ancient Petra and the Dead Sea," with departures starting May 15, combines a four-night land tour with a 12-day cruise aboard the Pacific Princess from Athens to Rome. There will be a single sailing July 31 of "Timeless Cities of the Rhine River," which starts in Basel, Switzerland, with a seven-night Rhine River cruise on Avalon Waterways' Avalon Felicity, followed by overnights in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and an 11-night cruise aboard Emerald Princess.

Cunard Line's Queen Victoria will embark on its first Americas' season with a "Panama Canal Adventure" from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on March 3; a four-day Mexico getaway round trip from Los Angeles to Ensenada on Feb. 13; and two 14-day "Hawaiian Adventure" voyages, round trip from Los Angeles, on Jan. 30 and Feb. 17.

Disney Wonder, which is shifting from Port Canaveral to the Port of Los Angeles, will have seven- and 10-night Mexico cruises from Los Angeles on Jan. 23 through April 17. For the first time, the Wonder will also visit Alaska next summer.

Norwegian Cruise Line made headlines this year with its Norwegian Epic, a 4,100-passenger ship with 128 solo suites for single travelers, an option that definitely got the competition's attention. The Epic, which has been cruising the Caribbean, will make a 15-day combined transatlantic crossing and Mediterranean cruise, departing May 7 from Miami, with Barcelona, Spain, its final destination.

Where does the industry go from here? It's all about innovation. Norwegian Cruise Line Chief Executive Kevin Sheehan says to expect more "I never thought they'd do that on a cruise ship" features.

Info: http://www.cruising.org.

—Beverly Beyette

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