Seagoing vacations have come a long way since TV's sunny Love Boat sailed across 1970s screens. These days, passengers can snuggle up to an ice bar, learn cooking with a Michelin-starred chef or plummet down theme park-size waterslides, all from the comfort of stylish, seagoing resorts.
More than 200 passenger vessels ply the world's rivers and seas, and each year brings a new fleet of ships setting sail for new destinations and sporting new amenities. There truly is a cruise ship for every type of traveler. Families, for instance, will appreciate the 4,000-passenger Disney Fantasy, with "enchanted'' art that interacts with guests, over-the-top stage shows and an adults-only zone.
But cruising isn't just about the ships themselves. For many travelers, what matters most is the places they take you. New ships are indeed sailing far and wide, along the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia (Uniworld's 60-passenger River Orchid), past historic castles lining the Danube River (the 190-passenger Viking Longships), and even to the Arctic Circle on Compagnie du Ponant's luxe mega-yacht Le Soleal, which departs on its maiden voyage in June 2013.
Wherever you go, whatever the ship, at some point you'll likely find yourself standing on the deck, a glass of champagne in hand. You'll pause to admire views of pirate islands and whales and icebergs going by. Or you'll experience the thrill of sailing into Venice's Grand Canal or Hong Kong's futuristic harbor. And for the moment, at least, you're the admiral of all you see. Read on to find the ship that suits your cruise personality.
Launched: January 2012
Great for: Kids of every age.
Destinations: From Port Canaveral, Florida, to the Caribbean, with stops in St. Maarten, St. Thomas and on Castaway Cay, in the Bahamas.
Highlights: "Enchanted" art that interacts with guests; over-the-top stage shows, such as "Aladdin—A Musical Spectacular;" a waterslide that juts beyond the edge of the ship; and (phew) adults-only areas. disneycruise.disney.go.com.
Launched: May 2012
Great for: The food-obsessed.
Destinations: From Miami to the Caribbean in winter; Venice, Rome, Istanbul and Athens in summer.
Highlights: Restaurant by Jacques Pépin; Napa-worthy wine cellar; hands-on cooking classes in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center; chef-led culinary tours. oceaniacruises.com.
Launched: June 2012
Great for: Thrill seekers.
Destinations: From Miami to Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos, Aruba and other Caribbean ports.
Highlights: Touted as a Fun Ship 2.0, it holds a full water park, a 4-D interactive movie theater, a Guy Fieri burger joint and a comedy club with acts curated by George Lopez. carnival.com.
Launched: October 2012
Great for: Urban sophisticates.
Destinations: Winter and spring from Miami to the Caribbean; summer from Rome to Greece and Turkey.
Highlights: AquaClass Spa Suites, which have full-time butlers and private verandas; a lawn club with grills and live grass; a Turkish hammam. celebritycruises.com.
Uniworld River Orchid
Launching: January 2013
Great for: Soft adventurers.
Destinations: The Mekong River, from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, Vietnam, including stops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Highlights: Panoramic open-air restaurant; high staff-to-guest ratio; an exterior promenade; sampans (small boats) on loan; film screenings; VIP check-in at onshore hotels. uniworld.com.
Launching: April 2013
Great for: Stuntmen and the people who love them.
Destinations: Year-round from New York; winter to the Caribbean, Florida and the Bahamas; summer to Bermuda.
Highlights: A ropes course, including a "walk the plank" (with a harness) feature; large aquatic park; restaurant by chef Geoffrey Zakarian; Rock of Ages Broadway production; three-story sports complex; oceanfront "boardwalk" lined with bars and restaurants. ncl.com.
Launching: June 2013
Great for: Revelers of every age.
Destinations: Summer Mediterranean sailings from Barcelona and Venice; winter Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Highlights: "SeaWalk" cantilevered over the ship's edge with a private bar; enormous upper-deck pool with an evening light show; private poolside cabanas at an adults-only pool. princess.com.
Ponant Le Soleal
Launching: June 2013
Great for: Jet-setters.
Destinations: Summer in the Arctic Circle; fall in Russia or Asia, with stops from Japan to Vietnam.
Highlights: Mega-yacht ambience; private butler service; French cuisine; unique itineraries with naturalist guides; Carita spa. en.ponant.com.
Launching: 2012 and 2013
Great for: Culture vultures.
Destinations: The Danube, Rhine and Main rivers.
Highlights: Panoramas from a 360-degree-view sundeck; staterooms whose glass walls slide open, turning them into private verandas; two Explorer suites with wraparound terraces. vikingrivercruises.com.