Top New Cruises in Europe for 2016

Cruises Editor

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Where do Australians most like to cruise? After the South Pacific and Australia, Europe is Australia’s third-most popular destination for ocean cruising. In 2014, according to Cruise Lines International Association, passenger numbers to the region soared by 21 per cent over the previous year.

So what’s hot in Europe for 2016? New ships always attract a flurry of bookings and Holland America Line’s MS Koningsdam has already sold out of top-tier suites for its first few voyages once it launches in April. Departing from Italy, it journeys around the Mediterranean – Greece, Turkey and Spain – before hopping from Portugal to France and the Netherlands on its way to Scandinavia.

Royal Caribbean will also unveil the world’s biggest cruise ship – Harmony of the Seas – which will snatch the title from its stablemates, the near-twin mega-ships Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas. Harmony, two metres longer than Allure and Oasis, debuts in May and will feature a full-length production of the Broadway hit musical Grease. The good news is there’s availability on several short taster cruises (Southampton-Rotterdam, Southampton-Cherbourg) as well as a seven-night cruise from Southampton to Spain.

Regent’s Seven Seas Explorer – a 750-passenger luxury vessel – is due to launch in July. It will spend its inaugural season in the Mediterranean with a christening ceremony to take place in Monte Carlo. In November, it sets sail for Miami to run a series of Caribbean cruises before cruising through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles. One of the line’s features is free unlimited shore excursions in every port (along with a selection of paid excursions).

Seabourn’s new ship, Encore, will make its debut in December 2016. The all-suite, all-balcony, 600-passenger ship will set sail from Athens on December 4, bound for Australia via the Suez Canal, Oman, Mumbai, Langkawi and Singapore.

The world’s biggest river-cruise company, Viking Cruises, launched Viking Star, its first ocean-going vessel, in 2015. Another 930-passenger ship, Viking Sea, will follow in April, 2016. The value-for-money cruise line puts an emphasis on destinations rather than the journey, so expect longer time (including late evenings and overnights) spent in ports around the Mediterranean, western Europe and Scandinavia. Passengers have given the thumbs-up to the line’s included unlimited wi-fi and free-flowing drinks with meals.

As for Europe’s river-cruising scene, Portugal appears to be the hottest destination for 2016. Scenic will join APT, Viking and Uniworld when it launches there in 2016 with 11-day, round-trip itineraries from Porto on the 48-cabin Scenic Azure. The Douro River is renowned for its atmospheric, old-world scenery – think castles and baroque architecture – as well as the terraced vineyards that help produce the country’s famous port wine.

Viking, Scenic and Uniworld already cruise rivers in France’s famed Bordeaux region. From April they will be joined by APT, which will offer a range of itineraries aboard the MS AmaDolce. Wine enthusiasts with a thirst for more knowledge should look into APT’s series of cruises across Europe that include tootling around with an ambassador from a leading Australian winery.

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