Cruises in 2016: A ship-shape year of bigger, more innovative launches

The ship making the biggest splash in 2016 is Harmony of the Seas, for 5,497 passengers, making its maiden voyage in May

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The Independent Travel

Last year ended with the launch of the third largest cruise ship in the world, Norwegian Escape. It was a year in which six new ships, including the biggest for the UK market, Britannia, set sail, increasing cruise passenger capacity by a total of 15,700.

This year, the cruise ship boom is almost doubling. Eleven new-build ships, adding 30,700 berths, will be leaving their shipyards, though nearly half of them will not vie for our custom. Ovation of the Seas and Genting World are bound for the Far East while AidaPrima, AidaTui and Mein Schiff 5 are destined for the German-speaking market. 

The ship making the biggest splash in 2016 is Harmony of the Seas, for 5,497 passengers, making its maiden voyage in May (0844 493 3033; A cruise ship of superlatives, it will be the world's largest, with the tallest water slide, the Ultimate Abyss, plunging passengers down 10 decks. One-week Mediterranean cruises sail round-trip from Barcelona from June to October, starting at £899pp, excluding flights. 

Another resort-ship, Carnival Vista for 4,000 passengers, marks the return of Carnival “fun ships” to Europe in May. It promises the first Imax Cinema and the first SkyRide (pedalos on rails) at sea (0843 374 2272; Week-long Western Mediterranean cruises include a call at Messina in Sicily. Sail on 18 August from £819pp, excluding flights.

At the other end of the scale Regent Seven Seas Explorer, launching in July, and Seabourn Encore, in December, will carry 750 and 600 passengers respectively. All-inclusive Explorer backs up its claim to be “the most luxurious ship ever built” with a high space/passenger ratio. Seabourn Encore, with a private yacht feel, has an emphasis on attentive service. Its maiden voyage is from Athens to Dubai, departing on 4 December (0843 373 2000; The 16-day Holy Land & Arabian Gems cruise takes in the Suez Canal and calls at Aqaba for Petra and Muscat in Oman. Fares from £4,998pp.

Also on the small side by today's standards, Viking Sea (930 passengers) joins Viking Star, launched last year, both ocean ships from the river cruise company, with sleek decor, free wi-fi and excursions and balconies for all.

Koningsdam (2,650 passengers), the new flagship for Holland America Line, will offer classical music recitals in partnership with New York's Lincoln Center when it launches in April (0843 374 2300; A one-week cruise to the Eastern Mediterranean departs 8 April. Ports of call include Dubrovnik, Kerkira on Corfu and Sarande in Albania. The cost, from £1,079pp, includes flights and transfers.