This year brings a host of new ships to the seas, adding to the scores already jostling for our bookings. Planned at least three years ago, these gleaming newly built ships will be launched with fanfares despite gloomy economic forecasts for 2013.
According to the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA), nearly $5bn (£3.1bn) was spent on six major new ship launches last year, with $3.2bn invested in six more new ships setting sail in 2013. There's also about $4.2bn due to be spent on a further six ships in 2014.
Meanwhile, the number of Britons taking a sea cruise continues to rise. With the final count not yet in for 2012, it is estimated to be 1.72 million, 20,000 up on the previous year. All this despite general belt tightening and the Costa Concordia disaster a year ago. PSA director Bill Gibbons says: "There's no doubt that the cruise industry faced a unique set of challenges in 2012, but our figures show that in the UK cruising has outperformed the rest of the holiday sector."
One good reason could be that the cost of a cruise holiday is one that you can budget for in advance, as full board, entertainments and many activities are always included in the upfront price.
The trend in new ships is to make them burst with attractions and operate with a high capacity. Of the six new ships due to be launched, three are titans: MSC Preziosa, to be "christened" by Sophia Loren in March, has a capacity of 3,500; the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway launches in May; and Royal Princess sets sail in June with room for 3,600.
This year also brings two spanking new "boutique" ships. Possibly the greatest luxury offered by Hapag-Lloyd's Europa 2 is that of space. By no means small, with tonnage of 139,500, the all-suite, all-balcony ship is for a maximum of only 516 passengers. Family friendly, and with short itineraries aimed at time-poor professionals, all cruises will be conducted in German and English.
Le Soléal, which carries up to 264 passengers, is a new "soft expedition" ship marrying a sleek silhouette and chic French decor with an ice-strengthened hull to sail Arctic and Antarctic waters. It will be launched in Venice on 1 July and will specialise in visiting places large ships can't reach.
One further ship, the 2,200-passenger AIDAstella (aida.de) will launch in March, but like the rest of the AIDA fleet is for German-speaking passengers. Its home port will be Hamburg for cruises of northern Europe until September when the ship will relocate to the Canary Islands for the winter.