China will remain central to the expansion plans of cruise liners next year, with the major companies adding ships to service the Middle Kingdom and its skyrocketing demand for seaborne travel.
South East Asian travellers are expected to benefit from the new routes, as the ships are likely to call at regional ports including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Asia is already the fastest growing region in the cruise industry, with passenger volumes soaring from 775,000 to almost 1.4 million people between 2012 and 2014, according to a Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) report released in early December.
China is driving the sharp rise in passengers, making up nearly half of cruise traveller volumes in 2014 and adding 480,000 passengers since 2012, the CLIA said in an earlier report.
So what can we expect from the large liners in 2016? Here is a quick rundown of the new ships, facilities and homeports.
Carnival will send to more ships to China — which it expects to become the world’s largest cruise market — next year through its subsidiaries Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises. Costa Fortuna will debut in 2016 and be Costa’s fourth ship based in China. Golden Princess will sail out of Tianjin in northeastern China.
The following year will see Majestic Princess, specifically designed for the Chinese market, make its debut in mid-2017 and be homeported in Shanghai.
Another Carnival subsidiary, German cruise brand AIDA, is moving a vessel to China. The 252-metre-long AIDAbella, with 1,025 staterooms, will sail out of Shanghai from spring 2017 and feature Asian and German cuisine in its seven restaurants.
Carnival has also entered into a joint venture with two Chinese organisations to develop a domestic cruise brand.
Meanwhile, Singapore — which Carnival says accounts for 68 per cent of total turnaround passenger visit days in Southeast Asia in 2014 — will welcome the Japan-built 290-metre-long Diamond Princess from November 2016.
Genting Hong Kong, which launched Star Cruises for the Asian market more than two decades ago, is introducing Dream Cruises, an Asian-based premium cruise brand. First off the dock is Genting Dream, which will set sail in November 2016. World Dream will be ready for passengers in November 2017.
Genting Dream is being purpose-built for the Chinese market and will be able to carry up to 3,400 guests, offer more than 35 restaurants and bars, and be homeported in Guangzhou, Sanya and Hong Kong.
MSC Cruises has entered a partnership with a local Chinese cruise outfit, with the deal allowing MSC Lirica to homeport in Shanghai from May 2016.
MSC Lirica is being lengthened and refurbished to boost its capacity to 2,600 passengers. There will be more balcony cabins, larger public areas and a water spray park. Helping to design the dining options will be regional celebrity chef Jereme Leung.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Also entering the fray is Norwegian Cruise Line. Its new 324-metre-long Norwegian Bliss liner will have capacity for 4,200 passengers and is set to leave Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany in the first-quarter of 2017.
Solo travellers will be delighted to hear that studios for single passengers will feature among the cabin options.
Royal Caribbean Cruises
Royal Caribbean Cruises is likewise rushing to tap into the burgeoning Chinese middle class and their expanding travel tastes. The firm will have five ships plying the region in 2016, including one of its newest, Ovation of the Seas.
The 348-metre-long Ovation, which has a total capacity of 4,905 passengers, includes a range of activities for the adventurous such as a skydiving simulator, an indoor sports arena with 30 bumper cars and a 12-metre-long surf simulator.
The 18-deck Quantum of the Seas, its most technologically advanced ship, has already been home-ported in Shanghai since June and also carries up to 4,905 guests.
At the same time, Royal Caribbean is planning to lift its sailing frequency from Singapore, which is developing itself as an Asian cruise hub, over the next three years to more than 40 per year.