As parts of the world cast off restrictions on work, leisure and travel that the pandemic brought with it, there is an air of excitement in the cruise industry as more vessels return to sea and passengers show an unprecedented appetite to climb aboard.

However, those eager passengers will not only be boarding existing fleets – in which many vessels have been refurbished and renovated. They will also be embarking on brand new vessels that have been under construction throughout the pandemic. Those new ships are a concrete sign that cruise line operators have had faith enough in the market’s recovery to invest in fleet expansion.

World Cruise Industry Review looks at some of the innovative vessels that will soon be setting sail, and how operators and shipyards have worked tirelessly to keep construction projects on track through the most challenging of times.

Wishing on a star

Disney’s previous new vessel was the Disney Fantasy, which debuted in 2012. Now, the operator is hoping that its first new-build vessel in a decade – the Disney Wish – will quickly become one of the biggest stars in its fleet.

Set for its maiden voyage on 9 June 2022 from Port Canaveral, it will embark on a season of three-night and four-night cruises to Nassau and Castaway Cay. Already dubbed the most magical ship at sea by some avid fans of Disney Cruise Line (DCL), the vessel will draw on some of the most successful movie franchises in its portfolio – and indeed the movie industry as a whole – to provide entertainment for its guests.

There will, for example, be dining experiences inspired by Frozen and the Marvel cinematic universe, as well as an adults-only Star Wars lounge, and three adult-only venues inspired by Beauty and the Beast that will offer upscale dining. From the Kingdom of Arendelle to Tatooine’s Hyperspace Lounge, guests will be able to immerse themselves in some of Disney’s most prized movie assets.

Though not the largest cruise vessel at sea by any means – that title being held by Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas with a gross tonnage of 236,857gt – at 135,000gt, 341m in length and with 1,250 passenger cabins, the Disney Wish is a substantial ship. And while much of the attention given to the vessel focuses on the huge array of entertainment and dining options aboard, it is as noteworthy for its structural design and propulsion systems as it is for its restaurants and amusements. The Disney Wish is the first vessel in the DCL fleet to employ an eco-friendly LNG drive system – as will other vessels planned for the Triton class. It will also be driven by the Azipod propulsion system, a gearless steerable drive system in which the electric motor is housed in a pod fixed to the outside of the hull. The innovative Azipod units will also be capable of 360° rotation to give the vessel more maneuverability, as well as improving its operational efficiency and cutting fuel consumption by up to 20% compared with conventional drive systems.

“The lifting of UK travel restrictions has already shown promising signs with 70% uplift in bookings since December – and we can’t wait to welcome sailors on board.”

Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages

The Disney Wish is the first of three new ships in the Triton class, all of which are being built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenberg in Germany. Having built the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy in 2010 and 2011 respectively, each of which became the largest ocean liners ever built in Germany at the time of their completion, the shipyard has a longstanding relationship with DCL. The two remaining Triton Class ships will be delivered in 2024 and 2025.

Officially announced in August 2019, the Disney Wish began construction the following March, just as the pandemic hit, forcing significant changes to the construction process. With distancing measures, mask protocols and construction crew rotation, the shipyard had to adapt quickly to a new way of working.

In early 2022, DCL announced that the launch of the Disney Wish would be delayed due to the fact that progress on construction had been slower than anticipated, despite Meyer Werft having taken every measure possible to balance employee safety and regulatory compliance with efficient workflow. Hence the maiden voyage being rescheduled for June 2022.

Double down

Virgin Voyages may not have the largest fleet in the cruise industry, but it has certainly started to make its mark since the launch of the Scarlet Lady in 2019. Despite having only one year in service before the pandemic hit in 2020, the vessel marked out Virgin’s intentions for its cruise offering and its performance led the operator to plan two new vessels for launch in 2022.

The first is the Valiant Lady, which set out to sea in March 2022 to start its European tour. “The lifting of UK travel restrictions has already shown promising signs, with [a] 70% uplift in bookings since December – and we can’t wait to welcome sailors on board,” remarked Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages, ahead of the launch. The vessel was showcased in Tilbury and Liverpool before beginning bookable European sailings from Portsmouth in March and, from May, its new homeport in Barcelona. Its itineraries will take it to highly desirable destinations including Málaga, Palma de Mallorca, the Canary Islands, Lisbon and Belgium.

Construction on the Valiant Lady began at the Fincantieri Sestri Ponente shipyard in Genoa just as the Scarlet Lady set out to sea. At 120,000gt, 278m in length and with 1,408 passenger cabins, it is a near carbon copy of its predecessor.

With the onset of the pandemic, however, construction was delayed as Fincantieri’s operations were suspended and the launch date of March 2020 was pushed back by two full years. In May 2020, when Fincantieri once again began to scale up production at Sestri Ponente, the Valiant Lady was floated out from dry dock – only two months behind schedule – and was taken to a new berth to complete her outfitting. The construction was completed in July 2021.

At the time, the shipyard highlighted that the Valiant Lady and its forthcoming sister ship Resilient Lady would embody design features influenced by the industry’s need to be increasingly sustainable, noting that the vessel “stands out for the design, as well as for the particular attention paid to energy recovery, featuring cutting-edge alternative technologies that reduce the ship’s overall environmental impact”.

It further added that, “the ships are equipped with an energy production system of approximately 1MW, which uses the diesel engine’s waste heat. In addition to a scrubber system for the waste management of sulphur dioxides, the units are also fitted with a catalytic converter, which reduces nitrogen oxides. They are entirely equipped with LED lights to reduce energy consumption, while the hydrodynamic design of the hull provides excellent performance with consequent fuel saving.”

The Resilient Lady is set to follow in August 2022 and will once again feature the same design parameters. The vessel has just recently completed her sea trials, having sailed out from the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa in order to test everything, from propulsion and maneuverability to safety systems and top speed.

“We wanted to share that our third lady ship, Resilient Lady, has successfully completed her final sea trial, returning safely to Sestri Shipyard in Genoa, Italy,” said Virgin Voyages in a statement. “During the speed trial, she reached an impressive speed of 23kt – 26.5mph or 42.6km/h.”

Once outfitting and further testing have been completed, the Resilient Lady will prepare to launch from its new homeport in Piraeus, Greece, where it will visit the sought-after destinations including Santorini, Rhodes, Crete and Mykonos, as well as calling at Dubrovnik, Kotor, Corfu and Argostoli.

Full steam ahead

As bookings for the Disney Wish, Valiant Lady and Resilient Lady reach record post-pandemic levels, the faith in the industry’s recovery seems to have been repaid already. That bodes well for other new-build vessels set to launch in 2022.

Among these are the Viking Octanis and Viking Polaris – Viking’s first expedition ships – as well as Wonder of the Seas that debuted in March 2022, the Seaborn Venture, which takes to the sea in April, and the Celebrity Beyond. Norwegian Cruise Line also plans to unveil its Norwegian Prima as part of an all-new class of vessel in August, and MSC Cruises is planning to launch both the MSC Seascape and the MSC World Europa at the back end 2022.

After two years in the doldrums, the cruise industry is back with a bang, and with bookings for new vessels soaring, it seems the shipyards will only get busier in the years ahead.