What are the best cruises for 2019?
Launched last year, the U by Uniworld brand was an attempt to woo the younger side of the market - and it's worked. The itineraries appeal to a more youthful audience, with stops for kayaking and hiking, a strong emphasis on the foodie side of things, and a deck that looks good on an Instagram feed. Take 'Northern France at a Glance', for example. This trip starts and ends in Paris, taking in pretty stops like Versailles and Monet's Gardens, and including activities like bike rides along the Seine and bar crawls in Rouen.
Details: The eight-day cruise starts at €1,049pp, cruise only, including meals, excursions and more; ubyuniworld.com
Want to dip your toe in the waters, so to speak? Maybe you don't want to commit to a full 10-day cruise, or you're not sure how you'll fare at sea. A taster cruise is just the ticket. On this three-night jolly aboard the brand-new MSC Bellissima, you'll sail from Barcelona to Marseilles to Genoa and back again - allowing you to tick off a couple of spots and see if cruising is for you. The ship is a good size, with 20 bars, 10 restaurants and a great water park, too.
Details: Sunway has the three-night cruise (€420pp) as part of a five-night package with flights and pre- and post-cruise nights in Barcelona, departing March 12 from €735pp; sunway.ie, msccruises.ie
With unlimited food and sugary cocktails available on tap, it's not uncommon to disembark a cruise with a few extra pounds on board. But that's set to change with the launch of Blue World Voyages in 2019 - they're billing themselves as the world's first active lifestyle cruise line, with cruises dedicated to active, athletic and healthy lifestyles. One entire deck will be designated for sports, exercise and wellness (think batting cages, spinning studios and football simulators), and there's another just for spa facilities. Excursions will be fitness-based, like cycling tours and kayaking, and the food, of course, will be locally sourced and healthy (although complimentary house wine is included at lunch and dinner, so don't shine your halo just yet).
Details: Routes are yet to be announced but will start in the Mediterranean. The first voyage is set to take place in late summer, and bookings are open in early 2019 - sign up to their website for news and incentive offers. Fares start at $3,500/€3,070pp, including WiFi, laundry and excursions; blueworldvoyages.co.uk
It seems like each year sees an increasing number of cruise ships sailing from Dublin. Which is great news for us - you get to join a cruise from home without the hassle of a flight (which, incidentally, makes it the perfect holiday for nervous fliers…) In August, Magellan is cruising to Portugal by way of Spain, with stops in La Coruña, Cádiz and Gibraltar before Lisbon, with a bonus night in Liverpool on the way home. With space for 1,250 guests, it's a decent-sized ship without feeling gargantuan, and there are two pools, three whirlpools and plenty of deck space to soak up the sun.
Details: Sunway has the 10-night cruise from €982pp full-board; sunway.ie, cruiseandmaritime.com
Cruising needn't only mean sundowners on the deck and dessert after breakfast. Expedition cruising is on the rise, with itineraries from the depths of Antarctica to the wilds of the Amazon. The luxury line Seabourn comes up trumps with adventure offerings, but the real star is its excursions, known as Ventures. These expert-led activities are interactive and immersive - think bear spotting on a Zodiac, hiking on glaciers, or kayaking among the penguins, all with folks like marine biologists, scientists and photographers tagging along. The food is top-notch too, and house wines (plus Champagne!) are included.
Details: Seabourn's 14-day Ultimate Glacier & Fjord Adventure starts from €5,560pp on June 18; seabourn.com. Or check John Galligan Travel for offers; jgt.ie
Norway has over 1,000 fjords, and the best way to see them is by drifting through their deep waters on a cruise. The MSC Norwegian Fjords itinerary takes in the two largest of Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord, sauntering past mountains and glaciers, as well as popping into pretty villages like Flåm. The ship, MSC Meraviglia, is a bit of a beast - so expect plenty of dining options, a huge promenade and a heap of entertainment. Click&Go is frequently the top-seller for MSC in Ireland, so look to them for great deals.
Details: Click&Go has the Norwegian Fjords cruise from €899pp full-board, including flights from Dublin and transfers; clickandgo.com, msccruises.ie
The French cruise line Ponant has a fleet of super-plush, intimate ships that are perfect for luxurious expedition cruises. This year saw the launch of Le Lapérouse and Le Champlain, both of which have a seriously cool Blue Eye lounge (as will two new ships in 2019). This underwater lounge grants an incredible view of life under the sea, as specially composed subaquatic music plays. Get lucky and you can watch marine life pass by, as you sit back and sip on a G&T - if there's some action nearby, the music is turned off and the sound of the ocean is transmitted through instead, so you can hear the whales sing to one another.
Details: Make the most of the Blue Eye with a cruise to Latin America and the Caribbean: 'Natural and Cultural Wonders of the Western Caribbean' starts from €2,870pp; ponant.com
Another cruise sailing direct from Dublin, this time on Celebrity Reflection. The 10-night Iceland and Ireland cruise takes in the sights of a country seemingly on everyone's radar, including the gorgeous town of Akureyri in the north. There are two nights in Reykjavík (above) too, so you can see the sights before heading back to the ship for dinner (saving you a fortune by skipping the city's spendy restaurants). You'll call into Glasgow as well, and there are three days at sea, so you can get your fill of the ship's adults-only solarium, complete with a covered pool and hot tub.
Details: Cassidy Travel has the 10-night Iceland cruise departing May 6, from €1,529pp; see cassidytravel.ie, celebritycruises.ie
Who said cruising and heavy metal don't mix? Well, the question you may never have asked has just been answered. MegaCruise, the inaugural cruise from the heavy metal band Megadeth, will be setting sail from Los Angeles in October of 2019, aboard the Norwegian Jewel. The five-day cruise will call into Ensenada in Mexico and San Diego, and include two full days of heavy metal on board, with bands like Anthrax and Danko Jones performing. Niche? Maybe. But hey, it beats the cringey comedian you get on some cruise ships.
Details: Cabins start at $1,449/€1,270pp; megacruise.com
A cruise holiday can be many things, but one thing it hasn't necessarily been in the past is cool. That's all set to change in 2020, with the launch of the first Virgin cruise ship, Scarlet Lady. Virgin Voyages is one of the latest ventures from Richard Branson's empire, and the result is precisely what you would imagine - think sleek, jazzy interiors in their signature red and white, dining that draws inspiration from the world's hippest restaurants, and the world's first cruise ship tattoo parlour, Squid Ink. Just think twice before getting that ironic anchor inked onto your biceps, eh?
Details: Bookings will be open from February 14, and the home port will be Miami; virginvoyages.com
When you're choosing a cruise, the size of the ship is one of the most important things to think about. Do you want a boutique ship with a small group on board? Or do you want a ship large enough to give you plenty of options for activities and dining? Royal Caribbean falls firmly into the latter category - Symphony of the Seas is currently the largest cruise ship in the world, and two of its other ships, Harmony and Allure, take the next two spots on the list. Independence has celebrated a multi-million-pound makeover this year and is sailing from the UK in 2019, so it's an easy hop to the departure point of Southampton.
Details: There's a seven-night France, Spain and Portugal cruise from €849pp, departing October 19 from Southampton; royalcaribbean.ie
One of the biggest issues in cruising is the environmental impact it can inflict. Whichever way you look at it, giant cruise ships and their fuel usage (let alone the sewage created) can have a huge effect on our oceans. But some companies are trying to minimise their impact on the earth. Hurtigruten, the world's largest expedition cruise line, is coming up trumps. It's the first cruise line to ban single-use plastic and in 2019 the company is introducing the world's first hybrid battery-powered cruise ship, MS Roald Amundsen, and rolling out a large-scale green upgrade project, including powering ships with dead fish (aka liquefied biogas).
Details: There's an 11-night Northern Lights Voyage on MS Finnmarken from €1,559pp with cruiseholidays.ie, excluding flights; hurtigruten.com
NB: All prices subject to change/availability.
"Ooh, I love the Edenists," says the young man watching a nymph-like goddess sing Pink Floyd's Great Gig in the Sky as an aerialist coils into a crescent moon suspended from the ceiling and a contortionist with a snake tattoo bends his leg behind his head.