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More efficient ships using low-emission fuel are heading up the West Coast to Alaska this year.
More efficient ships using low-emission fuel are heading up the West Coast to Alaska this year.

The best new cruise routes in 2012 Add to ...

Fancy a February cruise in the Mediterranean or doing a rare round trip from Montreal? You're in luck, because cruises this year are venturing into different waters. Here are the top trends for the new year:

Europe in winter

Cruise ships traditionally head from Europe to the warmer waters of the Caribbean for the winter. But, like geese who've stopped heading south from Canada, an increasing number of ships are skipping the seasonal migration and deciding to stay in the Mediterranean year round. You may need to wear a sweater on deck, but the winter temperatures are spring-like compared to Canada and there are fewer tourists crowding into attractions. You can also pick an itinerary that heads to warmer climes like the Canary Islands, Morocco or the Holy Land. José Campos, an American who lives in Barcelona and is secretary general of Medcruise (an organization of European ports), says that North Americans are increasingly attracted to the Med in the winter “because off-peak months feature lower prices and air fares are typically lower as well.”

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What to watch: Notable additions are two ships of Norwegian Cruise Line sailing from Barcelona, and Royal Caribbean cruises sailing from Southampton. Cunard Line starts a world cruise in January fro`m Hamburg and Silversea Cruises is starting its Europe season early (the first week of March).

Cruising's up Down Under

Australian cruising used to be limited to visits by ships doing world cruises or ones that did the long, long journey from North America. Now, several cruise ships are calling Oz home and doing circuits of Australia and New Zealand, and are venturing to Pacific attractions like New Caledonia and Fiji. Australia is predicting a 20-per-cent increase in cruise capacity this winter as several cruise lines add ships that will call Sydney or Melbourne their home port.

What to watch: Princess expanded its capacity from three to four ships, and Celebrity and Carnival will be making big ships permanent residents. Holland America and Royal Caribbean have both added second ships to their capacity for the winter and spring as well.

Alaska heats up again

For two years, cruise lines cut back on voyages up the West Coast to Alaska because the state imposed a tax on passengers and set strict requirements that ships use low-sulphur fuel on the route, which the cruise lines claimed was in scarce supply. This year, there's a rush back to the land of the gold rush as the state has backed off the tax and is working with cruise lines to promote land programs and to change itineraries to reduce crowding in major towns. Meanwhile, the new ships being put on the route have more efficient engines and the lines say low-emission fuel is in greater supply. More cruises are planned – increasing passenger capacity by 60,000.

What to watch: Princess is adding another ship. Norwegian Cruise Line is putting a newer ship on the route this year and adding another for 2013. Also, small ships from Innersea Discoveries and American Cruise Line are starting service.

Round-tripping in Canada

The Eastern Canada cruise season has expanded from the traditional fall-colour season into the summer and late spring. More ships are heading up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, and Crystal Cruises is reviving a cruise option that hasn't been available on any cruise since the 1990s: round trips from Montreal to Sept-Îles and the Magdalen Islands, as well as the Atlantic islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon.

What to watch: Carnival Cruise Lines is adding a summer of voyages from Boston to Atlantic Canada, in addition to its schedule from New York. Regent Seven Seas is returning to Canada after a hiatus of five years. Disney Cruise Line is joining the fun with five-night cruises from New York to Halifax and Saint John.

New routes in Dubai

A second cruise-ship terminal opening at Dubai's Port Rashid allows as many as five cruise liners to dock at a time, up from two in 2011. That's attracting more ships and creating opportunity for more innovative itineraries. In addition to the traditional journeys to or from the Red Sea, some lines are now doing round trips from Dubai to ports in the Persian Gulf, and one is heading east, tracing the Spice Route to India and on to Asia.

What to watch: Regent Seven Seas Cruises is doing the eastward itinerary with cruises that end in either Singapore or Bali. Costa's new Favalosa and Aida's new ship Blu will make Dubai home port this year for round trips in the gulf.

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