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This year's new cruise ships were conceived in the heady days before the 2008 economic meltdown, when cruise lines were sparing no expense to one-up their competitors. These new ships are larger and more luxurious than those of previous generations. Three years in construction, these awe-inspiring floating hotels are finally hitting the waves. But it will be a long time before we see their likes again. The next new fleet isn't expected until 2013. `Here's what to look for in 2011:

CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE, inaugural cruise July 21, 2011

Passengers: 2,886

Itineraries: Mediterranean to the Holy Land in summer, Caribbean in winter

Unique features:

The Lawn Club Grill: An outdoor restaurant on the upper deck that is carpeted in real grass.

The Art Studio: An upper-deck space offering instruction in drawing, painting and beading, along with cooking classes and wine tastings.

The Alcoves: Eight cabana-style private retreats on deck, available by reservation, designed for two to four guests.

The Hideaway: Designed as a tree house with Wi-Fi access, this zone features free-form "lounging nests."

Wow factor: The most wired ship in history features Apple technology everywhere. Even the menus are on iPads.

SEABOURN QUEST, inaugural cruise June 20, 2011

Passengers: 450 (240 more than previous Seabourn ships)

Itineraries: Mediterranean in summer, Caribbean in winter

Unique features:

Seabourn Square: The reception desk is an espresso and gelato bar surrounded by a library with easy chairs and sofas.

Two-level spa: Indoor and outdoor areas offer a yoga room, Thai massage and a Kneipp Walk hot-and-cold wading pool designed to stimulate circulation.

Fold-out marina: The stern of the ship unfolds to become a dock and ocean pool. Relax on a deck chair mere inches above the ocean.

Wow factor: Spa villas: Couples can reserve half-day use of one of two private spa areas with sundeck, whirlpool bath and double-bed-size lounge area.

CARNIVAL MAGIC, inaugural cruise May 1, 2011

Passengers: 3,690

Itineraries: Seven- to- 12-day Mediterranean cruises in summer, Caribbean in winter

Unique features:

It's the only Carnival ship sailing in Europe.

Red Frog: Carnival's first pub at sea, serving the line's private-label beer.

Fun Hub: An intranet portal that includes a shipboard social network with ship-wide Wi-Fi access.

Wow factor: SkyCourse: Two 70-metre obstacle courses built on the top deck. Here passengers (wearing safety harnesses) can cross rope bridges and beams

OCEANIA MARINA, inaugural cruise was Feb. 8, 2011

Passengers: 1,250 (570 more than previous Oceania ships)

Itineraries: Mediterranean in summer, Caribbean and western Mexico in winter

Unique features:

Jacques: The first restaurant at sea for celebrity chef Jacques Pépin, whose decor and menu are inspired by brasseries in Paris and country fare of his hometown, Lyons. Open for dinner by reservation with no cover charge.

Red Ginger: Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine in a contemporary restaurant, with menu options that include choice of designer chopsticks.

Personalized scrapbook: Rather than a computer printout, the tickets, details of your cruise and photos of the ship and shore excursions are printed in a high-quality souvenir booklet.

Wow factor: Glass artwork features prominently in decoration and accent pieces throughout the ship, including Lalique medallions in the grand staircase in the ship's lobby and one of the largest Swarovski crystal chandeliers ever made in the main dining room. (Stools in the Martini Bar are also inset with Swarovski crystal.)

DISNEY DREAM, inaugural cruise was Jan. 22, 2011

Passengers: 4,000 (up from 2,700 on earlier Disney ships)

Itineraries: Three to five nights from Port Canaveral, Fla., to Nassau and a private island

Unique features:

Virtual portholes: Video screens in windowless inside cabins show views of the world outside, and also occasional appearances by Disney characters.

Magic play floor: Children can influence a story through their movements around an interactive room.

Wow factor: AquaDuck: A clear waterslide that scoots riders over the side of the ship, 50 metres above the waves.