A new era of cruise tonnage replaces an old one

Celebrity Cruises' Xpedition, which has the look of its time: More portholes than private balconies, for example.

Celebrity Cruises’ Xpedition, which has the look of its time: More portholes than private balconies, for example. Photo Credit: Daniel Romagosa/Celebrity Cruises
by Tom Stieghorst
Back when I first started writing about cruises, in the mid-1980s, one of the things that really excited me about the job was the modern new cruise ships being built in places like Finland and France.
They were getting bigger, fancier, with terrific new amenities and style. It was a pleasure to be able to describe them to readers who at that time probably didn’t know what the new ships were all about.
But there were other ships that I toured, older tonnage that still had a niche in the industry. I remember a lot of Greek ships that were way past their prime; Scandinavian car ferries converted to cruise duty; and ocean liners that were years out of date.
I was reminded of those days recently while touring Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Flora, which is nearing completion at a shipyard in Rotterdam. It is the first ship purpose-built for the Galapagos Islands and looks like it will be a dream to sail.
The Flora is a new standard for an area of the globe that has been getting by on older tonnage for a long time. Galapagos-based ships include Celebrity’s own Celebrity Xpedition, which was built in 2001 for Sun Bay Cruises and acquired by Celebrity in 2004 when it began cruising there.
The Xpedition has the classic look of ships of its era: more portholes than balconies, for example. It carries 96 passengers compared to 100 for the Celebrity Flora, but at 2,842 gross tons, it is only half the size of the 5,739 gross-ton Flora.
A rendering of the Celebrity Flora, an example of the new standard in cruising, which will replace the Xpedition in the Galapagos.
A rendering of the Celebrity Flora, an example of the new standard in cruising, which will replace the Xpedition in the Galapagos.
To be sure, seeing the wildlife in the Galapagos is the major focus of any cruise there; the hardware is secondary. But if you can go in style, comfort and, indeed, luxury, why not?
One of Celebrity’s quasi-competitors in the Ecuadoran islands is going through a similar transition with its product. Next year Silversea Cruises will introduce the Silver Origin in the Galapagos and retire the Silver Galapagos, which was once part of the original, 1990s-era, Renaissance Cruises fleet of 100-passenger ships.
These new ships are going to raise the bar for the other licensed vessels, many of them small, that offer cruises in the Galapagos — much the same way that the Carnival Fantasy and Sovereign of the Seas prompted some changes for the Chandris family when it was sailing classic ships like the Britanis out of Florida. John Chandris eventually concluded that was a hopeless strategy, and he started Celebrity Cruises to focus on newly built ships such as the Celebrity Horizon. Today, Celebrity survives and thrives as a division of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which bought it in 1997.
Silversea Cruises has also joined the RCCL stable, by virtue of a sale of a 67% interest last year. One of the first things RCCL management did after the purchase was to announce a new Silversea ship for the Galapagos.
The two RCCL ships are going to set a new benchmark for cruising in the Galapagos and may spell the end for some of the less contemporary vessels in that market.
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Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Focused on Target Markets

Oasis of the Seas

Working for both the Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises brands, Chris Allen, vice president of deployment and itinerary planning, said that itineraries are designed to fit the target audience and guest demographics of each brand, supporting their (brand) pillars.

“We work very closely with the leadership groups of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity to ensure that the itineraries fit with their brand. It is a very collaborative approach,” he added.

“We also look at the revenue potential – tickets, onboard and shore excursions – and balance that against key costs. Fuel continues to be the largest expense. Ultimately we look at what the guest experience will be.

“If guests have a great time if they want to come back, and if they tell their friends, then we have been successful.”

“We are looking as far as 10 years out,” he continued. “Before we even order a ship, we have an idea where that ship will be deployed.”

The planning function ranges from minute details to the big picture. “Our team can go from the granular level, like should we depart St. Thomas at 5:00 or 5:30 pm and should we go to St. Maarten or St. Kitts. We go from that level of details, making $10,000 adjustments, to a billion dollar chessboard where we move Oasis-class ships around, and where we are going to place our future new buildings,” he explained. “We are looking at the broad, strategic decisions as well as the micro decisions.”

Among new developments, this spring, Royal Caribbean will be launching Alaska service with the Ovation of the Seas, which will be dividing her time seasonally between Alaska and Australia.

Later this spring, Royal Caribbean will be introducing the Perfect Day at Cococay, after a $200 million transformation of its private island destination in the Bahamas.

“We expect to have 14 ships calling and 2 million guests at CoCoCay for the 2020-2021 season,” Allen said. “We are leveraging Perfect Day throughout the Caribbean for our entire portfolio of itineraries, whether ships are sailing from Southeast Florida, Tampa, Port Canaveral, Galveston, Baltimore or Cape Liberty. All those ships will have the opportunity to call at Cococay.”

Perfect Day at CoCoCay

Royal Caribbean is also upping its game in the short cruise market, with the Mariner from Port Canaveral and the Navigator from Miami, as well as the Independence seasonally from Port Everglades.

For Celebrity in 2020, the new Apex will first sail a brief season out of Southampton before spending the summer in the Mediterranean on mostly seven-night cruises, alongside the Edge, which will have a core program of 10- and 11-night sailings.

“We are expanding the choices and variety of cruises for Celebrity,” Allen said. “Also in the Mediterranean will be the Infinity and the Constellation, and this means one more incremental ship for Celebrity in Europe in 2020.

“Because the Constellation and Infinity are smaller, a lot of their itineraries are concentrated around Venice given the capacity limits there preventing larger ships from calling.”

In Northern Europe, Celebrity will sail the Reflection and Silhouette for the summer.

This fall will see Royal Caribbean returning to the Eastern Mediterranean, calling in Kusadasi, Haifa and Ashdod, and both brands are slated to be back with more calls in 2020.

On the other side of the globe, the new Spectrum of the Seas is being based year-round in Shanghai, while the Quantum moves to Tianjin for the summer season and to Singapore for the winter. “Having these ships in China reinforces our position in the market and region as other brands have vacillated on their position,” Allen said.

“We have also experimented with expanding our itineraries out of China. When we first started up the average cruise length was a little more than four nights. Over time we have added seven- and eight-night cruises, reaching the east coast of Japan and also Vladivostok. By opening up more ports, we are broadening the appeal of our itineraries in the region both for first-timers and repeat cruisers.”

Celebrity is also building up its capacity in Australia for 2020-2021 with the Eclipse to be based out of Melbourne and the Solstice from Sydney.

“The itineraries speak to the different target markets for each brand,” Allen noted.

Royal Caribbean Cuts Steel on Fifth Oasis Class Ship

Royal, Caribbean, ship
PHOTO: Royal Caribbean steel cutting of a fifth Oasis Class ship. (photo via Royal Caribbean International