How Carnival and Royal Caribbean Are Rejuvenating Their Fleets

How Carnival and Royal Caribbean Are Rejuvenating Their Fleets
Royal Caribbean will introduce Music Hall to Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.
Credit: 2019 Royal Caribbean International

As cruise competitors seek the attention of new and returning clientele, the trend for lines to offer the best in deck attractions, fine dining and world-class entertainment continues. New and ever-grander ships are on the horizon, but brands are updating their existing vessels to have all the latest that clients expect, as well.

In short: The differences between older and newer ships are becoming imperceptible.

Here, we take a look at two companies updating their ageing vessels — Carnival Corporation & Plc, and Royal Caribbean International — and what clients can anticipate on future cruise vacations.

Carnival Corporation & Plc

Caribbean Princess, from Carnival brand Princess Cruises, recently went all out to update its kid-friendly pool deck with the new Reef Splash Zone. Central to the waterpark is Splashpad, featuring Winnie the Whale, an “Animal Planet” focus of the Camp Discovery Youth & Teen Centers onboard. The whale playfully emits water from its fluke and spout among other interactive sprays, showers and a splash pool. There are other whale murals for more “Instagrammable” moments, as well as a family game zone with oversize backyard-style games.

Carnival Sunrise will feature new amenities such as a waterpark, waterslides, a children’s splash zone and a SportSquare.

Carnival Sunrise will feature new amenities such as a waterpark, waterslides, a children’s splash zone and a SportSquare.

Carnival Sunrise will feature new amenities such as a waterpark, waterslides, a children’s splash zone and a SportSquare.

Credit: 2019 Carnival Cruise Line

The surrounding pool, whirlpool and bar area has also been refreshed. Morgan’s Bar serves mocktails with names such as Crazy Coconut and Berry Nice to Meet You that guests can enjoy while lounging on plush sectionals. And just a deck below, the outdoor portion of Camp Discovery showcases a destination-themed water table that is educational and illustrates itinerary spots such as Sydney Opera House in Australia, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal.

Meanwhile, Carnival brand Carnival Cruise Line has completely transformed Carnival Triumph into the new Carnival Sunrise, which now sports a pleasantly more subdued aesthetic and contemporary amenities. It also features two redesigned Captain’s Suites and updates to all other cabins.

Like Caribbean Princess, Sunrise newly touts a children’s splash zone, a waterpark and waterslides. There’s also a SportSquare with a ropes course and minigolf, as well as a Serenity adults-only retreat. Camp Ocean, Circle “C” and Club O2 are dedicated to kids, teens and tweens, respectively.

Enhanced entertainment onboard Sunrise includes The Punchliner Comedy Club, hosted in the new Limelight Lounge; Playlist Productions in Liquid Lounge; and other live music and parties. The shipboard shops, photo gallery, spa and fitness centre have also been updated.

Onboard culinary venues now include Guy’s Burger Joint, Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, BlueIguana Cantina and BlueIguana Tequila Bar, RedFrog Rum Bar, Alchemy Bar, The Chef’s Table and Cherry on Top, as well as the upgraded Lido Marketplace, Pizzeria del Capitano and Java Blue venues.

Royal Caribbean International

With the success of its latest vessels, Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean is now eyeing its Oasis-class vessels for dramatic enhancements. Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas will soon share even more with their younger sister ships for greater consistency across the fleet while still showcasing some individuality.

Oasis and Allure will feature the colorful candy and ice-cream shop Sugar Beach.

Oasis and Allure will feature the colourful candy and ice-cream shop Sugar Beach.

Credit: 2019 Royal Caribbean International

In time for its 10-year anniversary, Oasis will relaunch this November after an extensive two-month refurbishment. Leading its new onboard features will be a redesigned Pool and Sports Zone complete with a Splashaway Bay children’s waterpark; The Perfect Storm trio of waterslides; and the famed Ultimate Abyss dry slide. Splashaway itself will feature three waterslides for kids, plus two drench buckets, water cannons, fountains and pools. Across the board, all youth clubs will be redesigned, as well.

The pool deck will add The Lime and Coconut bar, and El Loco Fresh for Mexican cuisine will be located near the pool. Other additions will include Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade for pub food and Sugar Beach for candy and ice cream along the Boardwalk. Also, for the first time, Portside BBQ will be a poolside barbecue restaurant serving savoury meats.

Combining a bar scene and entertainment will be Bionic Bar, where robotic bartenders will show off their drink-making skills. Other new entertainment options will include Spotlight Karaoke on the Royal Promenade, and the energetic live Music Hall will be introduced to the Oasis-class from the Quantum class. What’s more, there will be a Clash for the Crystal City laser tag game and Royal Escape Room – Mission Control: Apollo 18.

Meanwhile, Allure will mostly mirror the updates of Oasis when it comes back online in May 2020 following its own two-month revitalization.

It, too, will receive Splashaway Bay; the Ultimate Abyss dry slide; and the Typhoon, Cyclone and Supercell waterslides. The Lime and Coconut, Portside BBQ, Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade, El Loco Fresh, Sugar Beach and Bionic Bar are also on the menu, as are Music Hall and Spotlight Karaoke. But fresh to only Allure will be Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar, which will combine the existing Giovanni’s Table restaurant and Vintages bar into one.

Voyager of the Seas — the original model for the larger Oasis class — is also part of the line’s Royal Amplified fleet enhancement program. The ship is set to emerge from a refurbishment before the others in October. It will tout two of the three Perfect Storm waterslides (Typhoon and Cyclone); a refreshed Solarium; a redesigned Vitality Spa; and updated areas for babies, kids and teens. The vessel will also feature Battle for Planet Z laser tag, as well as 72 new inside and balcony staterooms, plus a Suite Lounge and Diamond Lounge.

Lastly, Royal Caribbean recently announced that it will remodel a Freedom-class ship (sized between Voyager and Oasis classes). Like Voyager, Freedom of the Seas will reemerge in March 2020 with redesigned children’s facilities and The Perfect Storm duo of waterslides, plus the Clash for the Crystal City laser tag game; a Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade; Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen; Izumi Hibachi & Sushi; and a retooled pool deck showcasing Splashaway Bay, El Loco Fresh and The Lime and Coconut.

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Damage to Bahamas shipyard leaves cruise lines scrambling

The aft end of the Carnival Vista on the Boka Vanguard at the Grand Bahama Shipyard.
The aft end of the Carnival Vista on the Boka Vanguard at the Grand Bahama Shipyard.

Damage to a drydock facility at the Grand Bahama Shipyard in the Bahamas is proving inconvenient and expensive for the cruise industry, and it demonstrates how few drydock options exist on the U.S. East Coast.

The damaged drydock, the largest of three at Grand Bahama, was put out of commission on April 1 when a crane collapsed while raising the stern of the Oasis of the Seas to repair its propulsion pods.

The accident forced Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) to take the Oasis to a yard in Europe to finish repairing it.

The repairs, plus the cost of three canceled Oasis cruises, will pare an estimated $52 million from RCCL’s 2019 earnings.

But Royal is not the only line affected by the loss of the Bahamas drydock.

In June, Carnival Cruise Line’s 4,000-passenger Carnival Vista also developed a problem with its Azipod motors that required immediate replacement of their bearings. Normally, the work would have been done in drydock at Grand Bahama, a facility jointly owned by RCCL and Carnival Corp.

But on June 20, Carnival Cruise Line disclosed to investors that because it was not possible to use Grand Bahama, the ship would go out of service for 17 days, and three July cruises from Galveston, Texas, would be canceled.

The cost was projected at between $50 million and $62 million, partly because it will take more time to complete than it would have if the ship had been drydocked in the Bahamas.

Carnival turned to what it said was a “first of its kind” solution, loading the entire ship onto a semi-submersible, heavy-lift transport vessel, the Boka Vanguard, built to haul offshore oil and gas drilling rigs.

The loading and lifting operation was scheduled for the weekend of July 12 to 14, after which the Vista was to head for the Grand Bahama yard for the repair work.

Both situations underscore how dependent cruise lines are on Grand Bahama Shipyard for drydock space that is within a quick sailing distance from their headquarters in Florida and from ports on the Eastern Seaboard.

Walter Nadolny, assistant professor of marine transportation, ship construction and stability at the State University of New York’s Maritime College, said there are several reasons for the infrastructure deficit.

One is that costs are low in the Bahamas.

“The United States is the most expensive place in the world to build and repair a ship,” Nadolny said. Most U.S. shipyards of the size needed to work on late-model cruise ships are accustomed to cost-plus contracts from the U.S. Navy and are too expensive, he said.

The Carnival Vista arrives at night in Grand Bahama after being picked up by the Boka Vanguard.

The Carnival Vista arrives at night in Grand Bahama after being picked up by the Boka Vanguard.

Second, the specialized gear and materials have been concentrated in Grand Bahamas and are not easily duplicated.

“If they brought [the Carnival Vista] into Jacksonville Yard, in Jacksonville, Fla., right now by bringing in all the stuff they need to do the repair, they’d be incurring duties,” Nadolny said. “The logistics they need are probably sitting in the Bahamas, which means we’ve got to bring people in, we’ve got to bring equipment in, [and] it could be stuck in customs.”

Cruise lines have grown to rely heavily on Grand Bahama because most of what they do there is routine refurbishments that are predictable and can be scheduled well in advance, he said.

But unforeseen situations are posing more of a challenge. “The intricacies of changing out Azipods make it a little more difficult,” Nadolny said.

Carnival had the option of sending the Vista to Europe, where cruise ship drydocks are more numerous, Nadolny said, but that would have meant extra transit time.

“Now, instead of a three-week downtime, it’s going to be a seven-week downtime or a 10-week downtime,” he said about the European alternative.

Before 2000, when the predecessor of Grand Bahama Shipyard was founded in Freeport, cruise lines were more dependent on U.S. yards. For example, when the Carnival Ecstasy caught fire leaving Miami in 1998, it was sent to the giant Newport News Shipbuilding yard in Hampton Roads, Va.

But ships have been growing in size.

“The reason why Grand Bahama came about is specifically that there were no large drydocks in the southeast part of the U.S. that could accommodate these mega-cruise ships,” said Lawrence Rapp, principal consultant at Seawise Consulting, which focuses on new building and refurbishment management.

After the previous operator of the Freeport yard went bankrupt, Carnival and Royal Caribbean invested in it.

“That’s worked reasonably well until this accident,” Rapp said. “The only real fallback that exists is Newport News, but they’re committed to Navy contracts. If the Navy ship isn’t finished, then you don’t get the dock, so it’s just not reliable enough for the cruise industry.”

At the start of the year, Grand Bahama had 25 projects scheduled for 2019. It is not known how the crane accident will impact that total or when the damages from the accident will be repaired. Grand Bahama Shipyard officials have said nothing about the cause or consequences of the accident.

Phone and email efforts to reach the yard for comment were unsuccessful.

Problems with podded propulsion systems continue to dog the industry, making the need for repair facilities acute. The sister ship of the Oasis of the Seas, the Allure of the Seas, is currently operating at less than full speed because of a technical problem with one of its pods.

In May, Royal Caribbean International sent a letter to passengers booked on the Allure saying that the ship would be leaving some ports early and substituting some ports for others through October because it could not sail at full speed.

Nadolny said the only cost-effective drydock alternative to Grand Bahama for ships needing work along the East Coast would be another Caribbean facility.

He said a yard could be built in another offshore location; Haiti, for example. But it would require that country to say “We want to do this” and then devoting the necessary resources.

Rapp said that keeping a drydock operation in the black can be tricky.

“There are a lot of risk factors,” he said. “It’s hugely capital intensive. There are all sorts of labor issues. It’s not something that’s easy to make money with. You look at a drydock bill for a big cruise ship and you think ‘Look at all that money.’ Most of it is going to subcontractors for interior refurbishments and so on.”

He added: “The amounts going to the shipyard are substantial, but they’re not constant, and they’re not reliable.”

Sixth Oasis class mega ship ordered by Royal Caribbean

Image result for Harmony of the Seas

A sixth Oasis class mega cruise ship is due to be delivered to Royal Caribbean International in autumn 2023.

Parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd yesterday revealed that it has entered into an agreement with French shipbuilder Chantiers de l’Atlantique to order the latest in the family of giant vessels.

The ships, reputed to cost more than $1 billion each to build, are capable of carrying 6,680 passengers.

The Oasis class ships made their debut a decade ago with Oasis of the Seas followed by Allure of the Seas.

Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas have since entered service for the line.

The line’s fifth Oasis-class ship is due for delivery in spring 2021.

The new order is contingent upon financing, which is expected to be completed in the second or third quarter of this year, according to the company.

RCCL chairman and CEO Richard Fain said: “It is such a pleasure to announce the order of another Oasis-class ship.

“This order is a reflection of the exceptional performance of this vessel class and the extraordinary partnership between Chantiers de l’Atlantique and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.”

The French shipyard’s general manager Laurent Castaing added: ”This is the 23rd cruise ship that Royal Caribbean will be building at our shipyard, and we are especially proud of it.

“The order reflects the confidence our customer puts on us, based on the exceptional quality of our long-term co-operation between the two companies and on our capacity to bring innovative solutions to meet our customer’s expectations.”

RCCL brands operate a combined total of 60 ships with an additional 16 on order.