Disney Cruise Line seeks further growth

Disney Cruise Line will continue to look for growth opportunities, says company president, Karl Holz. By David Mott

The 17-year-old cruise line’s four-ship fleet came in two tranches – Disney Magic and Disney Wonder in the late 1990s, as the initial ships, augmented more than a decade later by the larger Disney Dream in 2011 and Disney Fantasy a year later. Karl Holz says the launch of the two larger ships “transformed our cruise business in many ways. Simply put, we further expanded the blueprint for family cruising.” Both the newer ships have a passenger count of 4,000 against 2,700 for each of the first two vessels. The latest ships, at 130,000gt, are classed as large resort ships because of the self-containment of their facilities.

“We have noticed continuing popularity among our passengers since Disney emerged in the cruise industry in 1998,” says Holz. “With this expansion we have more opportunity to surprise and delight with an ever-increasing list of ports of call around the world.” These include a return to New York in autumn 2016, where Disney Magic will operate a series of cruises and a first-ever British Isles cruise with calls in England, Scotland and Ireland as well as in France.

For a family entertainer like Disney, where the focus is every bit as much on the children as it is on the adults, safety and the environment have a particular resonance and the cruise line is no exception. “We focus our environmental efforts on utilising new technology, increasing fuel efficiency, minimising waste and promoting conservation. We comply with and sometimes exceed all international environmental regulations,” says Holz.

To boost fuel efficiency, Disney claims it is the first cruise line to use an innovative hull coating on its ships which is both 100% non-toxic as well as reducing surface resistance in open water. “In addition, all Disney ships have dedicated environmental officers who are responsible for compliance and are ranked among the most senior leaders onboard.”

Much has been said over the years about the position of people without children on a Disney vessel and this is a subject Holz tackles. “What I can tell you is that there is that there is something for everyone on Disney ships, which all include areas created exclusively for adults. They also have the options of spas, nightclubs and lounges, as well as adult-exclusive dining and pools.” In addition, there is an adult beach at Serenity Bay at Disney’s private island in Florida, Castaway Cay.

Asked how Disney has been able to transpose its stories to shipboard life, Holz says this has been achieved by the extensive use of new technology. “Our team of ‘imagineers’ is always working to bring to life Disney stories for our passengers. 

We have a portfolio of characters and intellectual property and are always looking to anticipate industry trends and plan strategically to deliver entertainment on our ships. As a member of the cruise industry we are always looking to identify trends alongside our competitors and to innovate.” Indeed, Disney’s use of technology has enabled it to become one of a growing number of lines which give passengers in interior cabins a real-time view of the ocean thanks to high-definition cameras positioned outside the ship.

With ships relying so heavily on shipboard attractions, a constant programme of technical updating is obviously important. Holz says: “Reinvesting in our ships, also to meet increased business, is part of the Disney heritage and over the years we have made many changes to upgrade our vessels. In 2013 the Disney Magic spent six weeks in drydock in an operation which made a wonderful ship even better.” The work involved the ‘reimagination’ of the whole upper deck. This autumn Disney Dream will dock in Freeport, Bahamas, when spaces throughout the vessel will be transformed. This work will include the addition of two interactive youth areas, one with a Star Wars theme and another slanted towards Disney Infinity.

In keeping with the international nature of its business, Disney Cruise Line, headquartered in both London and Florida, positions its ships in North America and Europe. In May this year, Disney Magic started sailing the Baltic and the Norwegian fjords out of Copenhagen. That done, she switched to Dover in the UK for two Baltic sailings and a repositioning voyage to Barcelona for two Mediterranean cruises before returning to Miami in the autumn.

Disney Wonder sailed Alaska out of Vancouver this summer before going to Hawaii for two cruises, followed by a return to San Diego for trips to Mexico. Throughout this year, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy will operate out of Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Early in 2016 Disney Magic will carry out her maiden British Isles cruise as well as calling at ports in northern Europe, the Greek islands and the Mediterranean. Disney Wonder will reposition from Galveston to San Juan for a southern Caribbean itinerary including, for the first time, the French island of Martinique.

In common with a number of companies operating ocean cruises, Disney has just gone into the river cruising business. But in Disney’s case this is quite separate from the ocean cruise line and river itineraries are operated by Adventures of Disney in conjunction with AmaWaterways. From next year, sailings along the Danube will be operated using AmaViola. There was an initial programme of five sailings and another two have just been added. Passengers will be able to visit eight destinations in four countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

So growth is certainly on the cards for the operator, but (for now) this does not imply any new additions to the fleet, says Holz. “At this time we do not have any further details to share on building new ships,” he concludes.

2016 River cruise Outlook

by industry sector

In 2016, after several years of inexhaustible growth in the river cruise sector, some of the bigger players are taking a bit of a breather (and by breather, we mean not building as many new ships as in past years), while several newcomers and new products take a fresh stab at the market.

Most notable among the river cruise rookies is Crystal Cruises, which this year announced that it would be entering the river-cruise market with a fleet of five luxury yacht-style river vessels. The first of those will be the Crystal Mozart, formerly a Peter Deilmann vessel known as the Mozart, originally built in 1987. Crystal has four newbuild vessels on order for 2017.

Following an extensive renovation, the Crystal Mozart will set sail on July 13, offering passengers their first glimpse of Crystal’s vision of river cruising. That will mean fewer, larger suites after the company transforms the 203-passenger Mozart to a 160-passenger capacity.

The updated Crystal Mozart will feature suites ranging in size from 203 square feet to the 860-square-foot, two-bedroom Crystal Suites, the largest on any river.

Crystal also is designing its itineraries so that much of the sailing takes place during the day, giving guests the opportunity to explore destinations in the evening, with ships docked in port overnight.

It will be interesting to see how this nighttime-focused river cruise experience will resonate with river cruisers. According to Crystal, one big advantage will be fewer crowds in port, something that has become a bit of a challenge in Europe. Crystal has said it also plans to  get passengers off ship as much as possible while docked, with onshore culinary experiences at Michelin-starred restaurants, evening events and entertainment.

Bring the kiddies

While Crystal will be making a run to convert the high-end, ocean-cruise customer to rivers, another new entrant into the river-cruise market, Adventures by Disney, will be attempting to get more families to sail the Danube.
Adventures by Disney announced a partnership with AmaWaterways to develop a series of family-friendly cruises aboard the 158-passenger AmaStella in 2016.

To better accommodate families, the AmaStella will usher in several new hardware concepts for AmaWaterways, including 12 staterooms that can accommodate up to three family members each; six sets of adjoining cabins connected via an internal doorway, accommodating families of up to five; and four suites with convertible sofa beds that can accommodate families of up to four.

While courting families isn’t entirely new for river cruising (companies like Tauck and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection have been doing it for years), actually designing a ship around the needs of families is new. And Disney will be taking the family-friendly concept a step further, for example, by having eight Adventures by Disney guides on each of its sailings in addition to the existing AmaWaterways crew.

The Adventures by Disney sailings will also feature movies, karaoke and daily biking trips for younger passengers, as well as family-friendly excursions such as a horse show at the Lazar Equestrian Park in Hungary and a private marionette performance and strudel-making demonstration at the Schonbrunn Palace in Austria.

Other river-cruise newbies are looking to introduce demographics into the arena as well, including Canadian tour operator G Adventures, which is hoping to get millennials onboard. G Adventures is introducing river cruises on the Mekong and Ganges rivers and on the canals of France’s Burgundy region in 2016, in addition to its existing Peruvian Amazon cruises. The line’s goal is to make what has traditionally been a higher-end travel product more accessible to younger, less- affluent clients.

Exotic river lust

Uniworld’s much-anticipated Ganges River program in India officially sets sail in January, when the company begins chartering Haimark’s new luxury cruiser, the 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II. Uniworld’s new Ganges program promises to bring luxury amenities and services to India’s most notorious inland water route, which is quickly becoming the next river- cruising hot spot.

Exotic river buffs will be happy to note that next year will also see continued development in Southeast Asia, where Pandaw River Expeditions is launching new and uncharted river routes, the latest being a 2016 sailing that travels the length of the Mekong River all the way from Thailand through Myanmar and Laos and into China, the first time the company will be offering a sailing that goes into China.

Scenic and Emerald Waterways also are adding capacity on the popular Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia next year.

Ongoing growth in Europe, U.S.

It wouldn’t be river cruising if there were not a continued influx of ships on next year’s agenda, namely on the always-popular European streams. The world’s largest river-cruise line, Viking River Cruises, will add six newbuilds, for a total of 52 ships in five years. Amawaterways, Avalon Waterways, Tauck and Scenic are each christening two new vessels in Europe next year, and four-star tenderfoot Emerald Waterways is adding a fifth ship in Europe.

French river-cruise line CroisiEurope is celebrating 40 years in business next year as it continues to make more noise in the U.S. market with updated ships meant to meet U.S. standards, and the company will unveil its second European paddlewheeler (a unique concept for sailing shallower waters) on the Elbe River in spring.

Another paddlewheeler, American Cruise Lines’ newest U.S.-based vessel, will launch in early 2016, marking the third Mississippi paddlewheeler that the line has built from the ground up. It joins the American Eagle, which launched in April, and the Queen of the Mississippi, which set sail in 2012.

UBS Sees Conservative Growth in Cruise Capacity

UBS Sees Conservative Growth in Cruise Capacity

Findings are based on scheduled delivery of new ships during the upcoming yearsBy: Marilyn Green

Viking Ocean has newbuilds scheduled for 2015 and 2016, with the potential for additional orders. // © 2013 Viking Cruises

Viking Ocean has newbuilds scheduled for 2015 and 2016, with the potential for additional orders. // © 2013 Viking Cruises

UBS Investment Research periodically publishes an evaluation of cruise capacity and where it is headed. In its current study, UBS said Carnival Corporation may be in discussions with shipbuilders for another Seabourn order, which could be announced before the end of 2013. The new ship is likely planned for 2017, as the analysts think Carnival is finished ordering for 2016, with three orders currently in place. In addition, Royal Caribbean International has an option that expires in December for a fourth Oasis-class order scheduled for mid-2018 delivery — another possible order that could be announced later this year.

UBS expects 3-4 percent compound annual capacity growth in North America for the period of 2012-2016, which is below the 10-year average between 2003 and 2012, which came in at just under 6 percent. Analysts are predicting about three percent average growth in 2013 and 2014, as all ordering for those years is now completed, and further withdrawals of existing ships are likely to be announced later.

Analyst Robin Farley pointed out that Carnival Corporation has reiterated its intention of scheduling delivery of two to three ships per year and has only two ships on order for delivery in each 2014 and 2015. Royal Caribbean had been maintaining capital spending discipline, with one ship on order for delivery in 2014 and one in 2015, and no ships scheduled to be delivered for 2013.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line exercised its option for a second Breakaway Plus ship for spring 2017 delivery — the line has the first Breakaway Plus order scheduled for October 2015. The two 4,200-berth vessels will be the largest in Norwegian’s fleet.

Another summer announcement came from Prestige Cruise Holdings, which announced in early July that the company has put in an order for a new 738-passenger all-suite, all-balcony ship for Regent Seven Seas. This will be the largest vessel in the fleet, driving close to 40 percent growth in capacity. Named Seven Seas Explorer, it is scheduled for delivery in summer 2016.

UBS notes that Viking Ocean Cruises has been in discussions for additional orders we may see later this year, related to the December 2012 Memorandum of Agreement with Fincantieri for the construction of two more ocean cruise vessels with an option for another two. Neither the shipyard nor Viking has announced an exact delivery date for the additional newbuild orders at this time, but UBS predicts the timing to be the end of 2016 and the end of 2017. Viking Ocean already has newbuilds scheduled to debut in May 2015 and early 2016.