Cruise Industry

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Norwegian Breakaway in a Large Dry Dock

As the cruise industry sails into the third decade of the 21st century, the signs of its vitality are everywhere.

New entrants are flocking to the business. Established players have record booking curves. Big networks of cruise vacation advisors are growing. Competition is healthy but not cutthroat. And cruise lines are spending more than ever before to modernize their older ships.

Cruise line executives are optimistic, none more so than 30-year industry veteran Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

“We expect to end this year with more revenue on the books than ever before, with very high booked load factors at very attractive pricing,” Fain told Wall Street analysts in October. “All of that bodes well for an attractive 2020.”

Perhaps no development demonstrates the vitality of today’s cruise industry more than the growth of expedition cruising. No fewer than nine expedition ships from seven cruise lines are expected to arrive in 2020.

And everyone wants in. Luxury names such as Crystal and Seabourn as well as Viking Ocean Cruises are all preparing to add expedition capacity to their portfolios.

Brands with cachet in other parts of the hospitality business are putting capital into the cruise arena. Virgin is adding ships to its existing plane, train and hotel brands, with Virgin Voyages set to launch in April.

And sprawling Marriott International, through its Ritz-Carlton brand, will rejoin the cruise industry with the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, 25 years after giving up its previous cruising venture, a part interest in Sun Line. Ritz-Carlton’s 298-passenger, ultraluxury vessel, the Evrima, is scheduled to debut in June.

The yacht-like Windstar ships are being stretched and relaunched by owner Xanterra.

The yacht-like Windstar ships are being stretched and relaunched by owner Xanterra.

The supersizing of refurbishments is another demonstration of cruise vitality. Royal Caribbean International just completed a $165 million rejuvenation of the Oasis of the Seas, and Norwegian Cruise Line plans to spend $100 million next year on its 22-year-old Norwegian Spirit.

“This is the most extensive revitalization in our company’s 50-year history,” Norwegian chief sales officer Katina Athanasiou told an audience at CruiseWorld in November.

Continued innovation is another hallmark of vital industries. In August, the 5,282-passenger Carnival Mardi Gras will debut, the first liquefied natural gas-powered cruise ship to sail in North America and the first to have a roller coaster onboard.

The coaster follows hard on the heels of go-kart tracks and sky diving simulators developed by rival lines.
As Carnival Cruise Line gears up to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022, it is still finding new homeports from which to sail. Next year it will deploy the Carnival Miracle to San Francisco, its 19th domestic homeport, where it will offer cruises to Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska.

Cruise selling is also a dynamic contributor to the vitality of the cruise sector. At its recent annual convention in Hollywood, Fla., Cruise Planners celebrated its growth into a powerhouse of 2,500 franchises nationwide.

“From 2015 to 2019, we’ve doubled our sales,” Cruise Planners CEO Michelle Fee said.

Even corners of the cruise industry that were once endangered are prospering. In 2007, Carnival Corp. sold the diminutive Windstar Cruises to Ambassadors International, and the sail-powered line fell into bankruptcy during the Great Recession.

It was rescued in 2011 by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which bought three 212-passenger ships from Seabourn to expand the fleet.

Now those ships themselves are being expanded. Windstar has budgeted $250 million to cut each of the former Seabourn ships in half and insert an 84-foot block of new cabins and public areas into the middle.

The process was started in October with the Star Breeze, which also got new engines and a larger fuel tank. The schedule calls for a similar stretching of the Star Legend and Star Pride to be completed by November.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines to revamp three ships

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Fred Olsen Cruise Lines is sending Braemar, Balmoral and Black Watch into dry dock this winter in preparation for the 2020-21 season.

All three will receive new public areas and cabin improvements during their revamps, taking place from now until December 21 at Blohm+Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.

In addition, a number of cabins on 804-passenger Black Watch will receive bathroom upgrades.

On Balmoral, an Oriental Room will be added on deck six, where teas and Far Eastern-themed cocktails and drinks will be served.

A photo gallery and flower shop will also be installed on to the 1,325-passenger ship.

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Engineering works, general maintenance and other refurbishments will also be carried out.

Braemar entered dry dock on Thursday and will return to service on November 24 when it sales a nine-night French, Belgian & Spanish City Overnights cruise from Southampton.

Balmoral will enter the yard on December 10 before emerging 10 days later, while Black Watch will go in on December 11 and come out on December 21.

The line’s fourth ship – 880-passenger Boudicca – will go into dry dock in autumn next year.

Peter Deer, managing director of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines said: “We are very proud of our smaller, classic cruise ships and we recognise the importance of investing in ongoing upgrades to ensure that our guests can continue to enjoy them at their very best.

“Our refreshed and the renewed fleet has been very well-received by both new and existing guests following the last round of improvements at Blohm+Voss in 2017 and 2018, and we are keen to showcase the latest enhancements to our guests before Christmas.”

Blohm+Voss: Planning Meticulous Work

The Europa 2 at Blohm + Voss (Photo: Oliver Asmussen)
Europa 2 in the Drydock.

“Planning a refit project is a precise art and to pull it off with a happy customer at the end takes months of meticulous preparation,” said Dieter Dehlke, managing director, Blohm+Voss.

“We can have projects on the books a year or more in advance or we can get a call for an emergency repair just weeks or even days before it is due to dock with us,” he said.

The German yard offers seven drydocks and is among the leading options for cruise ship repair in Northern Europe.

For the bigger jobs, it is not uncommon for the yard to manage some 3,500 workers.

They also offer what they call flying squads, groups of skilled workers that can carry out refits anywhere.

“If the ship can’t make it to the yard, we send the team to the ship,” said Dehlke.