Royal Caribbean cancels Independence 2020 ex-UK season

 


Independence of the Seas in Southampton by Dave Jones

Royal Caribbean has cancelled Independence of the Seas’ ex-UK season next summer.

The 4,560-passenger ship was due to operate cruises from Southampton to Europe, alongside Anthem of the Seas, from May 2020. It will now offer Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale in Florida instead.

The line insisted the move was not a reflection of a softer UK market, but rather in response to “phenomenal demand” from North America.

The ship was understood to be “well-sold” but the line declined to reveal how many UK passengers – and the agents who booked them – are affected by the move.

Ben Bouldin, associate vice president and managing director, Royal Caribbean International UK & Ireland, said guests affected by the itinerary change will be offered full refunds, and a ‘Future Cruise Credit’ for use on alternative sailings – valued at 25% of the cruise fare paid on their cancelled sailing.

Guests booked on the transatlantic sailings will be offered an alternative sailing on Anthem of the Seas, which is also sailing ex-UK to Europe in summer 2020, along with onboard credit based on their stateroom category and sailing length.

Non-refundable airline charges will be reimbursed, and full refunds are given to those who wish to cancel.

Bouldin stressed: “This is not a reflection on the UK market but rather a response to the phenomenal demand we’re seeing in North America.  Ex-UK 2020 sales have been buoyant since our ‘on sale now’ campaign back in November 2018 and we are also seeing strong demand from UK guests for sailings outside of Europe, particularly in the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific regions.

“The UK continues to be an important market for Royal Caribbean.”

President and chief executive Michael Bayley had expressed nervousness around the UK market because of the Brexit situation, before confirming the deployment of Anthem to Southampton, which would more than double the line’s ex-UK capacity.

Last year, he said: “The big thing for us is the value of sterling. We are an American company. All of our revenues have to come back to us in dollars. When Brexit hit, that was a 15% cut. The UK is a big side of our business.”

But he later confirmed Anthem would indeed join Independence, saying: “We experience volatility in all the markets that we operate in. Our strategy has been a continuation, protect, optimise and carry on the journey; that is why we announced that Anthem is coming to the UK in 2020.

“By the time we have got through 2019, we will be in a far more stable environment. A lot of the choppiness will have stabilised. We are hoping but we don’t know. This kind of uncertainty is not good for business.”

This was before the Brexit deadline was delayed another six months to October 31, 2019.

Bouldin added: “The benefit of our global business model is that we are able to reposition ships to satisfy the demand of our guests.  In this case, demand is high in the Caribbean, especially for itineraries to Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas, and keeping Independence of the Seas in Florida allows us to meet the demand.”

Independence of the Seas, which came back into service after a multi-million-pound refit in May 2018, is the most popular of all Royal Caribbean ships among UK agents and their customers. A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman confirmed that agents with customers booked on Independence of the Seas for summer 2020 sailings will keep the commission they have earned.

She added that the line is hoping that many affected passengers will transfer to Anthem of the Seas, which it pointed out was a larger and newer vessel.

Royal Caribbean will be sending letters to all affected passengers this morning (Thurs) to let them know of the decision and to outline their alternative options. It will also be contacting trade partners.

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Celebrity Edge arrives in Fort Lauderdale

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The $875 million Celebrity Edge arrived at Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades after a 15-day transatlantic crossing.

To accommodate Celebrity Cruises’ first new ship in six years, Port Everglades spent $120 million to reconfigure and upgrade two older terminals into a modern terminal called T25.

Both the terminal and the ship sport high design and state-of-the-art technology. The terminal will operate an expedited arrivals process and a dedicated lounge for premium guests booked in The Retreat.

Chock full of new features, the Edge’s signature amenity is the Magic Carpet, a nine-ton movable platform cantilevered on one side of the ship, which can serve as a dining venue and a shore excursions departure platform.

“This has been more than four years in the making,” said Celebrity CEO Lisa-Lutoff-Perlo, who shepherded construction of the ship at the Chantiers de L’Atlantique shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, along with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. chairman Richard Fain and RCCL executive vice president maritime and newbuilding Harri Kulovaara.

The Edge, which will sail from Port Everglades during the winter on Caribbean itineraries, is designed to carry 2,900 passengers, the same general capacity of Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam, which debuts next month, and Virgin Voyages’ inaugural ship the Scarlet Lady, which is scheduled to arrive in January 2020.

Norwegian’s Del Rio sees room for expansion

Norwegian Cruise Line entered the Chinese market last year with the Norwegian Joy.Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio told analysts that his ships were “in the right place at the right time” in 2017 but admitted that there were plenty of spots on the map he’d like to cover with new ships.

“We have so many markets that are unserved by us or grossly underpenetrated by us,” Del Rio said in a question-and-answer session with analysts to discuss fourth quarter and 2017 earnings in February.

“We don’t have a presence in the Mid-Atlantic states,” he said. “We’re not in Baltimore. We’re not in Charleston. We don’t have a presence at all in the world’s second-largest port, which is Fort Lauderdale.”

And the list kept growing.

“We don’t have a presence in the Gulf states of Texas or Alabama,” he said. “We don’t have a year-round presence in Tampa or New Orleans or Los Angeles. We only have three ships in Alaska, which is a very high-yielding market. Some of our competitors have up to eight vessels.”

Del Rio said that given the fleet size and the company’s intention to build only one new ship a year for its Norwegian Cruise Line brand, it could be a couple of years before he would consider adding a second ship in China, because, although profitable, it was not a banner year in China in 2017.

“I don’t think China is hitting on all cylinders as it can,” he said, referencing the continued tensions with South Korea and the resulting uniformity of short cruise itineraries, which only visit Japan.

Del Rio said that the Wave season for 2018 started strong and the company’s outlook is bullish, driven by a strong economy and consumer demand.

“Our overall booked position during the first seven weeks of 2018 further improved compared to the same time last year,” he said.

In addition to Norwegian Cruise Line, NCLH owns Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The three lines operate a combined fleet of 25 ships with some 50,400 berths, offering itineraries to more than 450 destinations.

On average, guests of NCLH brands are booking five weeks earlier than they did at the end of 2016, Del Rio said.

NCLH net income rose 23% last year, to $780 million, as European pricing and bookings recovered faster than expected and the booking curve extended to a near-optimal length.

Revenue rose 10.7%, to $5.4 billion.