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that were way past their prime; Scandinavian car ferries converted to cruise duty; and ocean liners that were years out of date.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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UK Market Moves Toward All-Inclusive Cruises

Marella’s fleet will be all-inclusive come 2019.

The UK’s cruise market is going from strength-to-strength with bargain-hungry Brits boosting the all-inclusive package concept.

Phil Evans, the founder and owner of Cruise Nation, said there is also a trend in the overall marketplace for long-haul products, which are “massively up over last year”. 

Evans told Cruise Industry News: “Consumers want great value for money, and while free drinks packages represent the best value in most cases, customers who do not drink are often left at a disadvantage, therefore it is important to give customers choices.”

Online agency Iglu’s commercial product director, Dave Mills, is upbeat about the fortunes for the UK  market and explained that the market has moved away from a purely price-driven sector with cruise lines now increasingly offering a more all-inclusive product and having a lot more to do onboard which is, more often than not, included in the price.

All-Inclusive

“These all-inclusive packages are so popular right now. The more you have included and the more time you have to explain the experiences, the more interest we see,” Mills said. “Outside the cruising market, all-inclusive holidays are very popular and the cruise market looks like it’s joining this sector in some way.”

He added that the cruise lines have committed to offering ever better value in recent years and packages are effectively close to the final holiday costs outside the sector with guests not having to spend much once they are onboard.

The UK market is looking strong for the future, led by Carnival Corporation’s P&O Cruises UK. The new P&O Iona will be based in Southampton starting in spring 2020.

All-inclusive packages can include shore excursions and, even if they are not included, Mills said that cruise lines are working hard to offer immersive, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, which can still be very good value for money.

Like Cruise Nation, Iglu is also seeing distinct trends appearing in the UK’s cruise market.

“There are some broader trends and we are seeing huge growth in the area of expedition cruises, where people are generally going on smaller ships but heading off the beaten track to destinations such as the Galapagos and Antarctica,” Mills said. “Perhaps this is down to people seeing programs such as Blue Planet on TV and then want to see the locations for themselves.

Booking Window

Another trend appearing for travel agencies is for Brits to book their cruise holidays further ahead than in recent years.

Evans noted: “There has been a significant shift so far this year to winter 2018-2019 and summer 2019. This is mainly down to the many early booking offers available; in some cases, it is cheaper to book a 2019 cruise over a 2018 cruise.

“We have also seen our customers book further ahead than they were this time last year; our average booking window is now nine months in advance.

“Overall cruise prices are increasing. Cruise lines are rewarding customers for booking early with the best prices and incentives. Whereas two years ago, customers were waiting until the last minute knowing that prices would be reduced and they would get a better deal.”

Shipyard De Hoop scoops Celebrity Cruises expedition ship contract

Shipyard De Hoop scoops Celebrity Cruises expedition ship contract

A rendering of Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Flora, which is being built by Shipyard De HoopCelebrity Cruises has struck a contract with Shipyard De Hoop for the design and construction of an expedition cruise ship.

The 5,635 GT 100 passenger-capacity vessel, to be named Celebrity Flora will have a keel laying ceremony later this year and is due to be delivered in May 2019.

De Hoop said the cruise vessel is “optimised for experiencing the land and marine environment of the Galapagos in high comfort”. Celebrity Flora will be the first vessel to be built to two-compartment damage stability regulations and additionally complies with the relevant damage stability requirements planned for implementation during 2020. De Hoop said the vessel also commits to specific Galapagos National Park Directorate Regulations, whereby explicit environmentally low-impact features were applied.

As this vessel is expected to be stationary – in a bay or near one of the islands – for 66% of the operational time, “considerable thought went into the design and selection of equipment, allowing the ship to perform efficiently under dynamic positioning (DP)”. Combined with a zero-speed stabiliser system, the DP system will choose a heading to minimise the roll and heave motions on the vessel, significantly improving passenger comfort.

The power and propulsion plant of Celebrity Flora is duplicated and housed in two separate engine rooms.

De Hoop said the introduction of an advanced propulsion system, its hull configuration (improved with CFD calculations) and specially designed diesel engines, guarantee an average 25% reduction in hull resistance, 15% reduction of overall fuel consumption and equivalently fewer air emissions.

The ship’s bow shape features a straight, wave-piercing stem, with an integrated bulb at the waterline. De Hoop said, “This characteristic bow both reduces resistance in waves when in transit and saves energy when staying in position, due to the highly efficient short bow thruster tunnel.”