Cruise Industry

Image result for cruise ship Dry docks
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.

MSC and Hurtigruten detail their green initiatives


Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen is the world’s first hybrid-electric cruise ship.

FORT LAUDERDALE — Cruise lines are cutting carbon emissions, reducing single-use plastics and campaigning to restore endangered coral reefs around the world, an audience at Cruise World learned on Friday.

Two cruise lines with different solutions to environmental preservation led to a discussion of how they’re making progress.

Hurtigruten’s unique solution comes in the form of batteries, which on its newest ships store energy produced by the engines and cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20%.

Hurtigruten president of the Americas John Downey said the 630-passenger ships can sail for several hours at slow speeds by battery power alone, and for a little less than an hour at normal cruising speed.

That could be important as soon as 2026 when Norway has mandated that ships sailing in two of its most historic fjords be 100% emission-free. Few ships in the current cruise fleet could qualify, Downey said.

“We can do it today. If we go 100% batteries, we can sail in there emissions-free,” Downey said.

At MSC Cruises, executives just announced that it will become the first large cruise line to become carbon neutral by countering its engine emissions through purchased carbon offsets. By investing in companies that plant trees and purchase wetlands, the line will absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere equal to the greenhouse gasses it produces.

“This is super exciting for us,” said Bonnie Levengood, MSC Cruises USA’s senior vice president for marketing. “As we’re investing in new technology to be more eco-friendly, we’re also looking at what is our current carbon footprint and how can we reduce that now.”

MSC is also developing a coral education and restoration program on the new MSC Ocean Cay Marine Reserve, its private island near Bimini scheduled to open Dec. 5.

The line is working with universities and researchers to develop a strain of super coral that will be more resistant to coral bleaching, a byproduct of warmer water temperatures. If the research is fruitful, it could help not only the Bahamas but other areas with coral reefs.

“Coral is a big attraction for tourists all over the world,” Levengood said.

Both companies are reducing sulfur emissions from their exhaust as required by International Maritime Organization rules that have been phased in over the past decade, but they differ on methodology.

Hurtigruten switched to low-sulfur fuel 10 years ago for its fleet of small ships, which prevents the sulfur from getting into the exhaust, while MSC mainly uses exhaust stack “scrubbers” that use seawater to capture the sulfur before it leaves the funnel.

Downey said the captured sulfur must still be disposed of somehow. “Our approach is you start at the root cause instead of band-aiding,” he said, adding that MSC prefers scrubbers because low-sulfur fuel is expensive.

Levengood responded that every environmental technology has its positives and negatives. She pointed out, for example, that Hurtigurten’s batteries use metals that have to be mined, and that the mining process produces greenhouse gases, even if the end product may not.

Roald Amundsen Makes Unscheduled Drydock in Vancouver

Roald Amundsen

Hurtigruten’s new 530-guest Roald Amundsen is currently undergoing an unscheduled drydocking in Vancouver, Canada.

A spokesperson told Cruise Industry News the drydock was for technical adjustments and maintenance.

“We do not expect this unscheduled yard stay to affect the upcoming voyage starting in Valparaiso on October 26,” he said.

Of note, the ship’s October 26 sailing is the christening cruise, as the hybrid vessel will be named in Antarctica. 

The reason behind the drydock is believed to be related to a gasket issue on one of the ship’s propulsion units.

With no scheduled cruises until the next voyage in late October and an available drydock, the timing and location were convenient for the expedition cruise line.

The ship is due to leave the Vancouver drydock later this week.