Royal Caribbean working on mobile app

Harmony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. said it has a new mobile app under development that should be ready to debut this summer.

On a conference call to discuss fourth-quarter and year-end earnings, RCCL chairman Richard Fain said the project, dubbed Excalibur internally, is expected to debut on six to 11 ships over the next year, followed by a rollout on one to two ships a month after that. RCCL’s major brands are Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises.

Fain didn’t say much about what the new app will do, but said it will “reflect all of the technologies available today.” He said the Wow bands, a wearable RFID device that assumes many functions of the key card, have been “extremely effective in simplifying the process for our guests. But it’s also obvious that the technology has improved a lot in the last two years.”

Wow bands are available to guests on Quantum-class ships (including Anthem of the Seas) and the Harmony of the Seas.

He called Carnival Corp’s recent unveiling of its Ocean Medallion and Ocean Compass personal technology “a very positive thing for our industry. It was a terrific roll out and got a lot of positive publicity which in the end inures to the benefit of all of us.”

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In other topics discussed on the call, CFO Jason Liberty said that the company’s Wave period “is off to a strong start,” and that it is “trending nicely higher” from last year. He said officials are particularly encouraged by strength in North America.

“Over the past three months, bookings have been well above last year’s levels,” Liberty said. “We turn the year in a record booked position. We have fewer staterooms to sell for the year.”

In the fourth quarter, RCCL had net income of $261 million up from $206 million a year earlier. Revenue was flat.

For all of 2016, net income was $1.2 billion, up from $665.8 million. In 2015, RCCL was impacted by a write-down for the Pullmantur brand. Revenue in 2016 grew 2.4%, to $8.49 billion.

RCCL forecasted 2017 earnings in the range of $1.48 billion to $1.53 billion.

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Royal’s Empress refreshingly retro refurb

The pool deck on the renovated Empress of the Seas has a more airy design than the ships built more recently for Royal Caribbean International. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
 
When Royal Caribbean International received the Empress of the Seas back from Pullmantur Cruises early this year, hopes were running high that the U.S. was on the cusp of a new era in its relations with Cuba.

Now it looks like it will get a chance to deploy the 1,590-passenger Empress as intended, following the news that Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has received Cuban governmental permission for cruises there.

Until last week, the ship had been stuck in limbo waiting for a decision that had been expected much earlier in the year.

Royal has spent $50 million on renovations to the Empress of the Seas — known as the Nordic Empress when inaugurated in 1990 — and on a tour in July I found the ship to be a pleasant change from the style of vessels currently being built.

 
The two-story dining room on the Empress.<br /><br /><strong>Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst</strong>
The two-story dining room on the Empress.
 
Start with the top deck, where the pool area feels more airy and open than the current designs. Instead of another whole deck running around the pool to provide shaded areas, there are canvas canopies stretched on a framework, making the feel lighter and brighter than on modern ships.

The airy feeling continues inside the ship, which was designed with lots of exterior glass to enhance the connection to the sea.

The effect is noticeable throughout but particularly in the two-deck main dining room, which unlike today’s designs is located in the aft, with double-deck windows in the rear.

Part of the reason the Empress feels different from modern ships is its use of materials.

The architects employed shiny chrome surfaces as liberally as the car designers of the 1950s, particularly in the stairwells and staircases.

In other spaces there’s more wood than you would see on a newer ship, such as the trim around cabinets, vanities, dresser drawers and door frames in the staterooms.

In many cabins, travelers will find the old-style, fold-down third and fourth berths fastened to the walls, instead of concealed in the ceiling. Also notable is the paucity of balcony cabins: only 71 were included in the original design.

In upgrading the cabins, Royal has paid the most attention to the suites, which got new furniture, carpeting, drapes and linens. The suites are also the only accommodations that have bedside USB outlets.

Other improvements include the ship’s lounge, which has been updated as a Boleros, the Latin-themed bar and dance space found on three other Royal ships. A Chops Grille steakhouse has also been added.

At 1,590 passengers and 48,563 gross tons, the Empress is about a quarter of the size of Royal’s largest ships, giving fans of smaller vessels a chance to experience the Royal brand attributes without the crowds.

“It truly is our boutique ship,” said Mark Tamis, Royal’s senior vice president for hotel operations. “So many of our guests love the intimate smaller spaces. This is the ship they grew up with.”

 

Royal Caribbean loosens restraints on Empress cabins

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Empress of the Seas

Inventory for Empress of the Seas will not be released a few months at a time in 2017 as it has been in 2016, Royal Caribbean International president Michael Bayley said on Friday.

The Empress has been sailing short itineraries to the Bahamas and the Caribbean since it returned to Royal Caribbean’s fleet in June. It had been renovated at a cost of $50 million with the intent to use it on itineraries to Cuba.

However, Royal Caribbean has yet to gain approval from Cuban authorities to begin those cruises.

“We really were holding it late and hoping for the itinerary change,” Bayley said during Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s third-quarter earnings call.

With cabins available only a few months ahead of time, travel agents have difficulty making group bookings that typically require longer to organize than individual ones.

Empress cruises are currently available through April 2017.

Royal Caribbean was also delayed in launching the Empress into Caribbean service by unexpected construction obstacles after the ship was returned from Royal’s Spanish subsidiary Pullmantur.

During the call, Royal Caribbean said projected earnings in the current fourth quarter have been pared by an estimated $13 to $15 million by the delay in getting Empress sailing again and the resulting lost sales momentum.

For the third quarter, RCCL reported net income of $693.3 million on revenue of $2.56 billion. Results are not directly comparable with last year’s third quarter because of a huge write-down on Pullmantur.

Executives said the company is in a better booked position for next year than it was last year at this time, with both loads and pricing ahead of pace. North American demand for Europe is returning in the absence of recent terrorism incidents, they said, although Europe will account for 15% of Royal’s overall capacity in 2017, down from 20% this year.

The Caribbean will rise to 50% of overall capacity with the addition of Harmony of the Seas, which will not sail in Europe next summer as it did this year, and the shift of Celebrity Equinox from Europe to the Caribbean year-round.

After a pause in bookings following Hurricane Matthew, Royal Caribbean began some promotions to restart consumer demand.