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.

Small ships popular but proving difficult to get built

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Shipyard problems have delayed Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s first ship, the Evrima.

The small-ship cruise sector is booming, but getting its ships built on time is proving to be a big challenge.

Expedition and small luxury ships are among the hottest segments when it comes to passenger demand. But unlike the mega-liners churned out like clockwork by the big shipyards, small ships tend to be built at small yards, where inexperience with cruise work is the general rule.

The latest example is the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, a new entrant to the cruise industry that had hoped to make a splash this winter with its 298-passenger Evrima before the Super Bowl in Miami.

Instead, on Oct. 4, three months before scheduled delivery, Ritz-Carlton announced that the much anticipated Evrima (Greek for “discovery”) would be delayed until June 2020 because of shipyard issues.

In a statement, Ritz-Carlton blamed “delivery and project cost” problems at the Hijos de J. Barreras shipyard in Vigo, Spain, for the delay. 

“With additional challenges around the former shipyard management, both the new board of Hijos de J. Barreras and the board of the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection are working cooperatively toward a long-term solution for the shipyard,” Ritz-Carlton’s statement said.

Ritz-Carlton joins Scenic Luxury Tours & Cruises, the German line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Norway’s Hurtigruten in suffering delays, ranging from minor to extensive, in the past two years in attempting to bring their ships to market.

All were building ships of under 600 passengers, and all were being built at smaller, lesser-known yards.

The Scenic Eclipse was delayed several times before making its debut in September 2019.

The Scenic Eclipse was delayed several times before making its debut in September 2019.

The delays make life hard for travel advisors. Many have clients who want to be among the first to experience new vessels. Some agents are themselves booked on inaugural cruises in order to better evaluate new ships for clients.

When ships are delayed and inaugural plans cancelled, it is hard to explain to clients who have blocked out time off and who have high expectations that they will be the first to sample the ships.

“When it hurts the advisors, of course, it hurts us,” said Ann Chamberlin, vice president of sales at Scenic, which christened its 200-passenger Scenic Eclipse expedition yacht in New York on Sept. 10. 

The ship, built in Croatia, was delayed not once but several times. All a line can do, Chamberlin said, is protect agent commissions, re-accommodate passengers and beg both groups for understanding. 

The delivery of the Scenic Eclipse was hurt by multiple issues, including worker strikes, financial malfeasance, management turnover and frozen bank accounts. In February, Scenic owner Glen Moroney invested in Uljanik Shipyard in Pula, Croatia, along with Croatia’s DIV Group and Italy’s Fincantieri to get the ship finished.

Scenic is not the only line to become a shipyard owner. After delays on its 530-passenger Roald Amundsen last year, Hurtigruten bought the Kleven shipyard in Norway to expedite the project.

In March, Hapag-Lloyd cancelled the first two scheduled cruises of the expedition ship Hanseatic Nature because of delayed delivery from the Vard shipyard in Norway. Fincantieri, which owns Vard, said in its most recent financial report that reorganization of Vard is a top priority and that some of its best Italian employees have been assigned to the job.

Lawrence Rapp, a principal at Seawise Consulting, said that many small yards are better prepared to build simpler ships.

In general, Rapp said, “these small yards are not aware of just how complex the projects really are. To get a prototype fully approved by [country] flag and class take much more time than they would anticipate because you have to go through impact-stability calculations, damage-stability calculations. And each time you make adjustments to one of these things, it affects the others and also the functionality of the ship itself.”

In addition, small ships are more often designs from prototypes, rather than copies of previous ships.

“When Carnival or Royal Caribbean are building ships, they will build five, six, eight, 10 of the same class,” Rapp said. “Once the calculations have been gone through and the design has been accepted, it’s a whole lot easier to plan going forward.”

In March, Hapag-Lloyd canceled the first two scheduled cruises of the Hanseatic Nature because of delayed delivery from the Vard shipyard.

In March, Hapag-Lloyd cancelled the first two scheduled cruises of the Hanseatic Nature because of delayed delivery from the Vard shipyard.

Moreover, small yards sometimes have to bring in workers who have cruise experience. 

“If you’re a small yard and you’re undertaking a project that is an order of magnitude bigger than anything you’ve ever done before, you’re probably bringing in a lot of people who are not used to you, and you’re not used to them, and relationships can be difficult to maintain,” Rapp said.

Daniel Schaefer, CEO of Sea Cloud Cruises, is currently building a 136-passenger ship at Metalships & Docks shipyard in Vigo, Spain. The project has been in the works since 2008 when it was at another shipyard that went bankrupt.

“Most of the time it’s that the yards have no experience in what they’re doing,” Schaefer said. 

Small-ship owners are forced to work with them because getting a slot at one of the big yards is next to impossible. 

“Going to Meyer Werft in Germany, you get a slot in 10 years,” he said. “So you have to go to some inexperienced yards and see if you get a berth there.”

One common stumbling block is weight, Schaefer said. And then there’s interior craftsmanship. “That creates a lot of problems. They come at the end because interior work is done at the end. And if you find out that it’s not the quality you were expecting, you don’t have much time to correct it.”

Schaefer said Sea Cloud made its mistakes on a ship built in 2001 and is confident that the Sea Cloud Spirit will be ready for its August 2020 debut. He said the ship is already in the water at the proper weight and ready to be finished.

“Looking at the mock-up quality work, we’re pretty sure our interior workers will do a good job,” Schaefer said.

Ritz-Carlton to enter luxury cruise market with three yachts

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The Ritz-Carlton has announced it will become the first hotelier to enter the cruise market with plans to launch three luxury yachts.

The brand, part of Marriott International, has secured financial backing from Oaktree Capital Management to launch The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. The financials around the deal have not been disclosed and Marriott would not comment on rumours that Oaktree had invested $200 million.

The first of the three 292-passenger and 149-suite yachts will launch in quarter four of 2019. Every suite will have a balcony and the ship is being designed in collaboration with design specialist Tillberg Design of Sweden.

Itineraries will go on sale in May 2018.

The second ship is due to follow in quarter one of 2021 and the third ship is expected to set sail in early 2022. The brand has not revealed where the ships are being built.

In a statement, Ritz Carlton said itineraries were being developed with intentions to combine stays at The Ritz-Carlton’s luxury resorts with cruises, which will range in length from seven to 10 days.

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The Ritz-Carlton yachts will feature a restaurant by Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the three Michelin-starred restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton in Wolfsburg. Other features will include a signature Ritz-Carlton Spa; a Panorama Lounge and wine bar.

The first ship will sail the Mediterranean, northern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, with a mix of overnight stays in port and daytime calls in destinations such as Portofino and St Barts.

Maritime veterans Douglas Prothero and Lars Clasen have been appointed joint managing directors.

Their team will be made up of Victor Cai, formally chief financial officer at Silversea; Erik Bredhe, who has taken on the role of joint managing director for the yacht brand, alongside Lars Clasen, maritime consultant, and formerly captain of residence at sea The World.

A “world class team from luxury cruise” is currently being recruited, the brand said.

Prothero and Clasen said: “The Ritz-Carlton is known for its legendary service and high standards. We are delighted to collaborate with The Ritz-Carlton as our hospitality operator in offering the most exclusive yachting experience to be found at sea in a venture that will give new meaning to curated luxury travel.”

Herve Humler, president and chief operating officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, said: “The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will have a distinctive personality and the vessels are sure to be true stand outs in some of the most glamorous ports around the world.

“This unique combination of yachting and cruising will usher in a new way of luxury travel for guests seeking to discover the world in a relaxed, casually elegant and comfortable atmosphere with the highest level of personalized service.”

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