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.

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.

Celebrity Marks Steel Cutting for New Celebrity Apex

Celebrity Cruises has marked the steel cutting for its new Celebrity Apex. The second in the Edge series of ships will debut in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)
Celebrity Cruises has marked the steel cutting for its new Celebrity Apex. The second in the Edge series of ships will debut in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)