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.

Ocean-river combos alluring option for cruise lovers

Image result for viking river cruise ships
It seems like something true cruise enthusiasts could really get onboard with: the marriage of a blue water sailing with one that ventures into the inland waterways.

So, it comes as little surprise that the one company with a solid stake in both the ocean and river markets, Viking, quietly launched itineraries that combine an ocean and river cruise.

Viking currently has three itineraries it calls its Ocean & River Voyages. The 15-day Rhine & Viking Shores & Fjords combines a Rhine river cruise with a North Sea sailing (with both 2018 and 2019 departure dates); the 22-day Grand European & Viking Fjords combines a Danube, Rhine and Main cruise with a North Sea sailing (with departures in 2019); and the 18-day Rhine and Amsterdam to Catalonia brings together a Rhine cruise with a sailing along the Atlantic Ocean (with departures in 2018).

It’s an approach worth watching as a slowly growing number of cruise lines build and offer both ocean and river products. In addition to Viking, Crystal Cruises now has vessels that sail both blue and inland waters, and Scenic is gearing up to make its first foray into ocean cruising with the launch of the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse this summer.

On a smaller scale, Pandaw River Cruises has started to offer coastal sailings in Southeast Asia in addition to its numerous river cruises on the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers. Closer to home, American Cruise Lines has cruises both along the U.S. and Canada coastlines as well as on U.S. rivers, and UnCruise offers a Columbia and Snake river sailing in addition to its numerous coastal cruises. French river cruise company CroisiEurope has some coastal ships as well. Since for the most part, river cruises can’t go where ocean cruises can and vice versa, it seems the two would work well together as a combined offering for passengers that have the time and the willingness to experience two very different types of cruising.

Perhaps for Viking, there’s a larger goal at play with the combination cruises, too. Travel Weekly’s cruise editor Tom Stieghorst recently reported that Viking’s senior vice president of marketing Richard Marnell admitted that one of Viking Ocean’s core challenges is that the Viking name is still associated primarily with river cruises. Combining the company’s ocean and river offerings could be seen as a way to introduce those river cruisers to the ocean product.

For companies with access to both markets, the opportunity to cross-market and introduce river cruisers to the oceans and ocean cruisers to the rivers is definitely an advantage worth weighing. While some might argue that they are very different markets with distinct passengers, river cruise line surveys of their passengers often find that many of them are ocean cruisers as well, suggesting that there is a potential marketplace for the ocean-river combination cruise.

Exciting new ships are on the horizon

Crystal Endeavour - Crystal Cruises
Crystal Endeavor will be the line’s latest megayacht

Scenic Eclipse, Crystal Endeavor, and Seabourn Ovation join the luxury set, while Ponant will offer its passengers underwater lounges on four additions to its fleet.

New ships, new ports of call and a voyage around the world in 180 days are on the horizon over the next two years.

Megayachts Scenic Eclipse and Crystal Endeavor will be among the newcomers, while Seabourn is launching Ovation.

Ponant is gearing up for four new ships, all with an underwater lounge.

Scenic is hailing Eclipse as ‘the world’s first discovery yacht’. It will launch in August next year to carry 228 guests – down to 200 while in the Arctic and Antarctic. Each of the 114 suites will have a private veranda, lounge and butler service.

While guests will have the choice of nine dining options, the smallness of Eclipse – at only 16,500 tons – means it will be able to dock in more remote ports. But it’s big enough to boast two helicopters and a submarine.

Seabourn Ovation - Seabourn
Seabourn Ovation will be joining the fleet in May 2018

Ponant is set for a busy couple of years with the arrival of Le Lapérouse and Le Champlain in 2018 and Le Bougainville and Le Dumont d’Urville in 2019. All will have 88 cabins and four suites, each one with a balcony. The ships will also be the first in the world to have an underwater lounge, the Blue Eye.The 25,000-ton Crystal Endeavor will launch in 2019, cruising polar regions during the summer and autumn and following the route of migrating whales to Antarctica during the winter. A remote-operated vehicle will allow passengers to see sunken galleons, warships and liners such as Titanic.

Seabourn is introducing its latest ship – Ovation – in May 2018. Like Encore, launched this year, it will carry 600 guests, all with a private veranda, and measure 40,350 tons. “Seabourn Ovation will carry on the standard of ultra-luxury cruising that can only be found on Seabourn. We can’t wait to welcome our guests on board,” said company president Richard Meadows.

After some delay in construction, Star Clippers will finally say hello to Flying Clipper, the largest sailing ship in the world, with five masts and room for 300 guests, next year.

Many luxury lines are adding new destinations and overnight stays in the next two years. But the ultimate cruise for 2019 must be the 180-day world voyage on Oceania Cruises ship Insignia. It will travel 45,000 nautical miles across two oceans and 16 seas while visiting 90 destinations in 36 countries.

Le Laperouse - Le Champlain - Ponant
Two of Ponant’s new ships, Le Lapérouse and Le Champlain, will be launched next year

Bob Binder, the president and CEO of Oceania, said: “Our exciting 2019 Around the World journey offers guests an expertly crafted route spanning the four corners of the globe, touching on nearly 100 captivating destinations and dozens of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is truly the journey of a lifetime.”

For the first time in the history of Crystal Cruises, both Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity will embark on world cruises next year, offering travellers four separate global itineraries.

With the ships meeting in Sydney on February 17, 2018, guests can switch vessels for a new route. Ranging from 97 to 129 nights, the voyages will travel to a combined 111 destinations in 45 countries with 50 overnights.

Silversea is sailing a 132-day world cruise in 2019, with Silver Whisper calling at 52 ports in 31 countries across five continents.

Nine writers, including Paul Theroux and Pico Iyer, will be invited on board to create short stories inspired by the destinations.

Cunard has launched its Oceans of Discovery programme for January to May 2019, including the cruise line’s first return to Alaska in more than 20 years with Queen Elizabeth. Queen Victoria will do a full 107-night western circumnavigation of the globe.

Regent Seven Seas is offering world cruises next year and in 2019 on Seven Seas Navigator. Looking even further ahead, it has announced a 131-night world cruise on Seven Seas Mariner, departing from San Francisco on January 24, 2020

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