Much as I and a lot of other people would prefer to see cruising as a self-perpetuating Fantasy Island, removed from the everyday world, the fact is that it's a big capitalist enterprise, and largely plays to its stockholders. In the world of public financing, growth is king, and this week saw growth galore, with two lines announcing big newbuild plans, four others about to launch new ships, and another announcing new deployments for new tonnage.
Silversea Plans First New Ship Since 2001
Ultra-luxe line Silversea Cruises (tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com) has never been known for explosive growth. Formed in the early 1990s, the line started with two 296-passenger ships in 1994 and 1995 (Silver Cloud and Silver Wind), then added a pair of 382-passenger ships in 2000 and 2001 (Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper). Continuing that slow, steady build, Silversea announced last week that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri for construction of a 540-passenger, 36,000-ton vessel to be launched at the end of 2009.
"This is a very exciting time for our company as we are now poised to further develop our unique style of luxury travel with a new generation of ship design," said Manfredi Lefebvre, Silversea's chairman. "Fincantieri is the ideal shipbuilder to craft our new luxury vessel that will carry on our tradition of being an innovator and trendsetter in ultra-luxury cruising."
The agreement also leaves the door open for a sister-ship to be delivered at a later date.
Oceania Plans First Newbuilds Ever
In late February, the investment group Apollo Management L.P. sunk $850 million into Oceania Cruises (tel. 800/531-5658; www.oceaniacruises.com), the three-ship cruise line formed from the ashes of the old Renaissance Cruises, which folded in 2001. The first benefits of association with Apollo's backing became apparent this week when Oceania announced an agreement with Fincantieri shipyard for construction of two 1,260-passenger, 65,000-ton ships to be delivered in fall 2010 and summer 2011. An option is open for a third ship, which would be delivered in 2012.
These are the first completely new ships ever undertaken by Oceania, which currently operates three of the extremely well-designed midsize vessels constructed for Renaissance Cruises in the late 90s and early 00s. The new vessels will also be a significant step up in size from the current Oceania ships, which each carry just 684 passengers -- almost 50% less than the planned newbuilds.
The level of detail Oceania has provided about the ships' planned design and features is unusual for a newbuild announcement, but like prospective parents showing off their ultrasound pictures, who can blame them?
The new vessels will be designed by the architectural firm of Yran & Storbraaten, which has been responsible for Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, Disney's Magic and Wonder, Silversea's Silver Whisper and Silver Shadow, and Regent's Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Navigator. Their design will be an update of the existing ships' understated boutique-hotel look, with much larger staterooms, 93% of which will offer balconies. In addition to two main restaurants, they'll also offer four alternatives: the Polo Grill steakhouses and Toscana Mediterranean restaurants that appear on the line's current ships, plus a French bistro and a Pan-Asian restaurant. All will operate on an open-seating model. Mechanically, the ships will be 20% faster than the current vessels, allowing for wider-ranging itineraries.
"With our new financial partners and this one billion dollar order, Oceania Cruises is poised to take its place as the market leader in upper-premium cruising," said Frank Del Rio, Oceania's chairman and CEO. "This new class of elegant, mid-size ships will define upper-premium cruising for years to come."
Princess Plans Mothers' Day Christening with Two Famous Moms
On May 12 in Santorini, Greece, Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com) will debut its two newest ships in a double-christening featuring two famous TV moms: Florence Henderson of The Brady Bunch and Marion Ross of Happy Days. In a touch of humor, the two mothers will be co-godmothers of the larger ship launched that day, the 113,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Emerald Princess, a sister-ship to 2006's Crown Princess. Godmother duties for ship number two -- the 30,200-ton, 710-passenger Royal Princess, a former Renaissance vessel acquired by the line in March from Swan Hellenic -- will go to the mom's TV daughters, Susan Olsen (Cindy Brady) and Erin Moran (Joanie Cunningham).
Henderson, Ross, and Moran have a bit of Princess history in their backgrounds, having guest-starred in The Love Boat, which was partially filmed aboard the line's old Pacific Princess and Island Princess.
If you're a mother or daughter yourself and would like to attend the christening, go to www.princess.com/mothersdayescape for a chance to win "The Ultimate Mother and Daughter Mediterranean Escape." The winners will sail on Emerald Princess's May 5-17 Greek Isles/Mediterranean sailing, the inaugural celebration cruise during which the ships will be simultaneously named on May 12. The winning mother and daughter will be announced on April 12.
Following her launch, Emerald Princess will offer a series of Greek Isles and Grand Mediterranean cruises before repositioning to Fort Lauderdale for Caribbean sailings in the fall. Royal Princess will offer a series of 12-night Mediterranean cruises through November, sailing from Rome, Athens, Venice, and Barcelona.
Celebrity Sets Itineraries for New Celebrity Quest
In late 2006, Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebritycruises.com) arranged to acquire the last two former Renaissance Cruises ships from Pullmantur S.A., Spain's largest cruise operator. The ship will debut in the Celebrity fleet in October after undergoing a month-long dry-dock that will add 32 new suites, new bedding and soft goods, and a variety of Celebrity's most popular signature elements, including the Michael's Club jazz/piano bar, AquaSpa by Elemis, Acupuncture at Sea and Sushi Cafe.
She'll spend winter in the Caribbean, offering 12- and 14-night cruises to ports that are off the beaten path for larger cruise ships. In April she'll begin her inaugural European season, sailing 14-night cruises from Rome and Athens through November, concentrating on unusual ports such as Alicante and Gijon (Spain) and Bonifacio (Corsica). All told, Quest will visit 25 new European ports not currently on Celebrity's itineraries. Several ports will offer overnight stays, allowing guests a more complete port experience.
"The upscale, smaller nature of Celebrity Quest allows us greater versatility in deployment, so our itineraries feature destinations that are likely to be new discoveries for even the most experienced European travelers," said Celebrity President Dan Hanrahan.
Royal Caribbean and Costa Ready New Ships for Launch
The launch of nearly identical sister-ships is sometimes a bit of a yawn (except, of course, from the perspective of the bottom line), but still, here they come:
On May 15, Costa Cruises (tel. 800/GO-COSTA; www.costacruises.com) will take the keys to the new, 112,000-ton, 3,780-passenger Costa Serena, sister-ship to the recently launched Costa Concordia. The vessel is currently in its final phase of fitting-out and sea trials. On May 19 she'll make her public debut as the line's new flagship, with a christening scheduled in Marseilles, France. She'll depart from Venice on her maiden 7-night Turkey/Greece cruise a week later, on May 26. She'll sail the itinerary weekly through November.
A third sister-ship to Concordia and Serena is scheduled to debut in summer 2009. Two smaller 92,700-ton Costa vessels are also on track to debut in spring 2009 and March 2010.
On May 18, Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com) will debut Liberty of the Seas, the second in its biggest-in-the-world Freedom class. Her godmother will be a travel agent selected by the line for showing "exemplary inspiration, courage, determination and dedication to philanthropy and service in their communities." Following her debut, Liberty and sister-ship, Freedom of the Seas, will alternate between 7-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries, with Liberty departing on Saturdays (from May 19) and Freedom on Sundays from Miami. Liberty's western Caribbean itinerary calls in Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay (Jamaica) and Labadee (Royal Caribbean's private beach resort in Haiti). Her eastern Caribbean itinerary calls in San Juan, St. Maarten and Labadee.
A third Freedom-class ship, Independence of the Seas, is scheduled to debut in Europe in May 2008.
MSC to Bring Megaship to the Caribbean in 2008
Since it began making a push for the American market in 2004, Italian line MSC Cruises (tel. 800/666-9333; www.msccruises.com) has kept its Caribbean commitment on the smallish side, committing its midsize Lirica (1,586 passengers) and/or Opera (1,756 passengers) to the region even as it built much larger megaships for the European market. Guess the time is ripe, because last week MSC announced that for the winter 2008/2009 season it was planning to bring over one of its newer, 89,600-ton Musica-class vessels, either Musica herself or sister-ship Orchestra, which is scheduled to debut in May of this year. A third sister, Poesia, will follow in March 2008, though we wouldn't lay money on her being the line's Caribbean choice.
The move to megaships in the Caribbean will come as MSC introduces and even larger class of ships on its European routes. Two133,500-ton, 3,300-passenger super-megaships, named Fantasia and Serenata, are scheduled to debut in June 2008 and March 2009, respectively.
"Since launching its massive expansion program in 2003, MSC Cruises has become the leading European cruise company and the fastest-growing cruise line," said MSC Cruises (USA) President and CEO Richard E. Sasso. "This announcement demonstrates the line's commitment to be a dominant force in the international cruise market."
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