Vernon Buxton's Cruise News and Views

May 9, 2007
Author: Vernon Buxton

Welcome aboard...

I kid you not... the Mediterranean could experience head-on collisions between cruise liners this summer? It appears that every cruise operator and his dog will running ships in that crowded waterway this high season... and the fabled waterway is destined to get even busier every year hereafter... like waterborne dodgems!!!

So yes, increasingly it's the Mediterranean that's becoming the 'battlefield of the giants'... rather than the Caribbean, which has been the almost exclusive bulwark of cruising since the concept was established way back in the early 1970s.

We hope the Med. doesn't become the world's largest sewer? Cruise liners, after all, are essentially 'gobble-gobble, pee n' poop' machines!!!! J  You've never thought of it that way before, have you?

In other words, we hope all waste disposal is handled 100 percent ship-to-shore.

The competition is certainly hotting up between players... MSC, Costa, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and a host of others. I'm sure there'll be enhanced focus on loyalty programmes? How to keep passengers as repeaters, rather than allowing them to become cruising 'butterflies'?

Balconies and multiple dining options will not be unique... and the key will be to have the right staff to make guests feel really wanted on any particular ship. Innovations and distractions are fine, but these days people yearn to be treated with Tender Loving Care. Who ever does that best will lead the pack ultimately.

The Baltic will also be full of vessels making bow waves hither and thither¡Kand there will be many more trans-Atlantic offerings as cruise lines reposition their vessels according to the seasons. Yesssssss...I fancy a trans-Atlantic jaunt... 10 days of sea-days only. I'd prefer that any day to those port-intensive itineraries where you generally cruise at night only. Repositioning cruises usually come at an attractive price too.

Last week...
...I questioned what had happened to Swan-Hellenic's MINERVA may remember? Well, I was delighted to be enlightened by Brett Moore, principal lecturer at the School of Shipping in Cape Town. (You're invited to tell us something about the School of Shipping, Brett? Do keep it short and to the point, won't you!)

"Hi Vernon
"Herewith some info in respect of your enquiry. The ROYAL PRINCESS (ex R8, MINERVA II) took on her first passengers this week at Barcelona. The 30,200-ton, 710-passenger ship joins former sisters TAHITIAN PRINCESS (ex R4) and PACIFIC PRINCESS (ex R3) in the Princess Cruises fleet.

"I believe Lord Sterling is on the look out for one or possibly two ships in order to re-launch Swan Hellenic. It could involve possible new builds?"

Brett Moore

Well, there you go, and thanks we know!

Mentioning Lord Sterling reminds me of a story about Lord Lew Grade who produced the movie 'Raise the Titanic' some years back. In the event, the film was a box-office disaster and Lord Grade lost most of his money.

Interviewed on TV, Lew Grade was asked why the film had been so expensive?

"Expensive?" he exclaimed. "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic!"

And, one Jason Prismall wrote in to say: "I went onboard the RAZZMATAZZ in Durban last weekend and she is looking gorgeous!!! I think she's gonna be popular despite her size, and know that things will work out," wrote Jason, who will be selling cruises on this freshly refurbished vessel.

The 3,008-ton RAZZMATAZZ enters service from Durban at the end of August...focusing on short cruises in the Mozambique Channel.

Okay...let's see what else is potting out there in the world this week...

As ever, this correspondent's personal comments are in red.

What a waste of good champagne???

In little more than a week - this and next - four large cruise ships are going to be christened and be entering service.

Never before have so many berths come on the market in such close succession. Three of the namings will take place in Europe¡Kso Europe is unquestionably being targeted widely as the emerging market.

On 13 May, EMERALD PRINCESS will be named at Piraeus. Although undue fanfair is expected as Princess' ceremonies are more low-key than most, but its 116,000-ton ship will have four godmothers, Florence Henderson, Susan Olsen, Marion Ross and Erin Moran, all of whom played mothers and daughters on classic TV shows... of course paying homage to the ceremony being on Mother's Day.

The next day, on 14 May, the 89,600-ton MSC ORCHESTRA will be christened at Civitavecchia by MSC's perennial godmother Sophia Loren. It will be a major spectacle with a fireworks show and music by noted Italian maestro Ennio Morricone. What a PR coup is that?

Then four days later, on 18 May, the 112,000-ton COSTA SERENA will be named in Marseille, by a godmother who is still to be named. In true Costa fashion, expect an extravaganza!

And finally, on the same day, Royal Caribbean's 160,000-ton LIBERTY OF THE SEAS will be named in Miami.

That's an awful lot of expensive champagne being splashed against steel hulls...rather than down my gullet!!! Anyway, may God bless them, and all who sail in them!

It's all about a Spa!!!

CARNIVAL SPLENDOR, Carnival Cruise Lines newest class of ship, will debut in Europe in 2008.

The new ship will initially operate a 12-night Northern Europe programme next summer, making it the first year in which Carnival will have two ships simultaneously deployed in Europe.

Carnival, it appears, is still keeping the new ship's charms close to its heart, but there is already a buzz about the 7,000-square-metre spa and fitness facility. Surrounding it will be 68 spa staterooms, with direct access to the spa, similar to sister line Costa's, which have been selling out so easily.

This is what makes the world of cruising so fascinating. It's difficult to keep up with innovations on new cruise liners, and yet it all boils down to deadly competition. The battle lines have been drawn...

The spa that's creating so much interest will feature an elaborate thermal suite and thalassotherapy pool covered by a glass dome, a first for Carnival.

CARNIVAL SPLENDOR (as an ENGLISH speaker I am aware of the missing 'U' in SPLENDOUR, but am obliged to defer to this Americanism... ya'all know what I mean?) will also boast Carnival's largest children's play area. On two levels it will feature a water spray park and a large high-tech teen club.

Well, of course... how else was Carnival going to be able to compete with Royal Caribbean's LIBERTY OF THE SEAS? Oh, to be a fly on the wall in these corporate boardrooms?

CARNIVAL SPLENDOR will spend high summer in the Baltic, autumn in the Med...and then sail from Ft. Lauderdale in winter.

Well done Carnival, you have held out the apple to lure me into sampling your spa accommodations!!! Or, would I go for NCL's Garden Villas? Or MSC's exclusive concierge decks? What the heck, I'm a cruise slut...I'll try all three!

MSC reveals its deployment plans!

Mediterranean Shipping Cruises, which is expanding at a mighty rate of knots, is establishing a real presence in a lot of markets, including those well beyond Europe.

For starters, it will have ships on a variety of itineraries year round in all parts of the Mediterranean. The deployment in the Med. will build seasonally, and at some point during the 2008-2009 season, every ship in the MSC fleet will have sailed in the Med.

Also, MSC allows its passengers to book round trips from almost any port on an itinerary, which means they sail from five or six times as many local ports in Europe as other lines. (That's a Unique Selling Point, for sure!)

But, Europe isn't only the Med. MSC will also have three ships sailing programmes in Northern Europe, including the elegant and intimate MSC OPERA and MSC LIRICA.

After a winter with only one ship in the Caribbean, in 2008 MSC will again begin to build their presence there, by having MSC LIRICA (deep Caribbean and Panama) and the 89,600-ton, balcony-rich MSC ORCHESTRA (eastern/western Caribbean) sailing from Ft. Lauderdale for the winter season.

South America is another emerging market. In 2008-2009 MSC will be luring Americans into an entirely new world of cruising. It will have three ships there: MSC SINFONIA (ex Buenos Aires), MSC ARMONIA (ex Rio de Janeiro), and MSC OPERA (ex Santos).

Hoo boy, MSC, now you're cooking with gas... these will be just irresistible itineraries wrapped around the sexy South American 'Latin lifestyle', with large doses of tequila and tango, tango, tango thrown in to keep one on one's toes! Bring it on!

MSC MELODY will be returning to South Africa for the southern African summer, arriving Durban on 8 December and returning to Europe on 21 April 2008.

If any of you are looking for a really special cruise itinerary, you could hardly do better than MELODY's Genoa-Durban repositioning cruise down the east coast of Africa... departing Genoa on 17 November, arriving Durban on 8 December... via Naples, Port Said, Suez, Safaga (to see the Pyramids), Aqaba (to see sand?), Seychelles, Mauritius and Reunion. What a pleasure!

These cruises used to be slow at the booking office, but not any more. Snooze and you will truly lose! The prices are unbeatable¡Kfrom R10 000 for 21 nights? Hell, a deluxe suite costs less than R1,000 per day! You try that anywhere else.

I loved my four-night cruise on MELODY this past December, as a guest of Allan Foggitt, MD of Starlight Cruises, the local gsa. MELODY carried 45,000 passengers out of Durban between November and March, more than double the previous season on RHAPSODY.

The 52-year-old MONTEREY had been scheduled to cruise in South Africa throughout the present winter season but, helas, helas, she has already been reduced to thousands of pieces of metal at the Indian breakers' yards at Alang. Fifty-two years of service is enough, don't you agree? I sailed on her some years back and she was terrific... a truly classic cruise liner. R.I.P. old girl!

Royal Caribbean no longer just in the Caribbean!!!

In last week's quarterly earnings call, Royal Caribbean revealed that it is much more the global picture that is driving the company, and how that will grow more... although America still is obviously still a major source of business.

Following Royal Caribbean's acquisition of Pullmantur, two vessels (former Renaissance ships) are transferring to Celebrity, becoming CELEBRITY JOURNEY and CELEBRITY QUEST... which are appropriate for Celebrity's more upscale clientele.

In return, Royal Caribbean's EMPRESS OF THE SEAS and Celebrity's ZENITH, some of the smallest and oldest in their fleets, are going to Pullmantur, to fit its budget-oriented operation. The transfer will result in a net increase of 33 percent in Pullmantur's capacity.

That capacity is going to allow the Spanish brand to grow not only in Spain and the Caribbean (marketed to the Spanish-sourced market), but it will allow them to expand in Brazil (sailing from Brazil with passengers sourced from Brazil) in the winter.

Royal Caribbean closed on it's acquisition of Pullmantur last quarter, which made it a major player in the Spanish-sourced market. It also affected earnings for the quarter!

Royal Caribbean is also stalking business in the United Kingdom. This market has already grown to be able to support the 137,000-ton NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS and next year, the brand new, and larger INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS, the third Freedom-class ship, will be based there, as it comes out of the yard.

RCCL has seen an annual growth rate of 29 percent per year in UK guests since 2000.

Yoo hoo, Cunard and P&O... you've got stiff competition a-comin' to England, I say chaps! You'll have to stay frightfully on the ball, what, what?

The Caribbean, however, remains Royal Caribbean¡¦s largest market by far... but the majority of growth is in markets outside North America.

How the cruise industry is burgeoning... so much so it's become difficult to keep track of developments. The fabled publisher, Douglas Ward, may have to consider updating his definitive Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships twice a year instead of annually? I wonder if Doug has a job for me? How'd you like to spend your life swanning the world assessing cruise ships?

It is also becoming clearer that unless you know EXACTLY what you are doing in the contemporary cruise business, your stack of cards could come crashing down. Cruise operators will have to keep dancin'... and dancin' as fast as they can!

A Princess turns into a village... how vulgar?

The former CROWN PRINCESS was re-christened OCEAN VILLAGE 2 last week. The move more than doubled Ocean Village's capacity.

Which obviously means becoming a two-ship fleet instead of one.

Ocean Village? This correspondent knows nothing about Ocean Village. My instincts tell me it's about budget cruising?...surely the word 'Village' is self-explanatory? Ahoy there, Ms Carol McCarthy, the local South African gsa... would you care to tell us something about your brand, please, Carol? Who's the target market... Andy Capp and Florrie?

That's all for this week, folks... see you again next Wednesday. Please don't hesitate to e-mail me about anything that floats... uh-oh?... p'haps I'd better re-word that next time???

in Johannesburg




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