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Cruise News & Reviews

4 February 2016
Author: Vernon Buxton



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The biggest cruise operators are sailing full ahead to China. Amid worries that demand for cruises may be peaking in some rich countries, the big players are now sailing into the biggest potential market of all..!

The really big news is the emergence of Chinese consumers ready to take a cruise holiday. Between 2013 and 2015 growth has been in double digits, both in capacity deployed in the region and in the number of Asians cruising, according to the American Cruise Travel magazine.

Costa Cruises in 2015 controlled 29 percent of the capacity in Asia, as the 3,000-pax COSTA SERENA joined the 2,112-pax COSTA ATLANTICA and 1,928-pax COSTA VICTORIA to homeport out of Shanghai year-round. COSTA FORTUNA joins the fray this April.

Royal Caribbean International cemented its position in Asia last year by basing its groundbreaking QUANTUM OF THE SEAS in Shanghai for year-round cruises. The 4,180-pax megaship, the largest in Asian waters, offers features and facilities that have found a ready response in the region, reports Cruise Travel.

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RCL's QUANTUM OF THE SEAS, a megaship that can carry 4,180 holidaymakers, has been based in Shanghai since mid-2015. MARINER OF THE SEAS will periodically home-port in Shanghai or Tianjin (for Beijing) or Singapore. While LEGEND OF THE SEAS will periodically home-port in Hong Kong or Singapore, and VOYAGER OF THE SEAS will home-port in Hong Kong.

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The OVATION OF THE SEAS (almost ready for delivery) enters service this April as the line's fifth ship in the China market. The 167,800gt/4,180-pax behemoth will be deployed to China and Australia upon entering service this spring. She starts out in Southampton for a 52-night 'Global Odyssey' to her new homeport in Tianjin, the port for Beijing. Five different segments are available, including a 7-night cruise from England to Barcelona departing, May 3. A 16-night cruise from Barcelona to Dubai emabarks May 10, while a 14-night India to Southeast Asia cruise from Dubai to Singapore departs on May 26. From there, the ship sails a 3-night Malaysia mini-cruise before commencing the final leg of her journey, a 12-night 'Exotic Asia' cruise from Singapore to Tianjin. It's enough to make any cruise-lover salivate.

Princess Cruises has seen notable growth in Asia-to-Asia cruises, from a mere five sailings in 2013 to 73 departures in 2015. The company's newest Royal-Class ship, a sister to the 3,500-pax ROYAL PRINCESS and REGAL PRINCESS, will be customised to appeal to the China market when the MAJESTIC PRINCESS debuts in summer, 2017.

Other major lines are also flocking to Asia. MSC Cruises' 2,600-pax MSC LIRICA will begin home-porting in Shanghai this May to serve the Chinese market.

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MSC Cruises is making a bid for a slice of the cake too by moving quickly to send its recently-lengthened MSC LIRICA to China. MSC has planned a repositioning voyage from South America to Shanghai in March. It will be interesting to see how the 'Italian Flavours' go down with the Chinese market.

Norwegian Cruise Line is also heading that way in the China autumn with its recently renovated, 2,240-pax NORWEGIAN STAR, doing a series of Southeast Asia cruises. In 2017, the second ship in NCL's Breakaway Plus Class, currently under construction, is being designed specifically for Chinese guests.

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The big operators no longer send elderly cast-off hulks from America and Europe to China. New they send their newest and best, all of which have captured the imaginations of the Chinese market! This is one of NCL's latest behemoths, a maritime masterpiece that has taken cruising to new heights of excitement.

The giant Carnival Cruise Line enters the China market in the spring of 2017 by homeporting the 2,124-pax CARNIVAL MIRACLE there year-round, with the 3,006-pax CARNIVAL SPLENDOR following a year later. Carnival Corporation is exploring joint ventures in China, which could include launching a Chinese domestic cruise brand and building ships in China.

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Carnival's vessels are unambiguously aimed at the mass market, with a guarantee of gaudy public rooms, obtrusive music and 'body and feathers' shows. The Chinese cruiser loves them!

The number of Chinese households earning more than $35,000 a year -- the figure the cruise industry sees as the point at which foreign travel takes off -- has increased from 6m to more than 27m over the past decade, reports The Economist, adding: 'The number of mainland holidaymakers going on cruises has been growing by 80 percent a year, and is expected to keep doing so despite China's slowing growth rate.'

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In advance of the influx of cruise ships, Shanghai plans to expand its Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal (SWICT) to accommodate increasing demand. It is building another two berths, which will mean four berths in total. Two spaces will be for Oasis-class vessels, while the remaining two berths can handle megaships up to 150,000 tons, according to the port.

The Chinese market is also very profitable. This is partly because higher daily rates can be charged for the short, four-to-six-night cruises that are more popular in China, but also because the Chinese spend far more on board. They are less interested than Westerners in boozing and spa treatments, but keener on gambling, and really go to town in the onboard shops, buying such things as foreign-made appliances. The recent shopping craze on Carnival's Chinese ships was for Japanese rice cookers.

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Tianjin, the port for Beijing, is situated about 160 kilometres south of China's capital. Access between the two cities can be by coach or a 300km/h train, taking about 25 minutes each way.

Betting on the rise of the Chinese holidaymaker looks more attractive than sticking to the main Western markets. The future plans of the big three operators suggest they have concluded that the American market is saturated and has poor growth prospects, according to The Economist. "For the moment, the decision by large cruise operators to sail for China is a choice..but it could become a necessity," predicts the weekly British newspaper.

Vernon Buxton