NEW DUO ANNOUNCED FOR COSTA CRUISES

Costa Cruises has just announced that it will be receiving two new ships, each of 180,000 tons, from the Meyer Werft satellite shipyard in Turku, Finland..

The two new vessels are part of the much touted, nine ship order placed by Carnival Corporation for new tonnage across several of its brands. At the time, it was bruited that at least one of these vessels would be a new build for the Italian giant. Four of these contracted new builds were awarded to Meyer Werft- the other two vessels will be for the German Aida subsidiary.

The two new Costa ships will come in with a blockbusting passenger capacity of some 5,200 lower berths, and a total aimed at an incredible 6,600 in all. If these figures are realised, it will give the company the biggest passenger carrying capacity of any vessels afloat.

Current plans anticipates completion dates of 2019 and 2020 respectively for the two as yet nameless ships.

It is only recently that the Italian line took delivery of a new, largest ever flagship- the 132,500 ton Costa Diadema- styled by the line as the ‘Queen of The Mediterranean’.

This order represents a huge act of faith by the parent company in the future of Costa Cruises, coming as it does a scant few years after the tragic loss of the Costa Concordia off the island of Giglio in January, 2012.

Interesting times. As ever, stay tuned.

It's full steam ahead for the colossus that is Costa....

It’s full steam ahead for the colossus that is Costa….

COSTA; COMING ON STRONG

Calmer seas ahead for Costa Crociere?

Calmer seas ahead for Costa Crociere?

After a couple of very shaky years, it looks like things are finally moving in the right direction once again for Costa Cruises.

November 1st sees the inauguration of the line’s newest and biggest ever ship, the stunning  Costa Diadema.  The 135,000 ton ship- styled as the ‘Queen of The Mediterranean’- is built on the same platform as the very successful Carnival Dream trio of ships. With interiors designed by the veteran Joe Farcus, the new ship is intended to emphasize the indolent, outdoor lido lifestyle that defines la dolce vita afloat. After her christening, this beautiful new ship will operate seven night cruises in the Mediterranean, with embarkation possible from Barcelona, Rome and Marseilles.

And even bigger may soon be coming. For Costa is reported to be in talks with it’s favoured shipyard, Fincantieri, about a possible, 170,000 ton ship, provisionally slated for delivery in 2019. So far this ship, which would be of an entirely new design, is a stand alone order. She would be the largest purpose built cruise ship ever delivered to any European based line.

Smaller, but auspicious in its own way, is the imminent restyling of the veteran Costa Classica into the Costa NeoClassica. This will take on a similar style and scope to that of her sister ship, the Costa NeoRomantica. The substantially refurbished ship is due to emerge in December, when she will embark on a season of long, languid cruises to the Spice Islands.

Also imminent is the 48,000 ton Costa Celebration, the last of the former Iberocruises fleet now being amalgamated into Costa proper. Extensively refurbished not long ago, this former Carnival veteran will provide the Italian juggernaut with a smaller, more personalised option for passengers who might be averse to the bigger ships.

So is it all music and Moet? Er, not quite. Looking at prices for the two ship Costa deployment in the UAE out of Dubai, weekly rates in November and January 2015 show prices from an unbelievable £199, based on inside cabins on a cruise only fare. Even in the vastly over tonnaged winter Caribbean cruise market, such fares are not seen.

Maybe two ships in the region at the same time is one too many?

In any event, it is to be hoped that better times are, indeed, ahead for Italy’s historic flag bearer in the cruising firmament. Certainly, the Costa Diadema adds a fantastic new, year round option to the traditional, seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ circuit.

For the first time in a few years, it seems that Costa can look ahead with some confidence once more. That’s nice to see.

As always, stay tuned.

MASSIVE MEDITERRANEAN; SOME BIG, BIG ARRIVALS FOR 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

If a seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruise is on your cruising horizon in 2015, then you are going to be in line for a string of exciting mega ship options, and how. With the ‘big guns’ of Norwegian, MSC Cruises, Costa and Royal Caribbean all bringing in prime tonnage to augment their respective offerings, the choices have never been more extensive.

For the sake of argument, this blog is assuming that you are drawn to a certain kind of ship; the vast, family friendly floating resort vessels that come absolutely chock full with every leisure amenity that you could imagine, and then some. With a huge range of inclusive, across the board accommodations on offer, these vessels have proved enormously popular- and profitable- in recent years.

And they have grown bigger, too. From next spring, Norwegian will home port its ground breaking, 150,000 plus ton Norwegian Epic in Barcelona on a year round basis. The 2010 built Epic is the permanent replacement for the 78,000 ton Norwegian Spirit, which is returning to the Caribbean next October.

Costa will also have its new flagship, the 130,000 ton, state of the art Costa Diadema on the Mediterranean circuit. This fabulous new ship- built on the same platform as the hugely successful Carnival Dream class trio- will actually debut in November 2014, and is slated to be a year round presence in the region.

MSC Cruises meanwhile always retains at least one of it’s mega ships on the seven day circuit on the ‘Meddy-Go-Round’; for next year, this will be the very family friendly MSC Splendida.

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

But the real splash will, inevitably, be the arrival of the mighty, 220,000 Allure Of The Seas for a maiden, full season of seven night cruises out of Barcelona. With 6,200 berths to fill on a weekly basis and the most complete range of facilities of any resort ship in the region, the deployment of this monster ship to the region is a huge act of faith in the future from owners, Royal Caribbean.

Everyone is waiting with baited breath to see just how this massive ship fares next year. A current short, first season by twin sister ship, Oasis Of The Seas, will help as a marker to iron out any potential kinks in operating ships of such vast, unparalleled scale and capacity.

With Barcelona as their main embarkation port, these massive ships typically make landfall on the ‘greatest hits’ ports of Rome, Florence, Naples, Palma De Mallorca and Monte Carlo over the course of a week. Of course, their huge size precludes them entering the smaller ports, but that is not their raison d’etre.

These ships are all about resort life at sea; each one contains a mind boggling array of alternative restaurants, bars, and increasingly exotic entertainment. Sailing relatively short distances through the night, their revenue stream becomes more akin to a torrent when sales of shore excursions are factored in.

While the Mediterranean cruise market is said to be slowly recovering from the effects of the recession triggered in 2008/9, that recovery is still sluggish. And the unprecedented number of new berths arriving with these huge ships means that there will always be a line of potentially great bargains, especially if you can be a little flexible, time wise. That said, it is also possible- likely, even- that uncertainty in other regions might boost bookings as well.

Naples is a staple of the 'Meddy Go Round'

Naples is a staple of the ‘Meddy Go Round’

Whenever you go, or for whatever reason, the seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ has never offered so much potential diversity as you’re going to find in 2015. The only minor down side remains the seething, human train wreck that is Barcelona’s aptly named El Prat airport.  I would definitely advise anyone to spend at least one extra day in the city- no great hardship, that- both pre and post cruise, in order to avoid the worst of the airport crowds.

Why not- you’re worth it. Happy travelling!

 

BYE BYE IBEROCRUISES- SPANISH LINE TO BE ‘INTEGRATED’ INTO COSTA (UPDATED)

Iberocruises; set to disappear over the cruising horizon at the end of this year

Iberocruises; set to disappear over the cruising horizon at the end of this year

As previously rumoured on this blog, it has now been confirmed that Iberocruises, the Spanish cruise subsidiary of Costa Cruises, will be fully integrated into the Italian Carnival affiliate as of next year.

The Spanish cruise operation- once so buoyant- has been on borrowed time since the local cruise market went bows down in the wake of massive austerity cuts inflicted across the entire Iberian peninsula. The first signs of enforced retrenchment came when the company’s most prestigious ship- Grand Mistral– was hived off to Costa and refashioned as the Costa NeoRiviera.

Then, early last year, the Spanish offices of both cruise products were brought together for the local market.

Next, a recently completed, 4.5 million euro refit of the Grand Celebration was followed with the announcement that she, too, would transfer over to Costa this winter, after completing one last season under the Iberocruises banner. She will be restyled as the Costa Celebration, although no new deployments have been announced for the ship at present.

That left just the Grand Holiday- sister ship of Grand Celebration- as the last remaining vessel sailing for the Spanish operator. It was pretty apparent to most that a one ship line was not long for this world.

Costa CEO, Michael Thamm, apparently announced last month that Iberocruises would be taken off life support, and integrated fully into Costa. I, for one, completely missed this. A spokesman for the Italian juggernaut- itself due to launch a new, largest ever flagship in the shape of the Costa Diadema this November- has since said that ‘a plan’ exists for the future of the Grand Holiday.

Whether that ‘plan’ is as part of the Costa brand remains to be seen.

On the face of it, the two sister ships- both built for Carnival in the mid eighties- seem an odd fit in the Costa fleet. True, they are compatible in terms of size with the handful of smaller Costa ships, but they lack the balconies and extra dining facilities of even those.

It also has to be said that they do not look so good against the vessels of prime rival, MSC Cruises. That line is about to embark on a lengthening and enhancement programme of all four of its smallest ships, designed to significantly enhance their appeal in terms of both accommodation and amenities. And it must be borne in mind that all four of those ships are considerably younger than the two Iberocruises refugees being offloaded onto Costa.

The obvious solution would be to absorb the two ships- along with the Costa Classica- into the NeoCollection offshoot that already boasts both Costa NeoRomantica and Costa NeoRiviera. This product is an attempt to get back to something of the original Costa roots, by providing smaller, more intimate ships that offer an experience built around longer port visits, more in depth itineraries, and excellent local and regional cuisine.

So far, so good. But the question here is whether that still fledgling operation would absorb this three tiered influx profitably in the present, still depressed climate. It seems unlikely at the present time.

In any event, it’s goodbye to Iberocruises at the end of this year. Here’s hoping that the plan Costa has for those last two ships is, indeed, a viable one. No one wants to see more eighties tonnage on the beaches of Alang or Aliaga.

As always, stay tuned.

 

UPDATE: Carnival’s Arnold Donald has announced today that the Grand Holiday will leave the Carnival fleet entirely at the end of the year. No buyer has been announced for the 1985 built ship as yet.

 

FOUR NEW ORDERS FOR FINCANTIERI?

MSC look set to confirm yet another two ship order from Fincantieri

MSC look set to confirm yet another two ship order from Fincantieri

I mentioned in a previous blog that MSC Cruises were very strongly rumoured to be about to announce a second pair of new builds, in addition to the pair of new mega ships just ordered from the French shipyard, STX. It now looks like that announcement could be imminent.

The two new Italian builds are bruited to be of around 152,000 tons, with a length of some 310 metres each, and a projected total cost of some 1.4 billion euros. The first ship could be slated for delivery as early as 2017.

And- as previously alluded- the same yard is also expected to announce confirmation of yet another order, this time for a brace of sister ships for Oceania Cruises. Unlike the new MSC designs, these two vessels are reported to be another pair of sisters for that company’s first two, highly popular new builds, Marina and Riviera.

The Italian yard has been fantastically busy, and indeed it still is. As well as the above projected announcements, Fincantieri is also cutting the steel, ready for all four of the Lirica class lengthenings. Beginning at the end of the autumn, each ship will be cut in half, then have a new mid section inserted.

The yard is also in the process of putting the finishing touches to the rival Costa Cruises new flagship, the Costa Diadema, which is due to debut this coming November, and is also building the fourth, expanded Odyssey class ship for Seabourn, as well as the new Seven Seas Explorer for Regent Seven Seas, the first new ship for that line in more than a decade.

The yard has literally just delivered the second of class Regal Princess, and is working now on outfitting the Britannia for P&O Cruises, a vessel built to the same design. In addition, the yard is also building the 47,000 ton cruise ship, Viking Star, for Viking Cruises, and also two similar sized sister ships which have recently been confirmed.

This construction programme amounts to a quite astonishing coup for the Fincantieri yard. While the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean continue to favour the Meyer Werft yard at Papenburg for their new builds, and the once dominant shipyards of Finland seem to be floundering, it is the Italian yard that is picking up orders for a whole raft of diverse new cruise ship designs, ranging from the mass market to the ultra luxury products.

With an enviable record for delivering superb quality vessels, on time and within budgets, the dominance of Fincantieri as the world’s pre eminent builder of cruise ships seems assured, at least for the next few years.

As always, stay tuned.

CRUISE SHIPS ON THE WAY; A ROUND UP

Carnival has a new ship coming in 2016

Carnival has a new ship coming in 2016

With new orders recently placed by lines such as MSC and Royal Caribbean International, and with several other headline vessels nearing completion in various yards, I thought that now might be a good time to recap on what is actually coming down the line in the way of new builds.

This list does not claim to be exhaustive, or one hundred per cent complete. It is more by way of a ‘heads up’ than anything else.

MSC has a pair of new, 160, 000 ton ships of a completely new design on order from STX France. Meanwhile, rumours continue to surface that the Italian company is also about to place an order for another pair of similar sized vessels with Italian favourite, Fincantieri.

Meanwhile, the rival Costa Cruises will take delivery of the Costa Diadema from the same yard this October. The ship- the largest ever built for Costa- will be christened in Genoa on November 1st this year, before embarking on a season of year round, seven night Mediterranean cruises.

At the same time, the astonishing forward momentum of Royal Caribbean International received another boost with the announcement of orders for not one, but two more of the game changing Oasis class cruise ships- the largest the world has ever seen- from STX France. This, in addition to the looming October inauguration of the brand new, first of class Quantum Of The Seas (China bound in 2015) and her sister, Anthem Of The Seas, slated for delivery in the spring of 2015.

Meanwhile, over at the rival Carnival Cruise Lines, the 135,000 ton Carnival Vista is slated for delivery in the winter of 2016. A one off, stand alone ship (so far), this new vessel is not a repeat of the highly successful Dream class ships, but will no doubt be heavily influenced by those vessels.

A new brace of Oasis class siblings is imminent

A new brace of Oasis class siblings is imminent

Also due next year is the new, P&O Cruises contestant, Britannia. This ship-currently taking shape at Fincantieri, Italy- is built on the same platform as the Royal Princess and her sibling, the imminent Regal Princess. 

Sticking with the Carnival stable, Holland America Line will take delivery of its largest ever ship, a 100,000 ton new design known as Pinnacle Class, in the spring of 2016.

Meanwhile, the rival Norwegian Cruise Line is looking forward to next year’s delivery from Meyer Werft of Papenburg of the ‘improved Breakaway class’ new build, Norwegian Escape. A second of class- the Norwegian Bliss- is scheduled to arrive on the circuit in 2017.

Meyer Werft is also creating a pair of similar, 150,000 ton sister ships for Asian affiliate, Star Cruises, the first new builds for that line since 1998. While details are scarce and no names have been confirmed, it seems that these two ships will be built on a very similar design to the Breakaway class.

This is a seemingly endless liturgy of big ships, but there are other new ships coming that offer a more human scale, too. Most eagerly awaited is next year’s Viking Star, the first ocean going new build fo river giant, Viking Cruises. The 47,600 ton ship draws a deliberate bead on high end, traditional luxury cruising and, with two sister ships- Viking Star and Viking Sea-  now also confirmed. this line is definitely going to be one to watch.

In the realm of the sybaritic, Seabourn is one of the most illustrious names. The deluxe line has a fourth ship on order, an enhanced version of the successful Odyssey class, slated for delivery from Fincantieri in the second half of 2016. This new ship will be approximately twenty five per cent larger than her siblings, and will feature one more deck.

Norwegian is building a pair of 'improved Breakaway' class sisters

Norwegian is building a pair of ‘improved Breakaway’ class sisters

Meanwhile, the much bruited Regent Seven Seas new build, Seven Seas Explorer, is now a certainty, too. Another entrant in the all suite, all inclusive de luxe market, this stunning new ship is also being built by the always busy Fincantieri, and is scheduled to debut in the summer of 2016. With all suite accommodation for 738 guests, she will be similar in size to the recently refurbished, hugely popular near sisters, Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager.

And lastly for now, but by no means least, Ponant will take delivery next year of a fourth of class vessel, the 10,000 ton, French flagged Le Lyrial. The line is also going all inclusive for the 2015 season.

So, there you have it; quite a roster. And proof, as if proof is needed, that the cruise market is still tremendously buoyant world wide. Happy sailing!

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

 

RAISING THE GAME; NEW CRUISE SHIPS IN EUROPE FOR 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

Princess Cruises has announced that their new Royal Princess- launched just last year- will return to Europe for a full season of cruises over the summer. Her arrival- the latest in a slew of announcements from the major lines- points up just how much all the big players see Europe as seminal in filling- and for displaying- their prime movers and shakers. Just look at what else will be here next year.

Royal Caribbean’s new, second of class ship, Anthem Of The Seas will also be based in Southampton and, to no one’s great surprise, so will P&O’s new Britannia, a vessel being built on the same hull platform as Royal Princess.

The deployments by Princess and Royal Caribbean, in particular, represent a quite extraordinary statement of intent. Two of the world’s newest mega ships, with a capacity of well over 4,000 passengers each, will be based in the Hampshire port. It should be great news for the local business in Southampton for sure and, for the canny cruising purchaser, there should also be some great bargains available as well.

Nor is it simply Northern Europe that will be the recipient of state of the art mega ships. After four consecutive summer seasons in the Med, the game changing, 2010 built Norwegian Epic will be permanently home ported in Barcelona for 2015 onward. The one off mega ship significantly ups the ante for year round cruising from the Catalan port, though her itineraries will not be announced until next month, at the Seatrade Conference in Miami.

Larger still, Royal Caribbean took some people by surprise when it announced a full, summer season of 2015 Barcelona sailings on the jaw dropping Allure Of The Seas, one of the two largest cruise ships ever built. The gargantuan vessel will offer a series of seven night round trips from May through October. She will be by far the biggest ship to offer an extended cruise season in these waters and, with a passenger capacity in excess of 6,000, she will also offer roughly half as many berths again as her nearest rival. Should be interesting.

Pompeii's remains a staple of the Med cruise circuit. See them from Naples.

Pompeii’s remains a staple of the Med cruise circuit. See them from Naples.

Plus, next year will also mark the inaugural Med season for the new Costa flagship, the Costa Diadema. Due to debut this autumn, the ship is the biggest ever built by Carnival for the Italian franchise.

And, it has to be added, a few other players will stay their hands as regards dramatic new announcements until Seatrade. Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival, is on record as saying that the line might possibly return to Europe in 2015. Given that the newest Carnival ship- Carnival Vista- will not emerge from her Italian builders yard until 2016, the smart money would be on one of the Dream class trio coming back to the Mediterranean, though probably not the Baltic.

Though the numbers of ships being deployed are not really up on the 2012 figures, it is pretty obvious that nearly all of the major lines still see Europe as the prime arena for showcasing their new ships. Beside the big ticket, first time deployments in Southampton, Princess Cruises are also bringing over the huge Caribbean Princess and, for the first time ever, the line is offering an all inclusive drinks package in the fare.

So the European catwalk (cruisewalk?) season of 2015 looks like being quite a floor show, with each of the entrants bearing all the traits and positive selling points- both real and imagined- of their respective sponsors. One thing there will be no shortage of is choice.

Stay tuned.

COSTA’S 2014 COMEBACK- A PIVOTAL YEAR?

Costa ships now hold one of the most rigorous boat drills of any cruise line

Costa ships now hold one of the most rigorous boat drills of any cruise line

After the ghastly tragedy of 2012’s Costa Concordia disaster and a less than inspiring 2013, Costa Cruises must be hoping that 2014 will represent a favourable turning point in its fortunes. However, the line isn’t simply wishing on a dream. it has taken a series of admittedly tentative steps towards recovering its former status, and these are looking encouraging.

Firstly, the sodden, solemn remains of the Concordia herself should literally disappear from view at last, as the wreck of the raised ship is finally towed away and scrapped at an as yet undisclosed location. This in itself should be a huge psychological lift, though the ongoing trial of the cringeworthy Francesco Schettino continues somewhere in the background.

New up is the November 2014 debut of the new flagship, Costa Diadema. This 130,000 ton ship- a variant on the Carnival Dream design- is so far the only one of the class on order. She was recently floated out, and is slated to operate seven night Western Mediterranean cruises year round. The Costa Diadema is the largest passenger ship ever built for any Italian line, and an enormous amount hangs on her success. She is by far the biggest and most visible example of renewed forward momentum from the Italian cruise juggernaut, but by no means the only one.

Out in the Far East, Costa Victoria- the original Costa megaship- has just had a generally well received, $18 million renovation of her interior spaces. She has now been joined in year round service in the region by a second large ship, the Costa Atlantica. And, despite initial denials to the contrary, Costa is, indeed, ridding itself of the delightful, diminutive Costa Voyager after the collapse of her winter 2013/14 Red Sea programme. The line is also set to lay up or sell a second,as yet unnamed ship in the not too distant future. The smart money would be on this being the unreconstructed Costa Classica.

Her sister ship, the massively reconstructed Costa NeoRomantica, has not been the success that the company hoped, at least in the short term. For 2014, she will be joined by the newly acquired Costa NeoRiviera, the former Grand Mistral of Iberocruises. With these two ships, Costa is diverging off the beaten track and into a new, very interesting direction.

Typically vibrant, Farcus style Costa interiors. This is the Costa Favolosa

Typically vibrant, Farcus style Costa interiors. This is the Costa Favolosa

Here we have a brace of much smaller ships than the rest of the Costa alumni; the idea is to sail them in the Baltic and Mediterranean next summer, on longer twelve to fourteen night itineraries. These will feature a high number of overnight stays in popular, flagship ports- not something Costa has previously been known to do in the past.

The emphasis will also be on creating a more intimate experience, with upgraded service and shore excursions. In a way, it’s a kind of return to the sort of voyages that the line was once famous for in the sixties and seventies, and it should be very interesting to see if what amounts to Costa 2.0 can pull off this ‘back to the future’ kind of volte face after so many years of successive mega ship birthings. For sure, a lot is riding on it.

My advice? Stay tuned….