VIKING STAR HANDED OVER AT FINCANTIERI

In a low key but none the less auspicious ceremony, the brand new 47,800 ton. 930 passenger Viking Star was handed over to her owners, Viking Ocean Cruises, by the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy on Saturday, March 28th.

The yard- itself said to be on the verge of taking over the rival STX yard at Saint Nazaire- delivered the first of three confirmed orders for the premium grade company that has come to dominate European river cruising. Two sister ships of the same size and class- Viking Sky and Viking Sea- are due to debut in 2016, and the company also has an option for a fourth ship in the same class.

The ship- very much aimed at a classic style of cruising that emphasises in depth destination visits and on board hospitality rather than gimmicks and glitz- will make a series of shakedown cruises before being finally named in Oslo, Norway, on May 17th- Norwegian Constitution Day.

The advent of Viking Star is hugely symbolic, and redolent with memories of the old Royal Viking Line of the 1970’s and 80’s. Firmly ensconced in the intimate, small ship category, Viking Star will offer free beer and wine with dinner, making the product wholly compatible in terms of value with the river cruise fleet.

I’ll be looking in depth at this new, very special ship as more details become available. As always, stay tuned.

OASIS 4- GOING WHERE, EXACTLY?

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

As attention here in the UK focuses on two ship launches next month- P&O’s Britannia in Southampton on March 10th, and the Tilbury inauguration of Cruise and Maritimes’ Magellan at Tilbury on the 12th, STX shipyard in France has quietly begin cutting the steel for the fourth of the gigantic, 220,000 ton Oasis class shps yesterday over at Saint Nazaire.

To put her in some kind of context, this monster ship alone is more than twice the size of the combined total tonnage of the four ship Cruise and Maritime fleet. She rounds off- for now at least- the most physically spectacular quartet of passenger carrying vessels ever built. But the big question is; where will she go?

With her already complete pair of siblings sailing the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale- and Allure Of The Seas making her summer European debut this year- you have to wonder if there is a winter Caribbean market for even another one of these gigantic vessels, let alone the pair that are now officially underway.

Each week, Oasis and Allure both disembark  6,500 passengers, before embarking the same number again- an extraordinary through footfall of 26,000 passengers through the Florida port for these two ships alone. And, while no one can doubt that this is an extraordinary logistical feat- indeed, an unparalleled one- it has to be asked if one or two more such monsters could be viable in the serially overcrowded winter Caribbean cruise trade.

So, where would you send one or both of these ships- each of them the size of a small city- to fill them? Obviously, Royal Caribbean has long since done the numbers, and has a plan that works for them. But, as we are in the dark regarding the itineraries for these ships, we’ll have to indulge in a little speculation.

It is entirely possible that one, or perhaps even two, of this extraordinary quartet could go straight to China, for cruising in the Far East. Like the rival Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean fully recognises the vast potential of the Chinese market. In point of fact, I’d put money on one- or perhaps even both- of these new ships being China bound soon after completion.

I would also expect that we will now see an annual European cruise season each year for one of these ships, primarily in the Western Mediterranean. I expect the Allure Of The Seas will be hugely popular in 2015 as she gears up for her first ever season of seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruises out of Barcelona. That being a given, it would be pretty unwise for Royal Caribbean not to repeat the experience on a yearly basis, though whether the line will keep a ship on this scale on year round European cruises might yet be a bridge too far.

Interesting times in the mega ship market, for sure. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

MSC EXPANSION GETS INTO HIGH GEAR

It's full speed ahead for MSC Cruises

It’s full speed ahead for MSC Cruises

It seems as of nothing can stop the break neck expansion of MSC Cruises these days.

With the newly stretched MSC Armonia now back in service and cruising around the Canary Islands, near sister MSC Sinfonia has taken her place at the Fincantieri shipyard for her own ‘chop and stretch’ extension.

The ship is to be followed by her two near siblings, MSC Opera and MSC Lirica, both of which will be similarly stretched and enhanced before the end of the year. This will round out the ambitious, so called ‘Renaissance’ programme.

The scale of this four ship operation, carried out over the course of a calendar year, has no equal in the history of the cruise industry. It is a quite staggering achievement and, incredibly, it has been massively overlooked by the industry.

Meanwhile, reports are circulating that the Italian line will exercise a series of option already bruited.

A third ship will come from the Fincantieri yard to join the two mega ships already under construction there. Meanwhile, the two ships under construction at STX France may be complemented with another pair, of similar design.

If these reports are, indeed, true, then that will give MSC Cruises a mind boggling total of seven new ships under construction.

The sum total of these new builds, plus the increased capacity of the extended quartet, should be to expand the company’s passenger volume to around 3.4 million passengers a year from 2022, around double the current, already impressive level.

Ever since it’s modest introduction with a trio of second hand ships in the mid 1990’s, MSC Cruises has expanded massively in both style and scope. The line is currently led by the splendid, 133,000 ton Fantasia class vessels. The on board experience is essentially Italian, with many passengers also coming from France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

In summer, the fleet offers a wide array of itineraries in Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, and also the Adriatic. Winter sees additional deployments to the Caribbean and South America, the Canary Islands, the United Arab Emirates, and even South Africa.

Stay tuned for updates.

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.