The Cruise Examiner has a new writer – The Cruise Market Today – L’Austral “Revealed” in Marseilles – Changes at Saga

by Kevin Griffin

Just as the “We Are Cunard” blog falls to a new writer with Cunard president Peter Shanks, “The Cruise Examiner” column at is also being entrusted to new hands.
After thanking Mark Tré for his three years of producing this column, we are pleased to announce that Kevin Griffin, managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd of London has agreed to take over the weekly spot.
Griffin, born in England, emigrated to Canada by sea as a child but has returned to live in the UK three times, the last in 1992 when he established The Cruise People. Kevin, who once worked in the shipping industry, is also a director and past chairman of the Leading Cruise Agents of the UK and a qualified shipbroker.


The Cruise Market Today

While cruising has been popular since the last half of the 19th century, most people today mark the beginning of modern cruising to some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s, when Transatlantic liners were on their last legs and Norwegian Caribbean Line, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines were all being formed in Miami. While older names are gone, all three of those firms are still with us.

There is still a lot of longer-term history out there, of course, with big names such as Cunard, P&O, Holland America Line and Costa still with us, but all are now part of Carnival Corp & PLC. There is no question who is the king of the cruise market, of course, especially as the delivery of the 128,251-ton Carnival Magic to Carnival Cruise Line yesterday marked the occasion of the 100th cruise ship to join Carnival’s now ten-brand international fleet. And still on the subject of Carnival Corp, how important Europe is to the whole is indicated by one statistic. While Europe accounted for 33% of Carnival Corp’s capacity in 2009, it contributed fully 49% of the group’s operating income.

Now let’s look at just a few the developments of recent years:

  • 1996 The 101,353-ton Carnival Destiny is the world’s first 100,000-ton passenger ship
  • 1999 The 1,020-foot Voyager of the Seas is the first 1,000-footer since the France
  • 2003 Carnival Corp acquires P&O Princess Cruises to form Carnival Corp & PLC
  • 2004 The 148,528-ton Queen Mary 2 is the first new transatlantic liner since QE2 in 1969
  • 2009 The 225,282-ton Oasis of the Seas becomes the world’s largest cruise ship
  • 2010 NCL sign with Nickelodeon at Sea for characters at sea
  • 2010 Royal Caribbean sign with Dreamworks Animation for characters at seaThese few achievements point in an entirely new direction for cruising, not only in the size of ships, but with the crossover of children’s entertainment, which used to be the preserve of ships sailing out of Port Canaveral, near Disney World, into the mainstream cruise market. Such developments bear watching as they are changing the market entirely.

    In June 2008, Mark Tré wrote a column entitled “It’s cruising Jim, but not as we know it – life on the 1,000-footers,” which was picked up the very next day by Chris Bunting of the “New York Post” in a story entitled simply “Cruise: Big, Bigger, Biggest.” Cruise lines have been going after economies of scale and this has kept cruise fares down, but ships are now getting so big that some of them seem to be turning into theme parks. Indeed, it was Mark who revealed that theme park experience is now a good qualification to work for a cruise line.

    With the delivery of the Royal Princess and her sister, probably to be called Regal Princess, in 2013 and 2014, the world will have more than thirty cruise ships longer than a thousand feet. What’s more, it will have fifty-seven 100,000-tonners, as well as the 200,000-tonners Oasis and Allure of the Seas, which can accommodate in excess of 6,000 passengers each.

    What does all this mean? The cruise market has been incredibly successful. More people now cruise every year than the number that used to cross the oceans at any time of the great ocean liners and mass emigration. The cruise market counted 18 million guests in 2010 and expects to reach 25 million by 2020. At its peak only something between one and two million per year crossed the North Atlantic each year in the years before aviation. And what is more, the European market now accounts for four million and is expected to double to eight million by 2020, and as noted above contributed almost half of Carnival Corp’s operating income in 2009.

    Not only are European lines growing at a fast pace (remember when P&O had only the Canberra?) but American ships are also being attracted to Europe in droves. This summer, for example, Barcelona will host four American giants, the Carnival Magic, 121,878-ton Celebrity Solstice, 154,407-ton Liberty of the Seas and 155,873-ton Norwegian Epic in a head-on battle of the giants, with the four ships totaling 560.409 tons and offering 13,620 lower berths among them.

    Why has cruising been so successful? Because it is a product that satisfies. Once people cruise they return. It is an industry that scores the highest satisfaction ratings of any holiday or travel product. In fact, the cruise market has been so successful that, as Sebastian Ahrens, managing director of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, said at Cruise Shipping Miami in March, even the ultra-luxury market has now developped a significant volume in its own right.
    Adding in small ship, river cruising and expedition elements, the cruise market today offers far more variety than it did in those early days of NCL, RCCL and Carnival. And penetration is still quite low in most world markets, with only 1% to 3% of the population cruising each year, depending which country.

    Another trend in recent years, and one that is not so welcome, has been a huge hike in on board revenue, which is now said to come to about 40% of the ticket price. A typical example comes from recent clients of ours. Paying $1,575 for a balcony cabin for a short cruise, their on board billings, not including shop purchases, was $675, or 43% of ticket price. They did not pay $20 or $25 per person to dine in alternative restaurants, but bought a wine package and paid 55 cents a minute for internet connectivity.

    As Mark Tré pointed out in November 2008, the cruise line onboard revenue manager is now known as the executive vice president of guest experience and business development. The “guest experience” part of his title is surely a sort of newspeak.

    The more upmarket lines have taken the sting out of on board spending by making their cruise fares all-inclusive. Starting with Seabourn and Silversea, this practice has now also been adopted by Regent and in 2012 Crystal too will become all-inclusive. On the other hand, in his recent columns, Mark has also picked up on the theme of main market lines becoming more inclusive in some cases.

    Pullmantur, the Spanish subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises, was the first main market line to include drinks in the fare, while others such as Celebrity, Louis and Thomson, and Hapag-Lloyd with their Columbus and Columbus 2, have introduced moderately-priced all-inclusive drinks packages for purchase by passengers. Even Royal Caribbean is now experimenting with drinks packages on three ships in the Med. Typically, packages are sold for $29, $39 or $49 per person per day, with different drinks available in each package.

    So where are we now? We are absolutely in a place that has more choice than ever. With the Oasis and Allure of the Seas, we have two ships sailing out of Port Everglades that can carry 12,000 passengers a week between them, but are limited to their ports of call because of their size. With L’Austral and Le Boréal (see below), two more sister ships introduced within months of the big pair, we have two French-flag yacht cruisers operating on worldwide itineraries and can only carry about 500 between them. It would take a dozen such ships to carry the same load as the Oasis of the Seas, yet they both have their followers.

    Between these two pairs of sister ships we have a wealth of ships of all sizes and all market levels, budget ships, mass market ships, ultra-luxury ships, adventure ships, expedition ships, river ships and even cargo ships that still carry passengers across the world’s oceans. Today one can cruise to the North Pole in a nuclear icebreaker, navigate all the way up the Amazon into Iquitos, Peru, home of Paddington Bear, circle the world or part of it on any of a dozen different ships, whether British, American, German or Italian, ort cruise for just two or three nights out of many ports in order to sample the product.

    I look forward to following in Mark’s footsteps and will stick fairly closely to the same themes he has developed over the first three years of “The Cruise Examiner.” For if ever there was a Golden Age of Sea Travel, it is now!


    L’Austral “Revealed” in Marseilles

    On Tuesday, 26th April, L’Austral, newest cruise ship of La Compagnie du Ponant, was inaugurated in a ceremony that included live music and fireworks in Marseilles, headquarters of La Compagnie du Ponant and its parent company CMA CGM.

    I was invited to the event along with quite a number of international cruise agents from the UK, Scandinavia and other European countries, as well as France. While agents cruised overnight in Le Boréal, which has now seen a year’s service, journalists and other company guests were accommodated in the brand-new L’Austral. A third Compagnie du Ponant ship, Le Levant, joined us later in the day and all three ships saluted each other in the port of Marseilles – the three accounting for 60% of the berth capacity of Ponant’s now five-ship fleet.

    The colour scheme on both new ships is carried through not only the hull, but also seats, cabin furnishing, carpeting and even the artwork on board. The overall colour is a rather sophisticated grey, set off with white, and touches of chocolate, cinnamon and caramel on L’Austral and crimson on Le Boréal.

    The staterooms are spacious, but the furniture can sometimes seem too big for the room. Some 90% however have private balconies with two cane chairs. The lounge areas are intimate, with plenty of sea views, both forward and aft, and if one gets the right seat in the dining room it is possible to watch the ship’s wake as you spend a couple of hours over a superb meal. The music was superb on our sailing, a great trio and a saxophonist on deck

    The evening began with a speech from Jean-Emmanuel Sauvée, ceo and co-founder of the company, in which he expressed his pride in heading up the largest cruise fleet under French flag and his appreciation for the backing of parent company CMA CGM, which had made the two-ship project possible. “It has been decades since a French company counted five cruise ships in its fleet,” said Sauvée. Veronique Saadé, deputy director general and Capt Rémi Genevaz of L’Austral also expressed their pride in celebrating the arrival of a fifth ship.

    At sunset, the big moment came when L’Austral, accompanied by sister ship Le Boréal, departed Marseilles for a side-by-side cruise to the offshore Iles du Frioul and famous Chateau d’If, of Count of Monte Cristo fame, before heading along the coast for an overnight cruise to nowhere.

    After sailing, guests took their places in the gourmet restaurant for an exquisite dinner, with the presence of the Bel Canto performers. The dinner of lobster, veal and fine French wines was crowned by a “dessert surprise” from Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini.

    The evening continued in the Theatre with a unique show from the Crazy Horse Saloon, and ended with a magnificent display of fireworks in shades of red, gold and silver, visible from the pool decks of L’Austral and her year-old sister Le Boréal. In an amusing aside, however, Cruise Critic reported that through some oversight, the journalists and VIP’s on board L’Austral were entertained by dancers from Crazy Horse who revealed rather more than some had expected. As the curtains rose, apparently no one from the line had seen the rehearsal and it was evident that the dancers were nude. The line’s management then tried to stop the show before it caused any more damage to their reputation and guests were escorted on deck for a fireworks display.

    Overall, these new ships are very comfortable, intimate and sophisticated and they were built on a human scale at Fincantieri’s Ancona yard. Both ships being French-flag, the cuisine is of course tops. Compagnie du Ponant aim to carry 20,000 cruise passengers in the next year, which compares with 30,000 for competitor Croisières de France, whose 37,301-ton Bleu de France is registered in Malta.

    Fleet Changes at Saga Cruises

    Saga Cruises in the UK have announced that when Bleu de France joins them in April 2012, she will be renamed Saga Sapphire to operate together with the Saga Ruby. The Saga Sapphire began life in 1982 as Hapag-Lloyd’s first newly-built Europa since the war, while the 24,492-ton Saga Ruby was introducedin 1973 as Norwegian America Line’s Vistafjord, and also ran for Cunard as the Caronia.

    Meanwhile, in May 2012, the 18,591-ton Saga Pearl II, built in 1981 as the first Astor, will move over to the Spirit of Adventure brand under the new name of Quest for Adventure to operate together with the original 9,570-ton Spirit of Adventure, introduced in 1980 as Peter Deilmann’s Berlin. The Spirit of Adventure brand accepts guests of ages 21 and up while Saga Cruises have a minimum age of 50.

    As the Vistafjord used to source almost half her passengers from the German market, it appears that Saga have succeeded in collecting a fleet of four ships that have all been proven very popular in the German market in past times. And Saga has unquestionably developed a reputation for quality cruising.

    The only problem with Saga Cruises is that although the cruise line is now managed by two ex-Royal Caribbean executives, their cruises are not yet bookable through travel agents.

    (See the last columns) – (Post a comment at the Forum)



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