New AIDA Cruise Ship Order Goes To Japan – Other Cruise News: Paul Gaugin Cruises Expands – St Kitts Sees Cruise Boom – Cruise Surveys

by Kevin Griffin

Just as the order for a new 98,000-tonner for TUI Cruises, with option for a second ship, was confirmed last week, came criticism of the two-ship order placed by AIDA Cruises with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in August. Elsewhere, Paul Gaugin Cruises expands with the acquisition of a 90-guest ship it will name Moana. The Caribbean island of St Kitts is due for a cruise ship boom with eleven first-time callers this winter. And a UK cruise blogger asks how do we overcome old attitudes and get cruise virgins to book their first cruise?


New AIDA Cruise Ship Order Goes To Japan

Hot on the news of a new 98,000-ton cruise ship for TUI Cruises, with option for a second, came criticism last week of the pricing of a two-ship order placed by AIDA Cruises with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan for two 125,000-tonners for delivery in 2015 and 2016. This order, first mooted in February, was announced in early August but attracted attention at the Seatrade Hamburg cruise event last week.

With a lower berth capacity for 3,250 passengers each, these will be the largest cruise ships to be built for the rapidly expanding German cruise market. AIDA has now introduced a new club ship every year now for the past five years and now has four more on order whileTUI Cruises is on the way to launching its own fleet of four mid-market ships. With this, the German market is forecast to become the largest in Europe, and could surpass the UK by 2016. Richard Vogel, chief executive of TUI Cruises, noted last week that at current rates of growth in five years Germany could produce 2.28 million passengers and the UK 2.19 million.

But the reaction to the AIDA order going to Japan was one of protest from European shipbuilders, especially Fincantieri and STX Finland, who are both only now managing to fill their order books again and still have much excess capacity. The nature of this protest was that the reported cost per bed was far lower than what any European shipbuilder would be able to offer, and that Mitsubishi would lose money on them.

The cost per berth for the new AIDA ships, at €140,000, is less than the €150,000 per berth for the latest Costa order, placed at the same time, for a 132,5000-ton 3,700-berth ship from Fincantieri for 2014.

At least, Mitsubishi has a record of building cruise ships, but it is not a happy one. It built the Frontier Spirit, now Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Bremen, and Crystal Harmony, now NYK’s Asuka II, in 1990, and the Diamond and Sapphire Princess for Princess Cruises in 2004, but in each case reportedly at a loss.

Meanwhile, MSC Cruises is in talks with STX France about taking over the order for the cancelled cruise ship on which Libya failed to make its second payment, for delivery ion 2013, and possibly an order for two larger, and wider, cruise ships to follow in 2014 and 2015. The new ships’ beam would be increased so that the overall length does not prevent them from calling at many Mediterranean cruise ports.


Paul Gauguin Cruises Expands

Last week it was also announced that Paul Gauguin Cruises would double its fleet, and increase its berth capacity by a little over a quarter, by purchasing Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Levant. To be renamed Moana, the 90-berth ship will introduce new itineraries in the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Latin America. While the 332-berth Paul Gauguin will remain in Tahiti, the Moana will widen the company’s cruise offerings.

Le Levant was built in 1999 and has cruised in many areas. Including the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Great Lakes, The Caribbean and the Amazon, among others. She will undergo a major refit in November 2012 and enter service for Paul Gauguin Cruises in December.

Seattle-based Paul Gauguin Cruises is part of Pacific Beachcomber, which also owns Intercontinental hotels on Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora and Maitai resorts on Bora Bora, Rangiroa and Huahine, and is opening The Brando, a new resort on Tetiaroa.

St Kitts Sees Cruise Boom

In what must be a record year, eleven cruise ships will be visiting St Kitts for the first time this winter according to the country’s prime minister, Denzil Douglas.

On last week’s radio show “Ask the Prime Minster” he revealed that these would include the Allure of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas from Royal Caribbean, Carnival Valor, Celebrity Silhouette, Mein Schiff 2 from TUI Cruises, Saga Ruby and Saga Pearl 2 from Saga, the Seabourn Quest, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and the Thomson Dream.

St Kitts has done much in recent years to attract new cruise passengers. Its most popular attraction is the St Kitts Scenic Railway, a three-hour 30-mile circular tour that cover 18 miles by narrow gauge train and 12 miles on sightseeing buses.

Built between 1912 and 1926 to transport sugar cane from the island’s plantations to the sugar plant in Basseterre, the “Last Railway in the West Indies” provides visitors an unsurpassed opportunity to experience St Kitts, passing beaches, sugar cane fields, mountains, villages, pineapple fields, banana trees and crossing over several ravines on tall steel girder bridges, as well as offering wide vistas of the nearby islands of Nevis, St Barts, St Maarten, Saba, and St Eustatius.

The last sugar train operated on July 31, 2005, bringing an end to over 350 years of sugar production on St Kitts. But the “Sugar Train” still survives. In a partnership between the St Kitts government and private enterprise, the privately-owned St. Kitts Scenic Railway started running tourist excursions on January 28, 2003.

Each passenger gets two seats for the double-deck train tour, one in the air-conditioned lower parlour and one on the covered observation deck above. The carpeted parlour has huge six–foot vaulted windows, and is furnished with cushioned rattan chairs at inlaid tables. Train tickets can be bought aboard most cruise ships operating to St Kitts, where it is projected that 650,000 cruise ship passengers will visit this year

Cruise Surveys

Daily Mirror blogger John Honeywell recently mentioned a number of uninteresting cruise polls that are used to evoke silly answers but identified one that contained some interesting information.

Writing in his “Captain Greybeard” blog for the Mirror, he pointed out that a survey by Travel Supermarket had discovered that an astonishing 58 percent of Britons who have never taken a cruise are unlikely to consider one because they believe it would be too expensive, and another 15 percent think they are only for “posh people.”

At the other end, 36 percent are put off because they think a ship would be like a floating holiday camp.

These results would seem to indicate that despite the efforts of the Passenger Shipping Association, the Association of Cruise Experts and the Leading Cruise Agents of the UK, let alone all the full page advertisements paid for by cruise lines and cruise agents in “The Sunday Times” and other weekend newspapers, preconceptions die hard.

In other words, the message is not entirely getting across as to what good value (and good fun) cruises really are. Partly to counter this, the Leading Cruise Agents of the UK last year published a guide for the novice entitled “Your First Cruise,” which is available free of charge from LCA members.

The same travel supermarket survey discovered that there is one sure-fire way to change these old impressions. People’s opinions change as soon as they have actually taken a cruise. Nine out of ten cruise passengers would recommend cruising to friends, and 60 percent of 18 to 35-year-olds said they were surprised by how much fun they really had.

But, as Captain Greybeard says, “the question remains: how to get cruise virgins to take that first step up the gangway?”

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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