Viking Ocean Cruises Orders Two 888-guest Luxury Cruise Ships – Other Cruise News: Passat Revives the Delphin – Saga’s Plans for Quest for Adventure

by Kevin Griffin

There is some really good news to end 2011. A new company called Viking Ocean Cruises has just ordered two 41,000-ton 888-passenger cruise ships from STX France in St Nazaire, who are also now building Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2. This is the same shipyard that produced the Queen Mary 2, Crystal Serenity, Seven Seas Mariner, the eight “R” clas ships that now work for Azamara, Oceania, P&O, Princess and, as of next spring, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises as well, and Celebrity Cruises’ Millenium class.
As well as having built many mass market ships for its biggest customer, MSC, the famous St Nazaire shipyard that built the Normandie and the France, has managed to get a corner on the bespoke cruise ship market as well. Although the new Viking Ocean ships will be built to a more human scale than many of today’s behemoths, questions remain as to whether they will have proper forward-facing observation lounges, walkaround promenade decks and tiered decks aft, all marks of a comfortable ship.
Meanwhile, an Indian entrepreneur will place the Delphin back into service in the German market after a year of lay up in Venice and Britain’s Saga has some interesting plans for the Saga Pearl II, which will become sister brand Spirit of Adventure’s Quest for Adventure next spring with the delivery of the Saga Sapphire, now trading as Bleu de France.


Viking Ocean Cruises Orders Two 888-guest Luxury Cruise Ships

It was confirmed last week that US-based Viking Ocean Cruises, an affiliate of Viking River Cruises, had placed an order with STX France in St Nazaire for two 41,000-ton ships with a double-berth guest capacity of 888 passengers, fo delivery in the spring of 2014 and spring 2015.

With dimensions of 755 feet by 87 feet, the ships will be slightly larger than the 39,500-ton Europa 2, with dimensions of 739 by 87 feet, under construction at the same yard for delivery in the spring of 2013 to Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. Europa 2 differs, however, in that she will be in the ultralux category, with berths for only 516 passengers and a space ratio of 76.5 tons per guest.
The new Viking Ocean ships will be upper premium, with a ratio of 46.2 tons per passenger.

Viking Ocean also has an option for a third of the type, known as Project Odin, for potential delivery in 2016. Construction on the first ship will begin next September and a year later for the second. The order is subject to finance.

Viking Ocean is headed by Norwegian Torstein Hagen, chairman and chief executive of Viking River Cruises, who during the 1980s was chief executive of Royal Viking Line.
It was under his management that the original trio of Royal Viking ships was lengthened by 93 feet, something that probably prolonged the lives of these ships so that all three are still in profitable service today, almost forty years later.

The original Royal Viking Line disappeared in 1998, after its last two ships were taken over by Cunard Line.

Viking River Cruises, meanwhile, was formed in 1997 and now operates a fleet 23 premium river cruisers in Europe, Russia, the Ukraine, China and in Egypt, with another eight on order for the European market.

In terms of size, the new Viking Ocean ships fall in between the original 684-guest “R” ships, the most upmarket of which are operated by Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises (and starting in 2012 Hapag-Lloyd Cruises) and Oceania’s new Marina and Riviera, at 1,250 berths.

The comparisons in this size range, together with the Royal Viking quartet, are as follows:

Interesting here is the comparison with the Royal Viking ships. The statistics given here are for the original trio of Royal Viking Sea, Sky and Star in their stretched state, but even with a Passenger Space Ratio of only 34.2, they were regarded as ultralux in their time.

A decade or so later, Royal Viking Sun brought that ratio over 50. That ship survives today as Holland America Line’s 790-berth Prinsendam (PSR 47.9). The new Project Odin ships lie at 46.2, which is the upper end of the Royal Viking scale and slightly exceeds the “R” ships, and while less than Marina and Riviera, are not that much less.

Another interesting point was raised by Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing, when he told Travel Weekly last week that “Mr Hagen feels the ocean vessels built of late have become too large and that they’re losing out on the destination.”

The new ships will be primarily destination-oriented and the first two anyway will probably spend much of their time in the Mediterranean. With a fleet of twenty-three and eventually thirty-one river ships, Viking also have the kind of customer database that will lend itself to destination-oriented cruising, where guests are carried in style to experience the cultural highlights of the world rather than stuck on ships full of gimmicks for a week.
The cruise market has now more firmly differentiated itself into mass market and bespoke cruising. Just as fashion is either tailor-made or mass market off-the-rack, so now cruising is getting that way as well, but the bespoke lines, as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ managing director Sebastian Ahrens has said, are developing a critical mass all of their own.


Passat Revives the Delphin

In October 2010, Hansa Kreuzfahrten’s 16,214-ton ship Delphin was stopped mid-cruise at Villefranche, arrested for non-payment of charter hire to the owners of one of its other ships, the Delphin Voyager, to the Greek Restis group.

Beginning in April, 2012, however, the 1975-built ship will return to service under the same name for Passat Kreuzfahrten, a new firm based in Hamburg with branch office in Offenbach, and owned by New Delhi-based investor Pradeep Agrawal. The purchase of this ship, announced earlier this month, will also see Andreas Hey, son of Heinz-Herbert Hey, one of the original partners in Delphin Cruises, and Klaus Ebner, another Delphin veteran, managing the new line.
Many of the original Delphin team are also expected to return to the ship as well.

The 470-berth DelphIn can carry up to 550 passengers with upper berths filled. The 513- foot long Finnish-built ship is one of the last of a class built for the former Soviet Union, and is now reported in the Viktor Lenac Shipyard in Rijeka,undergoing extensive refurbishment. The interiors will be renewed and flat-screen televions added to all the cabins, along with the usual work on hull and machinery to bring her back into shape after her lay-up.

The original Passat, from which the new line takes its name, was a four-masted barque built by Blohm & Voss in 1911 and owned by Hamburg shipowners F Laeisz. She was one of the last of the windjammers, lasting through a series of owners right up until 1959, and is now a museum ship at Travemunde.

Named for the German word for trade wind, the Passat rounded Cape Horn no fewer than thirty-nine times and her sister ship the Peking, another of the “Flying P” tall ships, now resides at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York. Their original owner F Laeisz is still in business and carries passengers as well in its modern container ships, most of which still carry the letter “P” in their names.

Saga’s Plans for the Quest for Adventure

As Saga plans to move its Saga Pearl II into its Spirit of Adventure brand, it is introducing some new wrinkles on destination-led cruising. Following the lead of Azamara Club Cruises, it is introducing complimentary table wine on three 17-night cruises as a form of booking incentive.

Three departures for next year, Canada’s Maritime Provinces, departing Reykjavik on September 1 and visiting Labrador, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, Contrasts of the Americas, departing Halifax on October 1 and visiting Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Cuba, and From the Amazon to Africa, departing Manaus on January 16, 2013, and visiting north Brazilian ports, Ascension and Ghana, each offer this facility. In addition each cruise will have four or five included excursions and reductions of 25% are now available.

The Contrasts of the Americas itinerary is interesting as it sails all the way from Halifax to Havana without making any US calls. In addition to the trials that US Immigration puts non-US passengers through (see The Cruise Examiner, August 11, 2011, “Why Some European Cruise Lines Now Avoid America”), there is also now America’s Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act that mandates peepholes in cabin doors and railings 42 inches high, higher than the current norm of 391/2 inches.

Maybe slightly off-topic, but Carnival Cruise Lines, who have the highest ships’ railings, at 44 inches, have also lost the highest number of people overboard, 44, in the past eleven years – 25% of the total. That Quest for Adventure will not be making any American calls slightly reminds one of the days of the blockade runners, when Bermuda and the Bahamas were teeming with shipping trying to serve the southern states, while staying away from northern ports altogether.

Quest for Adventure cruises will include return private chauffeur service or flexible travel service, guest lecturers, all on board gratuities, travel and cancellation insurance and dedicated charter flights, in addition to the usual inclusions. What’s more, if Saga reduces the price of the cruise, it guarantees to pass the saving on to all, something that certain UK lines do not do. This combination, along with the fact that the minimum age limit of the Spirit of Adventure brand is 20, promises a lot of competition to other UK small ship brands.

Meanwhile, Saga Cruises has invited newcomers wishing to see its new Saga Sapphire (now trading as Bleu de France), built at Bremer Vulkan in 1982 as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ last Europa, to spend a night on board in Southampton next March. On a choice of three nights, newcomers can enjoy dinner and a show plus a night on board and breakfast. These are paying events, starting at £99 per person for an inside cabin and running up to £179 per person in a suite, but the amount paid can then be credited to any Saga cruise booked before the end of 2012.

Finally, in closing out what has been an interesting year in the cruise markets, we would like to wish all our readers the Best of the Season and a Prosperous and Happy 2012!

(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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