APRIL 2016 – Citybreaks on the sea

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The ratio of Caribbean to European cruises used to be 70-30 and slowly changed to 60-40. Now it has reversed, with 60pc of clients choosing Europe for their cruises. An Irish favourite, Barcelona was singlehandedly responsible for much of this growth, particularly when the Aer Lingus service tied in with cruise departures. According to John Galligan the most common fears of first time cruises is that they won’t like the people on the ship, the food will be awful, there will be nothing to do, they will hate it and will be stuck out in the sea, they will get seasick and the cruise lines won’t cater for their special needs. He says the key to having happy customers is to sell the right cruise to the right person, by querying what they like doing, what is their budget, are they beach or city types, what duration they want, do they want a long or a short flight or a direct departure, whether they are travelling alone, as a couple or as a group, and crucially what age they are. All of the cruise lines say the average age is falling. But the slide is barely discernible. Europeans however tend to cruise younger. Currently the average cruise age is the mid 40s in Spain and Italy, 51 in the United States, and 62 in England.

Shore excursions are the reasons that the Med has become the new Caribbean. Europe has an array of interesting cities a night sailing away from each other. Unlike Caribbean (or crucially, Alaskan) shore excursions there is lots to do and in some cities up to 20 different excursions to sell to cruise clients. Cruise companies who used to reposition their ships from the Caribbean to Alaska for summer first started to chose Europe instead in the early noughties. Then came cheaper trans-Atlantic fares and the first stirrings of interest in cruise in European countries. Shore excursions are a valuable revenue earner for the shipping line, for ground handlers and for agents who sell ancillary product. Hence the number of cruise ships plying their trade on the Med has increased rapidly. The Irish clients who used to (paradoxically) get a Caribbean cruise cheaper than a European one, have been watching this with interest. There is more capacity on the Med and more packages to sell, often at terrific prices. Since 2006 the five largest cruise ships in the world were built in Europe and brought across the Atlantic to ply their trade out of Fort Lauderdale.

Now two of them are back, along with several of the previous generation of biggest ships in the world. Now the key ports of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Cittavecchia, Copenhagen, Palma de Majorca and Southampton are hosts to several huge ships at once. The state of the art embarkation terminals at these ports and the easy airport transfers made cruising more accessible than it had been before. Europe’s itineraries cluster around the principle cities Ajaccio, Ancona, Argostoli, Armonia, Barcelona, Bari, Catania, Civitavecchia, Corfu, Corfù, Dubrovnik, Genoa, Goulette, Ibiza, Istanbul, Izmir, Katakolon, Kotor, Livorno, Mallorca, Marseille, Mykonos, Naples, Palermo, Palma, Piraeus, Salerno, Santorini, Valencoa, Valletta and Venice, The access points to Athens and Rome can be grimy and industrial, as can the port areas of cities like Genoa, but there are spectacular ports for entry and departure like Venice.

Entry level cruise for an Irish person has changed too. It used to be a small and older ship, including the ships from the likes of Fred Olsen that used to call to Dublin. Now it is more likely to be one of the biggies from Royal Caribbean, MSC, Princess or NCL. Another change is that the Middle East is now a base so that ships such as MSC Lirica and RCCL’s Brilliance of the Seas are repositioning from Abu Dhabi and Dubai rather than across the Atlantic. A big advantage of the cruise lines moving ships to Europe in the spring and back in the autumn to the Caribbean is repositioning cruises. These tend to be long on sea days and short on port calls, and can cost as little as $50 a day. Allow plenty of time, beware of bad weather on trans-Atlantic crossings and expect an older crowd.

You cannot have escaped fuss when the Quantum of the Seas launched in November. The 4,180-passenger next-generation ship launches a new class for Royal Caribbean; its 2,090 cabins include 373 virtual balconies. This month it will be followed by Anthem of the Seas, which is much more relevant to the Irish market because it will spend its inaugural season in England, followed by Ovation of the Seas, which will launch later next year. Styled by the cruise line as a giant new musical-themed “mega ship”, Anthem of the Seas, shares Quantum’s reputation as the most technologically advanced cruise ship on teh water and the advanced ever to be based in Europe It will offer cruises to the Mediterranean before moving to Fort Lauderdale for the winter months. At a cost of €170,000 per berth, Anthem of the Seas also is one of the most architecturally and technologically advanced ships ever built.

The only difference between Quantum and Anthem will be the Broadway show. Anthem will have We Will Rock You as against Mamma Mia on Quantum. Otherwise it is the same bells and whistles, and do those bells ring, Quantum class “firsts at sea” include a skydiving experience and the North Star, a jewel like capsule that extends 300 feet above the ocean and over the sides of the ship to deliver 360-degree views for guests, transformative venues include the largest indoor sports and entertainment complex at sea with bumper cars, roller skating and the cruise line’s largest and most advanced staterooms ever. The new, larger staterooms enable innovation in design, storage and comfort including the industry’s first virtual balconies, effectively meaning the end of inside cabins. Sales for Anthem of the Seas are the fastest seeling for a new ship on the Irish and British market, according to Ben Bouldin. Two-thirds of early bookings on Anthem of the Seas were for premium balcony and suite accommodation. He quotes Adam Morgan when he described Royal Caribbean as a safe challenger brand. “We have to do is really put ourselves out there. We are probably the best funded challenger brand in the world and we have got to take consumers on a journey and show them that we are so much more than what we were in the past.”

Guests who book on select holidays on the new Anthem of the Seas can enjoy gratuities and select drinks packages included into the price of their holiday. An eight-night cruise throughout France and Spain costs from €1,599 per person (based on two people sharing an interior stateroom). Price includes flights from Dublin, transfers,gratuities, a select or soda drinks package per person and an eight-night cruise departing from Southampton (England), and calling at Vigo (Spain), Gijon (Spain), Bilbao (Spain), Paris (Le Havre, France), before returning to Southampton (England) for the flight home. irish travel agents will be travelling to the launch of Anghem of the seas takes place on April 2022 in Southampton.

The move toward larger and larger ships is less important as the 22 6launches in 2015 include river and smaller specialty ships and the growth of niche cruising. But size still matters. Royal Caribbean has ordered two new 5,400 passenegr Oasis class ships on top of another 4,100passenger Quantum Class ships to follow Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. Most excitement f the spring surrounds Harmony of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s next Oasis-class cruise ship, set to debut in April 2016. Features include three waterslides, the line’s first, that start from the top-deck Pool and Sports Zone and twist and turn down three decks into one of two pools. One of the slides will feature a Champagne bowl that swirls riders around as they approach the end of the slide. Seven neighbourhoods are featured including the signature Boardwalk and Central Park spaces. The Boardwalk on Harmony will reportedly feature a classic games arcade, a kids-only climbing play area and a Starbucks cafe. Passengers will be offered a choice of two Dynamic Dining option. At 227,000 gross tons, Harmony will weigh 1,718 tons more than the current record-holder.. While the details for Hamrony were being finalised, construction on Royal Caribbean’s fourth Oasis-class ship officially began with a steel cutting at the STX France shipyard in Saint-Nazaire.

Eight large ships were delivered in 2007, four in 2008, eight in 2009, six in 2010, six in 2011 seven in 2012, six in 2013 and four each in in 201 and 2015. Royal Caribbean will base all three of its Oasisclass cruise ships in Florida in 2016. That same summer Anthem of the Seas will sail its first summer season out of Cape Liberty, visiting Bermuda. Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas will sail alternate seven-night Western and Eastern Caribbean itineraries out of Port Everglades. In autumn 2016 Harmony of the Seas, which launches April 2016, will not sail Caribbean itineraries to begin with, but will replace Oasis of the Seas in Port Everglades in autumn 2016 when Oasis of the Seas moves to its new winter homeport of Port Canaveral. Features on Norwegian Escape, to launch in November, include two restaurants from celebrity chef Jose Garces, a craft beer hall from Miamibased craft brewery Wynwood and two new Broadway shows — After Midnight and Million Dollar Quartet. International gourmet dishes will be available in Food Republic, located in former cabin space, now an extended Waterfront on Deck 8. Norwegian’s first swine bar will be the Cellars, a Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar. The Caribbean (35.5pc) will lead global cruise ship capacity in 2015, followed by .the Mediterranean (19.5pc), Baltic (10.6pc), Asia (6pc), Australia (6pc), Alaska (4.6pc) S America (2.6pc) and other markets (15pc).

Areport by David O’Grady’s etravel.ie says that Irish people book premium cruises at a greater rate than budget cruises. The report says 58pc of their cruise sales are for four-star ships and 35pc are for five-star ships. The report estimates 35,000 passengers from Ireland are expected to cruise this year, up 20pc since 2014 and 42pc of Irish cruisers are now under 40. The average price paid in 2015 for a fly cruise package was €1,476 in 2015 versus €1,383 in 2014 and stateroom sales breakdown to approximately 65pc balconies, 28pc inside and 7pc ocean view. So far in 2016 the trend seems to be upwardly mobile to the 5 and 6 star luxury liners like Celebrity, Silversea, Cunard and Crystal Cruises.

They say cruise sales are up as much as 46pc for some agents. David O’Grady says: “The world has changed. Tastes have changed. “Modern luxury is airy spaces with all the right, tasteful details, restaurants where the design is just as important as the cuisine, intuitive service with a keen eye for detail, and doing as much or as little as you choose. “Cruise ships are often referred to as floating hotels and in some cases they are more like floating cities. You can choose the massive ships like Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas which can carry almost 8000 passengers and crew, or a smaller intimate river cruises which carry less than one hundred passengers

Extra Extra – More expensive dining option

For the first time on a major cruise ship, pay restaurants will outnumber free ones on the new Norwegian Escape. There are still eight restaurants with complimentary dining, including Taste and O’Sheehan’s (the ex CEO’s name still adorns the Irish pub), but there are ten premium restaurants. Some of the premium restaurants will introduce a la carte pricing. When the controversial 18pc charge was raised at the press conference it was stridently defended by Chief Operating Officer for Norwegian Brand Andy Stuart as being below the average service charge in NCL’s main market, the USA.

He explained that the decision to raise the daily service charges twice in one season was part of the change in perspective brought by new management and said that the move to a la carte dining and premium restaurants was enabling NCL to bring more choice to customers. “The move to al a carte is a great one,” Stuart said, “it is what people it is used to. Not everyone will have an appetizer, main course and a dessert and wants a cover charge.” “If people feel more comfortable with certainty and a cover charge we have “ “We have introduced a range of dining packages, you can buy a three night , four night, five night, six night, seven night dining package.” “We are offering more choices to our guests rather than less choice and we are offering a better experience across these venues. This ship represents a n ext step in the evolution of the product, bringing more choice, more freedom, more flexibility.”

CRUISE LINE UPCOMING BUILDS 2016

  • Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas 4,100 pax May
  • Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas 5,400 pax May
  • Carnival Vista, 4,000 pax, March 12
  • Regent Explorer, 738 pax
  • Holland America Koningsdam 2,660 pax March
  • AidaPrima 3,250 pax March
  • Viking Sky 944 pax Summer
  • Seabourn Encore 604 pax autumn
  • Unnamed Star Cruises, 3,360 pax
  • TUI Mein Schiff 5 2500 pax 2017
  • Viking Sky 944 pax Feb
  • Norwegian Bliss 4,200 pax Spring
  • Unnamed Princess Cruises, 3,560 pax summer
  • MSC Meraviglia 4,500 pax May 2017
  • Unnamed MSC Seaside 5,300 pax November
  • TUI Mein Schiff 6 2500 pax
  • Silverseas Silver Muse 596 pax April 2018
  • Seabourn Ovation 604 pax spring
  • Blue Star Titanic II, 2,345 pax
  • Unnamed Royal Caribbean Oasis class 5,400 pax Summer
  • Unnamed Carnival, 3,954 pax summer
  • Unnamed Norwegian 4,260 pax summer ,
  • Unnamed Crystal Exclusive class ship 1,000
  • Celebrity Project Edge class ship 2,900
  • TUI Mein Schiff 7 2500 pax
  • Unnamed Holland America 2,660 pax March
  • Unnamed MSC Seaside 5,300 pax May 2019
  • Unnamed Royal Caribbean Oasis class 5,400 pax spring
  • Unnamed MSC Meraviglia sister ship 4,500 pax
  • Unnamed Norwegian, 4,260 pax summer
  • Unnamed Costa 6,600 pax
  • Unnamed Crystal Exclusive class ship 1,000
  • TUI Mein Schiff 8 2500 pax
  • Unnamed Saga 540 pax
  • Carnival Corp nine cruise ships 2019-22 2020
  • Unnamed Celebrity Cruises Project Edge class ship 2,900 pax
  • Unnamed Costa, 6,600 pax
  • Unnamed China Xiamen, 2,000 pax
  • Unnamed Virgin Xiamen, 2,800 pax
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