Asia - The New Cruise Capitol?

| Tuesday, 12 Mar. 2013

The new Shanghai cruise terminal is one of the most futuristic buildings in the world

As the U.S.-based cruise lines continue to grow we see interesting shifts in the regional deployment of cruise ships. While some cruise lines are continuing to bet mostly on America, mostly basing their newest ships in the U.S., other cruise lines are looking to permanently place more ships in distant world regions, not for the benefit of American cruisers, but to attract more of the local population as a new clientele.

You already know about the huge migration of cruise ships to Australia that took place in 2011 and 2012 by cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Princess and Holland America. The next region expected to be tapped as a source of new cruise passengers is Asia.

Right now, both Hong Kong and Singapore are boasting about beautiful new cruise ports that are each capable of handling Oasis-sized ships. In the case of Hong Kong, estimates for the cost of this terminal to be completed in June of 2013 are anywhere from $500-million to $1-billion. It is said The Singapore Marina Bay Cruise Centre, completed in 2011, can accommodate two of the 220,000-ton vessels at the same time - and in fact one of the promotional drawings from the architectural firm who designed this terminal depicts an Oasis-class vessel docked at the pier.

The question here is whether it is a coincidence that both terminals chose to give their terminals the same topmost capacity as the Oasis-class ship - the largest cruise ships in the world. There are only two Oasis-class vessels in the world right now, and they are both committed to long-term berthing contracts with Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But Royal Caribbean has already signed an agreement with the French STX shipyard to build a third, yet to be named, Oasis class vessel of 220,000-tons to be completed in 2015, and the line has not yet made any mentions on where the ship will be deployed.

Have you been to Asia and the Orient? Tell us here: Asia Cruise Forum

What is the Cruise Potential for Asia?

Like Florida, the attraction of Asia as a center of cruise activity is its very densely populated coastline with close proximity to many attractive destinations such as other world-class cities; Shanghai, Tokyo and Macau, as well as beautiful and exotic smaller nations like Thailand, Indonesia, Viet Nam and the newly opened Myanmar (Burma).

So, there is a huge potential for mainstream cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess and Holland America to access the Asian locals; assuming they are the kind of people who will enjoy the cruise experience. Fortunately, they seem to be good candidates, although the experience will vary from what Americans receive. This means it is important for you to understand something; that when you start to see these cruise lines offering cruises in Asia, you want to make sure the cruise you choose is tailored for American tastes; not primarily for the Asian culture.

Princess Cruises, which plans to have two ships in Asia in 2013 has commented that its popular "champagne waterfall" attraction will be joined by a Japanese tradition called kagamiwari; the opening of a barrel of saki. Princess also said it will provide crew members who speak Japanese, that the dining room will now offer sushi, that breakfast fare will include traditionally Japanese favorites like steamed rice, miso soup and tamagoyaki (rolled) omelets. There will also be a noodle bar (it's perfectly polite to slurp), a sake bar and a variety of Oriental teas available. It appears the ships will try to cater to both locals and regular Princess cruisers.

Holland America also has two ships already scheduled to be in the region for the 2013 and 2014 season; the Rotterdam and the Volendam. Both ships will operate 14-day itineraries out of Singapore visiting Malacca, Penang, Porto Malai, Malaysia, Phuket (Thailand), Rangoon (Burma) and Port Blair, India. Other HAL cruises will sail 14-day itineraries that alternate between Singapore and Hong Kong.

Importantly, Holland America's spokesperson, Erik Elvejord, told me, "We are planning our Asia cruises to appeal to our regular guests. We do get folks from the local region on cruises, too, but that's not a huge part. The audience is mostly North American as well as Australian and European. The Rotterdam for example is coming from Rotterdam and heading back to the city. Some folks could be on a combined series of cruises as we market that way, too."

Have you been to Asia and the Orient? Tell us here: Asia Cruise Forum

Royal Caribbean in Asia

Royal Caribbean is known to approach a foreign market largely with the idea of attracting the local population. For example, many of the line's European itineraries include resort areas popular for Europeans, but not necessarily ones that Americans would want to see on a trip to Europe.

When Royal Caribbean rolls into Asia in a big way, it is possible that you will barely recognize the cruise experience if you are American. For example, the Royal Caribbean web site based in Singapore promotes destinations where I have very little personal experience. When I see this on a mainstream cruise line I tend to think this cruise is meant more for Asians than for me.

Royal Caribbean - Singapore shows us Busan, Otaru, Fukuoka and Phu My as the "featured destinations." Some of the descriptions leave me less than enthralled, "No trip to Fukuoka would be complete without trying the world famous ramen noodles." So, I do not even know where this port is located, regionally, but I know it has great ramen noodles.

Have you been to Asia and the Orient? Tell us here: Asia Cruise Forum

Most of the cruises in this region are three and four day cruises on Legend and Mariner of the Seas, and sail out of Singapore and Shanghai. There are some seven and eight-night cruises from Singapore and Shanghai to Japan, which is a fairly long distance.

But we already mentioned that both Singapore and Hong Kong have new cruise terminals that will accommodate an Oasis-class vessel. Will Royal Caribbean send the new Oasis-class ship currently scheduled to be delivered in 2015 to Asia? I guess it depends on how well the Asians take to cruising. One aspect of the potential of Asia as a market for any product cannot be ignored - it is one of the most densely populated areas of the world when you include India, China, Indonesia and the Pacific Rim.

Have you been to Asia and the Orient? Tell us here: Asia Cruise Forum

Best for Americans - Upscale Ships

If you are on a budget then I like the Holland America approach of longer cruises catering largely to western culture. Also, the small but upscale cruise lines like Oceania and Azamara and the luxury lines of Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea and Regent have been going to Asia for many years, and while they always have hosts onboard who speak the regional languages, I don't feel they will change the experience largely away from what appeals mostly to American cruisers. So, if you want an Asian cruise where you will not feel alienated by a large number of people from a foreign culture onboard, you may want to book the more upscale cruise lines who respect what Americans expect to experience onboard the cruise regarding cuisine, service and enrichment (lectures and entertainment). They also understand that the Americans onboard flew a long distance to see the sights, and so they offer destination intensive cruises with small tour groups and knowledgeable guides well-versed in English.

Have you been to Asia and the Orient? Tell us here: Asia Cruise Forum

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