Like the stock market, there are two cycles in the cruise industry, growth and consolidation. When a cruise line is in the growth phase they are building new ships. When they are in the consolidation phase they are not building new ships, but they are usually focused on making the ships they have in service more attractive by redecorating and adding new programs or amenities.
Right now some cruise lines are growing mightily, while other lines are consolidating. The significance of what this means to the average passenger can help you when selecting your next cruise.
Cruise lines grow by adding new ships to their fleet. If they are new designs, this means the cruise line is improving its offerings with bigger and better cruise experiences. They get the benefit of increased publicity and increased capacity to eventually add more profit. On the other hand, sometimes cruise line grow just by adding ships of an existing design. Either way, the drawback is that they have to hire new people and also take experienced crewmembers from their older ships to work on the new ones.
In most cases, the crew and staff who move over to the ships with groundbreaking, new designs are the best workers the cruise line has in their entire employee roster. This means that most of the older ships in the fleet lose some of their best people and that these empty positions are often filled with new hires with much less experience. This means that when a cruise line is growing, sailing on its older vessels can sometimes be a less than ideal experience.
Now, in the old days, cruising on a brand new ship was also considered risky because of the unexpected problems, so it was often recommended to wait a few months before you sailed on a new ship. These days, however, shipbuilding is so predictable and sophisticated that cruise lines have become very adept at pre-training staff on new systems before they are put into service. For the passengers, sailing on a brand new cruise ship design can be as exciting as cruising gets.
Conversely, just because a cruise line that is not adding new ships it does not mean it is languishing. A break from building new ships gives a cruise line the chance to consolidate its existing ships. They often invest to revamp, redecorate and re-think the onboard experience. Rather than losing the people onboard to greener pastures, the staff onboard can use their experience to make that ship's onboard experience much better.
It is no coincidence that the cruise lines currently announcing upgrades to their existing fleets; Princess, Carnival and Holland America, are also the same cruise lines that are not about to introduce radically new ship designs within the near future.
Holland America just announced it is revamping five of its oldest ships, taking the somewhat quiet atriums and turning them into entertainment centers with new lounges and nightlife venues.
Princess just announced that one of its oldest ships, Star Princess, received a new "Piazza" with an international café, a new wine bar, an adults-only "Sanctuary" and a new 'Movies Under the Stars" outdoor movie screen. The ship has a new Internet Café and library and all of the cabins are getting flat-screen televisions.
Carnival is in the process of upgrading all of it Fantasy-class vessels built in the 1990s with new water parks, coffee bars, new atrium bars, stateroom upgrades and a new adults-only area also called "Serenity."
Cruise Lines That are Currently Growing
Meanwhile, there are other cruise lines that are currently growing, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Oceania, Seabourn, Silversea and MSC Cruises.
Celebrity is about to launch a brand new cruise ship, in a brand new class, in just about two months. Celebrity Solstice is groundbreaking in design and the first new class for Celebrity in almost 10 years. The ship will be Celebrity's biggest yet and have features never built into any cruise ship in existence.
A ship like Solstice adds capacity to the cruise line, as well as adding to its public profile and reputation. This means a lot is at stake for Celebrity to make this ship introduction as successful as possible, especially when you consider three more ships just like it are already on order. Expect Celebrity to have its best people working on this ship, and that in addition to the cost of the hardware (the ship) itself, that a good deal more investment will go into publicizing its debut.
Royal Caribbean is in the process of building what will be the world's biggest and most innovative cruise ship ever created. Oasis of the Seas is scheduled for debut in late 2009. I can only imagine what kind of planning and cost Royal Caribbean is putting into this project. It is extremely important to do this project right, especially in these somewhat uncertain economic times. This is one project everyone is watching with a great deal of interest. A new ship like Oasis comes along only once in a decade at best.