By Paul Motter
Last week we discussed how the new arrival generation of cruise ships, which came into service between 2008 and January of 2011, were all ordered before the economic meltdown of late 2008. From Celebrity Solstice through Silversea Silver Spirit, Oasis of the Seas and Oceania Cruises' new Marina, the emphasis was on improving the cruise experience with bigger ships and far more amenities.
Now we have a new world reality - a far less robust domestic economy along with a slow-down in the rate of growth for cruising as a vacation option in the U.S. Meanwhile cruising is just starting to boom overseas where it is growing at a rate similar to what we saw in the U.S. during the 1990s. Energy prices are going higher and there are new environmental restrictions on sea-going vessels worldwide.
As a result, not many new ships have been ordered since 2009, in fact for U.S.-based cruise lines we only have solid orders from three major cruise lines; NCL, Princess and now Royal Caribbean, which just confirmed its new build order last Friday. These new ships will be different from previous cruise ships in at least one substantial way - the newest priority for cruise lines is energy efficiency, and one way to achieve that is by packing in more passengers.
NCL was the first to announce, in October 2010, that it has ordered two new ships, making the announcement very soon after the arrival of its newest and biggest class of ship yet, Norwegian Epic. The new NCL ships will be built in Meyer Werft of Papenburg, Germany, a different shipyard from Epic (built STX of St. Nazaire, France). The new vessels will come in at 143,500-tons and will have 4000 passenger berths, meaning it will likely be able to carry as many as 5000 passengers easily. Two ships have been ordered, the first to be delivered in 2013 and the second in 2014. These vessels have a berth capacity passenger/space ratio of 35, somewhat lower than average even for the most mainstream cruise ships in service today.
Next with an announcement to build two new vessels was Princess Cruise Line, placing the order for two new ships coming in at 141,000-tons, the largest Princess ships to be built yet. These ships will carry 3600 passenger berths, putting the total potential capacity at close to 4500 guests. The berth capacity passenger/space ratio for these ships is 39 - somewhat lower than the average Princess ship today which comes in at 41 (although the newest Princess ships, such as Ruby Princess, have a PSR closer to 36).
Finally, the new Royal Caribbean ships just ordered will be the largest of the next generation of new ships coming in at 158,000-tons. Two ships of what has been dubbed the "Project Sunshine" class are on order for delivery in 2014 and early 2015. The berth capacity is 4100 guests, which means a total passenger capacity of over 5000 is probable.
We know very little about any of these new ships, although NCL did provide an external rendering of its new class. The new NCL ships appear to be a much more streamlined version of the Epic class, which was considered a very boxy and visually unappealing design, both inside and out.
It is likely, however, that internally the new NCL and the new Princess ships will be very similar to what the lines already offer on existing ships - but with more decks for more staterooms. For NCL look for a "Free-style" design not unlike Norwegian Epic however with more traditional staterooms and larger theater facilities. For Princess we expect the line to continue the tradition of stylish interior décor and a continuation of the concept of providing a number of smaller main dining rooms. We expect the staterooms to remain about the same size, but look for new efficiencies in materials such as more LED lighting and possibly smaller windows.
The Royal Caribbean ships are the ones for which we expect the most surprises, solely because Royal Caribbean has a tradition of making ships with innovative features. Royal Caribbean has enjoyed tremendous success with its Oasis-class ships and one apparent feature is the use of internal open space with inward facing verandah staterooms. Does the name "Project Sunshine" portend the possibility of continuing this tradition, however on a somewhat smaller scale?
You can comment on the new Royal Caribbean ships in our forum: Royal Caribbean Orders Two All New Ships.