Cruise lines are leaning towards Europe for 2011
Surprises from Carnival and NCL
Just when you think you understand exactly what the cruise lines are thinking, they do something completely different. Two years ago we were all eagerly awaiting the three largest cruise corporations building their largest cruise ships ever; Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, Carnival's Dream and NCL's Norwegian Epic.
Last year you could hardly talk anyone into a European cruise and Alaska was even worse. The Caribbean was the hot spot where everyone wanted to go. As a result, we were not surprised that each one of these brand new ships - slated to debut within six months of each other (Carnival Dream 11-12-09, Oasis 11-22-09 and Norwegian Epic coming in May of 2010) was scheduled for the Caribbean market.
Yes, that implied a lot of new capacity going to the Caribbean, but we saw each ship deployed to a different home port for some level of diversity.
After much deliberation and bargaining, Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades won the title "Home to Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world." NCL chose to place Norwegian Epic in Miami; an accommodating cruise port close to the NCL home office. Carnival surprised us by placing their largest and newest cruise ship ever, Carnival Dream, in Port Canaveral some 300 miles north of Miami.
Carnival's was a bold move, designed to avoid head to head competition with both Oasis and NCL's Epic and also making Dream available to the substantial drive market throughout the southern states.
But suddenly Caribbean fortunes are changing and Europe is back in vogue for 2011. Carnival just announced that Carnival Magic, the sister ship to Carnival Dream set to debut May, 2011 in Barcelona, will stay in Europe to operate seven, nine and 12-day cruises from May through October, the first full season of Mediterranean cruises for Carnival in three years.
Norwegian Epic is set to debut in New York in May of 2010 as the largest NCL ship ever built at 150,000-tonnes and a passenger capacity of 4500. She will sail to her permanent home in Miami for a year of Caribbean cruising. But NCL also just shocked us by announcing that Norwegian Epic will also sail to Europe for Mediterranean cruising during the summer of 2011. She will set sail for Europe on May 7, 2011 and stay through October 2011.
Epic will sail a series of 22 seven-day Western Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona through October 16, 2011. A 13-day transatlantic sailing from Barcelona back to Miami, Florida is scheduled for October 23, 2011. Back in Miami, Epic will resume seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruises from November 5, 2011.
Carnival Magic will also wrap up her European Season in October 2011 and will sail to Port Canaveral for the first time for alternating cruises with Carnival Dream to the Eastern and Western Caribbean.
What does all of this mean? First of all, this is great news for Royal Caribbean whose Oasis and Allure of the Seas are too big to sail on any other itineraries than the ones they have scheduled (alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean). These ships will now have much less competition for mega-ship Caribbean cruising in the summer of 2011.
What remains to be seen is the amount of demand for Carnival Magic and Norwegian Epic in the Mediterranean. Obviously the European market is growing faster than any of us realized, but whether these ships will be filled with Americans or Europeans could vary a great deal, depending on the state of the economy and the price of fuel (for airfare to Europe) by the time summer 2011 rolls around.
What also remains to be seen is the fate of Alaska. 2008 had a record number of ships there, but with a $50 head tax and an overcapacity of berths the pricing for the region was so soft that most cruise lines decided to pull at least some of their ships out. But by 2011 that head tax could be repealed, the price of fuel could be lower (some experts predict the price of oil per barrel could drop by 50%) and there could be far fewer ships there. This means Alaska could end up being a surprisingly profitable cruise region in 2011 - if all the planets are aligned, of course.
The winds of change - isn't that what makes travel so interesting?
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