Ships' productions put Cuban culture in the spotlight
Dancers and musicians perform in "Amor Cubano" at the opening of Carnival Cruise Line's new rehearsal studio in Davie, Fla. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Cuba, the hottest cruise destination of the last year, has now become the hottest theme in cruise ship entertainment.
The island's recent opening to U.S. tourism is inspiring show producers and casting directors at several of the Miami-based cruise lines, and production teams are using it as a springboard to explore Cuban culture and stress the authenticity of the music, costuming and overall approach.
Each of the three contemporary cruise brands in South Florida either has a Cuba-
themed show on its ships or has one in development.
Royal Caribbean International's "Bailamos" is already being staged on the Empress of the Seas as that ship sails from Tampa on itineraries that include Havana. Carnival Cruise Line is shifting a production of its "Amor Cubano" show to the Carnival Paradise when it begins Cuba sailings in June.
Norwegian Cruise Line, meanwhile, is preparing an ambitious show developed by Tony Award-winning choreographer Warren Carlyle for the debut of its next ship, the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss, in 2018.
It was perhaps telling that when Carnival held an open house for its new 45,000-square-foot entertainment rehearsal hall, Carnival Studios, in Davie, Fla., earlier this month, the show it chose to highlight was "Amor Cubano."
The show is a blend of Spanish and English language songs, sung and danced by a cast of 12 and backed by a four-piece Cuban band. It is performed against a backdrop of scenes from Cuba projected on a 480-square-foot LED screen.
Kerry Stables, director of creative development in Carnival's entertainment department, said the show was proposed in 2015 by Peter Flynn, a Broadway director who had done five shows previously with Carnival's creative team.
Stables said Carnival chose the show because it only had one other Latin show in its repertoire, which was a "Latin pop crossover style."
In contrast, "Amor Cubano" is authentic enough that audience members born on the island have cried during some of the numbers, said Sarah Beth Reno, Carnival's entertainment vice president.
The show, which debuted on the Carnival Vista, was added to the Carnival Glory in the fall of 2016 and will open on the Carnival Paradise next month.
"Once the announcement was made about the Paradise going to Cuba, it was a given that we should add the show to that ship, as well, to truly expand the guests' experience while enjoying Cuba first hand," Stables said.
Royal Caribbean's cruise to Cuba aboard the Empress of the Seas features two shows that have elements of Cuban entertainment. The first, "Bailamos," which means "let's dance" in Spanish, showcases Latin music in a broad range of styles, from nostalgic Hollywood to new musicals on Broadway.
Empress of the Seas
The second, called "Three," is a tribute to showgirls of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The costuming, with its towering feather headdresses, is reminiscent of those that tourists in Havana can see if they visit the legendary Tropicana Cabaret for its two-hour outdoor extravaganza.
At Norwegian Cruise Line, the entertainment team has been working for nine months on an original musical.
"It's basically going to be a celebration of Cuban culture and Cuban music," said Richard Ambrose, Norwegian's vice president of entertainment. "It's also going to be [cast with] Cuban or Cuban-American artists. So it's really going to be an authentic feel, under the helm of Broadway's best."
Ambrose said the costuming will be done by New York-based Cuban-American fashion designer Isabel Toledo, while the art direction and scenic design will go to her husband, artist Ruben Toledo.
The show is targeted for the Norwegian Bliss, which debuts in June 2018 in Seattle with "Jersey Boys" as its lead show. Ambrose said the Cuban production will be equally exciting but in a different vein.
"We think this is going to blow the roof off entertainment, not only at sea but everywhere in the world," he said.
Royal Caribbean chief warns Brexit could increase cruise prices
by Natasha Salmon May 26th 2017, 17:36
Gallery: Clia Conference 2017
Brexit could affect freedom of movement and prices of cruises, Clia chairman Stuart Leven has said.
Speaking at the annual Clia Conference in Southampton Leven, Royal Caribbean International’s vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said Brexit would impact cruise in three ways.
“Firstly it could impact the freedom of our guests and passengers to cross borders, the second is freedom of our staff and our crew to cross borders.
“The third is the impact it has in what we charge because there is the customs union that allows us to take goods on ships from one country to the next without charge or taxation. And they are the three main areas which could see change due to Brexit.”
Leven said the main risk from the changes by Brexit will also come when customers book their holidays during the process until 2019 but it was down to agents to maintain confidence in cruise and travel market.
“At some point next year people will be booking their holidays for 2019 and in doing so there will be a lot of uncertainty around whether people will need visas to go to Europe.
“You as travel agents need to reassure them that it is business as usual, it is alright and make sure we don’t get a short turnover on the bookings which none of us want.”
In his role as chairman for Clia in UK and Ireland Leven said he was working with the Abta committee in making sure ‘the cruise industry is represented’ in government negotiations.
Norwegian Bliss' keel laying ceremony held at MEYER WERFT in germany
Meyer Werft Press Release
First block placed in the building hall for Norwegian Bliss, signifying the start of major construction for first ever custom-built ship for the ultimate Alaska cruising experience Norwegian Cruise Line and MEYER WERFT today celebrated the keel laying of Norwegian Bliss at the yard’s state of the art facility in Papenburg, Germany. During the ceremony, the first of 90 blocks that will comprise the 167,800 gross ton vessel was lifted into the covered building hall, officially marking the start of the ship’s assembly. Norwegian Bliss is due for delivery in April 2018 and will be the first cruise ship custom built with features and amenities for the ultimate Alaska cruise experience. Andy Stuart, Norwegian Cruise Line’s president and chief executive officer, was present in the hall and laid the traditional “lucky coin”, etched with the outline of the ship’s signature hull designed by wildlife artist Wyland, before the first block was lowered into place. “We are overjoyed to celebrate the keel laying of Norwegian Bliss, our sixteenth ship and sure to be our most innovative ship to date,” Stuart said. “We have seen overwhelming anticipation and excitement from our guests and travel partners for Norwegian Bliss, from her awe-inspiring custom-designed spaces like her observation lounges to her elegant suites in The Haven by Norwegian®, and we are all thrilled to see this magnificent ship begin to come to life with the craftsmanship, precision and cutting edge technology that MEYER WERFT consistently delivers.” The third ship in the line’s Breakaway-Plus class, Norwegian Bliss will accommodate 4,000 guests and will be the 12th ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet to be built by MEYER WERFT. “We are very happy to celebrate the start of the block assembly for another new build with Norwegian Cruise Line. This ship will be another milestone in our collaboration to create most efficient and innovative cruise ships”, said Tim Meyer, Managing Director of MEYER WERFT. During her inaugural summer 2018 season, Norwegian Bliss will sail weekly seven-day Alaska cruises each Saturday from the recently expanded Pier 66 Cruise Terminal in Seattle, offering guests the premier way to see America’s last frontier, while also providing all of the innovative features, entertainment, signature dining and onboard experiences that Norwegian Cruise Line is known for around the globe. The ship’s itinerary will feature calls in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia, along with scenic glacier cruising. Norwegian Bliss will sail her inaugural Winter season beginning in November 2018, sailing seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruises each Saturday from PortMiami, featuring calls in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Tortola, British Virgin Islands and Nassau, Bahamas. Norwegian Bliss’ curated design will offer guests the freedom and flexibility to “Imagine Bliss” and create their ideal experience at sea, with a wide variety of accommodations including luxurious suites in The Haven by Norwegian®, Studio staterooms for solo travelers with virtual ocean views, and new connecting staterooms ideal for large groups and families traveling together. Norwegian Bliss will also feature two observation lounges, including one exclusive to guests of The Haven®, perfect for whale watching in Alaska or taking in sunsets in the Caribbean. Norwegian Cruise Line will take its award-winning entertainment programming to the next level aboard Norwegian Bliss, bringing the best of Broadway to sea, with the 2006 Tony Award® winner for “Best Musical,” Jersey Boys, and a completely new and original show created by Tony Award®-winning director and choreographer Warren Carlyle, headlining on the ship’s main stage, the Bliss Theater. Norwegian Bliss will also feature a new theatrical cocktail hour experience, Happy Hour Prohibition-The Musical. Alibi, the ship’s reimagined comedy club and nightlife venue will feature two comedy performances six nights a week. Rock and roll will take center stage at The Cavern Club, an outpost of the legendary Liverpool club where the Beatles’ performed frequently in the 1960s, with nightly live performances and a Beatles cover band singing hits like “Penny Lane,” “Yellow Submarine,” and more. Continuing its tradition of featuring original artwork on its ships’ hulls, Norwegian Cruise Line has commissioned Wyland, one of the world’s premier marine life artists, to design the hull art for Norwegian Bliss; the artwork will feature images of humpback whales, found in every ocean around the world. The ship’s hull will serve as a large canvas to showcase the importance of conservation and ocean preservation.
PHOTO: Amadeus Princess. (photo via Flickr/Lutz Blohm)
After Crystal Cruises decided to venture from the oceans to rivers, we speculated that other brands might follow suit, and now Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has: The UK company plans to sail the Brabant beginning in 2018.
Upon further inspection, it turns out the Brabant will actually be the 2006-built Amadeus Princess renamed for Fred. Olsen’s purposes. That means its presumably chartered program will more closely mimic how Celebrity Cruises once collaborated with Amras Cruises, or how Adventures by Disney is still partnering with AmaWaterways.
Crystal Cruises, on the other hand, started its Crystal River Cruises division with a permanent takeover of an existing riverboat followed by complete new-builds.
Either way, Crystal and Fred. Olsen will essentially be the only two ocean operators on the river. (Adventures by Disney doesn't quite count as an independent brand from Disney Cruise Line.)
So, again we ask: Might even more ocean cruise lines soon be inclined to roll down the river?
The river cruise market boom is beginning to slow a little. Ubiquitous Viking River Cruises only christened two of its signature Longships this year and does not have any additional new ones currently scheduled to launch next year. (It does have the Viking Ra, a heavily redesigned existing vessel, set to come online in Egypt in 2018, however.) Conversely, AmaWaterways is growing even bigger with the new double-wide AmaMagna planned for 2019.
With such characteristic ebbs and flows, there definitely remains room for other players to make a move.
European rivers often appear saturated with ships, but additional charter opportunities seem to abound. Major US companies like Carnival Corporation, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited and Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited are the most likely to consider, albeit likely with purpose-built riverboats.
The question is whether or not they would apply any of their current ocean brands to the river or if they would establish new lines for the purpose.
The decision would have to be made whether a Holland America River Line, Oceania River Cruises or Celebrity River Cruises make sense as example sub-brands for each of the big three corporations respectively.
Previously, it appeared that Norwegian might corporately want to stay out of the river market to give Crystal Cruises the edge with their link via Genting Group, but now the financial separation is growing wider, making direct competition fair game.
It’s still possible that the domestic brands would prefer to test the waters locally, however, heading out on the Mississippi over the Danube first. Getting loyalists to try a new product closer to home is always an easier sell. Then if it proved successful, it could be expanded abroad.
Otherwise, a completely new brand under one of the corporate umbrellas could be a better approach to drawing from several pools of loyalists at once to build up a new river cruise base.
Of course, the timeline for any of this is likely dependent on the success of another current experiment: Cuba.
As long as the Trump administration does not reverse relations with the island nation, ocean cruise lines are focused mostly on sending existing hardware there now and into the immediate future. Any likelihood that new river hardware and software is next established by such companies will likely be put on hold until they can better measure success or failure in the Caribbean.
In the meantime, keep looking to Crystal River Cruises and Fred. Olsen River Cruises to pave the potential way for others.
‘Star Trek: The Cruise II’ Further Detailed for 2018
The “Star Trek” franchise will once again set phasers to fun with “Star Trek: The Cruise II” setting sail twice in 2018.
Hosting both sailings will be George Takei on January 5-11 and January 11-17, 2018 aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jade.
“This will be the most interactive experience ever created between ‘Star Trek’ fans and actors,” said Takei, in a press release. “Come aboard and experience the voyage!”
The final lineup of fan favorites set to join Takei (on both cruises) include Vaughn Armstrong, Rene Auberjonois, Casey Biggs, LeVar Burton, Jeffrey Combs, Michael Dorn, John de Lancie, Jonathan Frakes, Max Grodenchik, Gates McFadden, Robert O’Reilly, John Paladin, Ethan Phillips, Robert Picardo, Armin Shimerman, Brent Spiner, Connor Trinneer and Nana Visitor.
Produced by Entertainment Cruise Productions, LLC, under license by CBS Consumer Products, the event will transform the Norwegian Jade with a franchise-inspired specialty restaurant and bar.
Sandrine’s II will be the sister restaurant to Chez Sandrine from “Star Trek: Voyager,” and 13 Forward will channel 10 Forward from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” There will also be a special “Star Trek: The Cruise” Museum filled with archival memorabilia.
The ship will sail roundtrip from Miami, Florida—though not quite at warp 9—to the ports of Roatan, Honduras; Harvest Caye, Belize and Costa Maya, Mexico.
Guests will have a chance to interact with the “Star Trek” crew via photo-ops and autographs sessions, as well as take a group picture specifically with George Takei (one per cabin). They will also have the opportunity to partake in plenty of special activities like Captain Sulu’s Soiree and other theme nights. There's even a Klingon Pub Crawl.
Other celebrity-led events onboard will encompass wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and vow renewals. Shoreside, actors will even host excursions in each port. A makeup artist will be on hand to transform passengers into characters, and live music will be performed by avant-garde synth-pop band Information Society.
Additional nightly shows will be performed by the celebrities themselves, and one can only hope Brent “Data” Spiner’s crossover—acting as a cruise director in the great comedy film “Out to Sea”—will somehow take center stage beyond his characterization of the android from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Pre-registration has already been secured by more than 4,000 fans, and the sailings are expected to sell out. Per person rates begin at $1,300 including meals, main stage events, parties, port charges, taxes and shipboard gratuities. Follow along at hashtag #StarTrekTheCruise.
Piraeus Port to invest €294 million to upgrade cruise facilities
Piraeus Port Authority aims to grow its homeporting business by expanding its facilities (Image: Piraeus Port Authority)
Piraeus Port Authority is to invest €294 million over a five-year period to upgrade its existing cruise infrastructure and boost its appeal to operators sailing in the East Mediterranean. Currently, Piraeus can berth between nine and eleven cruise ships simultaneously, using a total of 2.8 kilometres of quay.’s expansion plans include adding four new 400-metre cruises berths, adding a total of 1.65 kilometres of quay length and boosting the port’s capacity by roughly 50%. Other plans include building hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and other auxiliary services to enable Piraeus to become a homeport. “The planned infrastructure improvements will benefit the cruise sector overall by providing best-in-class customer service experience to the operators of the cruise ships as well as by enhancing the overall experience of their guests,” said Theodora Riga, PPA’s manager of strategic planning and marketing. “New value-added services for the cruise lines and passengers are at the core of PPA's vision to promote overall product awareness in the Chinese market, and act as a facilitator to capture higher volumes of tourists from the Far East.”
The Caribbean was the most popular destination for ocean cruisers last year, accounting for a 35 percent share of capacity. Next came the Mediterranean (18.3 percent) and Europe (11.1 percent) while Asia (9.2 percent), Australia/New Zealand/Pacific (6.1 percent) Alaska (4.2 percent) and South America (2.5 percent) rounded out the seven most-visited regions in 2016.
CLIA credits the positive growth to continued development in the Asian market as well as more than two dozen new ships joining its fleet in 2016, including nine new ocean vessels. The 26 new cruise ships introduced last year expanded passenger capacity by 28,000.
According to CLIA, capacity in Asia climbed to 9.2 percent last year, representing a 38 percent increase from 2015. What's more, Asian travelers are taking shorter cruises and taking them more frequently the trade association has found.
Beyond the booming Asian market and an ever-expanding fleet, CLIA president and CEO Cindy D'Aoust attributes the industry's growth to its ability to provide travelers with exactly what they're looking for.
"One of the many reasons that the cruise industry continues to thrive is because of the personalization it is able to offer to its guests from around the world," D’Aoust said in a statement. "Never before have I been a part of or seen an industry that is so good at listening and reacting to what its customers want, and this is why we are going to see our industry continue to grow."
As TravelPulse cruise expert Jason Leppert points out, cruise lines are also winning over the all-important millennial market with exciting onboard attractions and kid facilities for younger passengers traveling with children.
Unsurprisingly, CLIA projects another year of encouraging growth on the ocean: The association is forecasting 25.8 million global passengers for 2017.
Cruise lines have started to tear up their northern China itineraries following an order from the Chinese government to the country's travel agencies to stop selling itineraries that include South Korea.
The Chinese directive follows the announcement late last month by the South Korean and U.S. governments that components for a new U.S.-developed anti-missile system were to arrive in South Korea last week for installation.
Known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, it is designed to intercept missiles up to 125 miles away as a means of protecting South Korea from missile strikes by North Korea, which has undertaken a series of long-range missile tests in recent months and tested a nuclear weapon as recently as last September.
The Chinese and Russian governments have objected to the installation of the missile-defense system because it employs powerful radar technology that the two countries assert can see into their territories.
Japan and South Korea are the main cruise destinations reachable from northern China on the four- and five-day itineraries preferred by most Chinese. With Korea suddenly off limits, cruises operated for Chinese passengers out of ports such as Tianjin and Shanghai will now focus primarily on visiting Japan, experts said.
In a statement, Costa Cruises said it would "remove calls to South Korean ports for our upcoming cruises homeported out of China, replacing them with cruising at sea or calls to destinations in Japan."
Royal Caribbean International also said it will curtail visits to South Korean ports due to "recent developments regarding the situation in South Korea."
Delivery of the parts for the missile-defense system came as North Korea tested four missiles launched in the direction of Japan that fell into the sea.
Dwain Wall, an executive at CruisingStore.com and a consultant familiar with the Chinese market, said there is no question that the Chinese government has the authority to order Chinese travel companies to stop selling cruises to Korea.
"There is a very tight licensing and regulatory control over travel agencies" in China, Wall said. "It does impact cruise, but it's low season, thank God, and [the cruise lines have] been sort of able to regroup and change the ports to Japanese ports."
If China's ban persists into the busier summer months it could both overwhelm the port capacity in Japan and reduce demand for cruises in China because of the lack of destination variety.
Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said he could not predict how long the chill in China-Korea relations might last.
Stock analysts blamed news of the Korea tiff for a pull-back in cruise shares last week but said that it was excessive.
As a share of cruise lines' global capacity, the analysts said China accounts for 9% of RCCL's, 6% of Carnival Corp.'s and 4% to 5% of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings'. Further, they pointed out, not all of that capacity is sailing from north China.
Norwegian has no plans to reduce China service, Del Rio says
It's full speed ahead in China for Norwegian Cruise Line.
Despite recent announcements by other lines that ships once scheduled for year-round service in China would move to Australia for part of the year, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings chairman Frank Del Rio said his company has no plans to follow suit.
"I'm glad to see that the others are leaving," Del Rio said. "That leaves us perhaps the last man standing, and that'd be great. I'll take all the demand."
Del Rio's comments came during a conference call with analysts to discuss first-quarter financial results.
Cruise selling in China has been disruptedsince March by the Chinese government's move to halt travel to South Korea, a protest of a decision by the South Korean government to install a U.S.-made missile defense system.
"The disruption caused travel agents to be distracted from focusing on contracting charters further out into the year, then trying to book, in some cases rebook, [and] find new customers [for those] who no longer wanted to go on sailings that didn't include Korea," Del Rio said. "But it's also had a bit of a chilling effect on overall demand."
He added that sales for new cruises had started to pick up in the past two weeks. "The South Korea situation, we believe, is a temporary bump in the road, and time will tell," he said.
Norwegian Cruise Line is scheduled to start sailing the 3,883-passenger Norwegian Joy, its first ship custom-designed for the Chinese market, from Shanghai in late June.
Princess Cruises recently said that its Majestic Princess, also custom-built for the Chinese market, will be deployed to Australia for six months in 2018-19. The move follows the redeployment of the Sapphire Princess from China to Europe in the latter half of 2018.
Because Norwegian is new to the Chinese source market, Del Rio said he's being cautious about predicting the impact of the Norwegian Joy on the company's performance in the second half.
"So in many ways, all the good things that I have to say about how our business is operating on the other 24 ships is being somewhat tempered by the potential that could arise in China," Del Rio said.
A strong Wave
Del Rio said on the call that this year's Wave was "the best Wave season that we and likely the industry has experienced in quite some time." As a result, NCLH brands have fewer cabins to sell for the rest of 2017, and it expects higher prices on those bookings than last year.
NCLH, which also includes Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, posted Q1 net income of $61.9 million, compared with $73.2 million a year earlier. Revenue rose 6.8%, to a record $1.15 billion.
Del Rio attributed the net-income decline to higher-than-expected maintenance and repair costs, particularly for the Norwegian Star, which broke down in Australia for five days in February.
Outside of that, CFO Wendy Beck said the results were driven by "strong close-in demand in the Caribbean, coupled with strength in onboard revenue." Cuba itineraries are now available on all three brands, and "the performance of that itinerary is just astonishing," Del Rio said. NCLH is also doing better than it planned in Europe this year, which Del Rio attributed to a combination of less inventory to sell than at the same time last year and positive market conditions. "That is resulting in very, very strong sales in Europe at significantly higher prices than the same time last year," he said.
Costa Concordia captain loses final appeal against prison sentence
The captain of the Costa Concordia has lost his final appeal bid. Francesco Schettino was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2015 after a court found him guilty of manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and abandoning ship. On Friday the sentence was upheld by Italy’s highest criminal tribunal, the Court of Cassation. The ship capsized after hitting rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio in 2012 killing 32 people. Schettino had handed himself in to the Rebibbia prison in Rome after the verdict, according to the BBC. More than 4,000 passengers and crew were aboard the Costa Concordia during a Mediterranean cruise.
Pandas and Beauty Queens Lure Chinese Groups to Cruise Ships
Ovation of the Seas arrives in Hong Kong in June 2016. Photo: Royal Caribbean International
By Bloomberg News (Bloomberg) — Liu Jing wakes at 7, feeds her 84-year-old mother and two-year-old grandson and then spends the day watching the boy play in the playground, with breaks for meals and his afternoon nap and perhaps a little TV in the evening.
That’s not unusual for a Chinese retiree, many of whom play an instrumental role in raising grandkids, but Liu, 57, is on board the Costa Atlantica, a luxury cruise ship packed with activities and events that she largely ignores.
“I just don’t have time to do all these,” said Liu, 57, a Beijing resident who sailed with her husband, grandson and mother from Tianjin port late last year. “Everywhere you look on the cruise, you see middle-aged people like me, with small kids.”
Lines including Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp. have sent an armada of luxury vessels to China to tap the world’s fastest-growing market, but they face turbulent waters. In addition to satisfying the tastes of Chinese passengers, they sail in the shadow of the region’s increasingly volatile politics. And soon, a new threat will emerge: Chinese companies are building their own big ships.
“Right now it’s a learning process,” said Ken Muskat, chief executive officer at SkySea Holding International Ltd., a Shanghai-based cruise operator. “Everybody is adapting and learning more about what the Chinese market is looking for.”
The number of passengers in China has risen tenfold in five years, to around 2 million in 2016, and the government expects 4.5 million by the end of the decade. Most make shorter trips — five days on average — and call in South Korea and Japan, the top two destinations in Asia outside of China, according to industry body Cruise Lines International Association.
With so much potential — China is still nowhere close to the 11 million plus Americans who cruise each year — companies are bringing bigger and better ships to the Yellow Sea, tailoring their offerings and seeking new destinations in an effort to persuade Chinese travelers that a cruise is more than just a form of transportation.
Royal Caribbean’s latest mega-ship, the 4,905-passenger “ Ovation of the Seas,” complete with indoor sky-diving and robot bartenders arrived at its new home port of Tianjin on May 4 for the summer season after being christened in China last year by actress Fan Bingbing. On deck, a sculpture of a mother panda reaches out to her cub on the deck below.
“We have still a huge challenge ahead of us to create more consumer awareness of what a cruise is, what that experience is like,” said Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean.
But before China’s newbie cruisers adapt to life on the ocean, the cruise lines first have to adapt to local tastes. And that starts in the kitchen.
“Whether it’s rice and congee for breakfast or different types of seafood for lunch or dinner, they’re sticklers for the authenticity of Chinese cooking,” Goldstein said.
Then there’s the entertainment. Out go the Broadway-style shows beloved in the Caribbean and in come flashy Chinese song-and-dance hits and local celebrities. SkySea invited candidates from the Voice of China reality TV singing contest to perform and staged the Miss World China Final beauty pageant on its ship Golden Era, which can carry 1,814 people.
Royal Caribbean in 2016 invited cross-talk artist Guo Degang to perform on “Ovation of the Seas” during the ship’s inaugural visit to China last year.
“There’s much more of an emphasis on shopping,” Goldstein said, adding that Chinese passengers spend two or three times as much in the on-board stores. “Plus we know that they’re shopping energetically in the ports of call.”
But perhaps the biggest difference in China is that cruises are often a mutigenerational holiday.
“Chinese cruise travelers are very family oriented” said Muskat at SkySea, which counts Royal Caribbean and Chinese online travel service Ctrip.com International Ltd. as major backers. “They like to spend a lot of time with their family whereas in North America you can put the kids in the youth program for seven days and not see them again.”
Liu said she barely tried any of the swimming pool, mahjong, shows, casino, bars and gym on her cruise ship, owned by Italy’s Costa Crociere SpA, because her grandson and 84-year-old mother required her constant attention. Costa said it invites local chefs for its China cruises and adds more extensive retail space. The company, which still keeps an Italian flavor to its voyages, said about 85 percent of its passenger accommodation is in family cabins for China cruises.
Tailoring ships to win over Chinese seafarers may provide an advantage to local cruise lines that can adapt quickly to the rapidly changing tastes of Chinese consumers, said Yu Dunde, CEO of Chinese online travel booking service Tuniu Corp.
China has “too many similar offerings,” said Yu. “To win the market, you’ll have to differentiate through activities, you have to give people something that other cruises can’t.”
Companies are trying to diversify, with more ships departing from southern ports like Guangzhou and Xiamen into the warmer waters of the South China Sea for the winter market.
China’s own operators and shipyards are also entering the market for big cruise ships. Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co., a subsidiary of China State Shipbuilding Corp., is working with Italian cruise shipbuilder Fincantieri SpA to build two vessels, worth approximately $1.5 billion, according to a memorandum signed in February. The ships will be delivered to a new China-based joint venture between Carnival, CSSC and CIC Capital, and will be tailored for the Chinese market. The first, carrying about 4,000 passengers, is expected to be delivered around 2023 and the operator also has an option for four more.
The Shanghai shipyard said the order is a substantial step forward that brings local builders closer to their dream of having a cruise vessel made in China.
But for both local and foreign operators, the waters around China have become increasingly risky due to the region’s politics. Both Royal Caribbean Cruises and Costa scrapped calls to South Korean ports in March for their cruises departing from China amid escalating tensions between the two countries over the deployment of a U.S. Thaad missile defense system.
China has had similar brushes with Japan and its Southeast Asian neighbors over disputed islands.
Those risks aren’t deterring the expansion of the industry. Cruise lines are already looking to the largely untapped market of potential cruisers in China’s inland cities, a market that is becoming more accessible as the nation builds more airports and high-speed railways.
“They just can’t ignore a broader market beyond the coastal regions” Yu said. “If they can extend the market to the hinterland, then the number of cruise travelers could grow from millions to tens of millions.”
PHOTO: Royal Caribbean International's Empress of the Seas. (photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International)
After the initial success of Empress of the Seas’ arrival in Cuba, Royal Caribbean International has announced its expansion of the ship’s calls to Havana as far out as 2019.
“Since arriving in Cuba for the first time last month, we’ve seen the excitement of our guests when sailing into Havana and the passion they have for the city at sail away – its people, its architecture, its food, its music. This is the enthusiasm we strive to bring to adventure-seekers who vacation with us,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International, in a press release.
“The positive reaction to our Cuba sailings is very encouraging, and we are thrilled to expand on the number of sailings for our 2018-2019 itineraries.”
The ship will sail a new batch of 58 four- and five-night itineraries from January 2018 through March 2019, 28 of which will feature an overnight in the Cuban capital of Havana.
Empress of the Seas currently cruises from Tampa, Florida through November 4, 2017, and will next return to Miami, Florida to depart for Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay private island and Nassau, The Bahamas for the winter 2017-2018 season.
By summer 2018, the ship will be back in Tampa heading to Key West, Florida, Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico, plus Havana, Cuba on most voyages. For the winter 2018-2019 season, it will leave from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Cuba is also featured on board the Empress of the Seas thanks to cortaditos and cafe con leche in Cafe Royal, plus salsa music and dancing in Boleros Latin lounge. The 48,563-ton ship accommodates 1,602 guests in 795 staterooms across 11 decks.
AmaWaterways to launch ‘biggest river cruise vessel’ in Europe in 2019
AmaWaterways is to launch the ‘biggest river cruise vessel’ in Europe in 2019.
The ship will be twice as wide as standard river cruise vessels and accommodate 194 passengers. The ship will sail the Danube with itineraries released by the end of the month. President Rudi Schreiner said the ship, which will be called AmaMagna, would have more facilities and ocean style cabins. The announcement was in Amsterdam during a week-long sailing on the line’s newest ship AmaKristina which was sailing a Rhine River itinerary from Basel to Amsterdam. AmaWaterways was set-up in 2002 by husband and wife team Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst and Jimmy Murpy. The cruise line has 20 ships and is expected to launch another five by 2019. It runs cruises around the world, including Europe, Asia and Africa. The company set-up a UK office in Guildford last year headed up by cruise industry veteran Stuart Perl. Previously, it had been represented by Fred Olsen Travel since 2008. Ama also has a partnership with APT which has chartered its ships since 2006 for its luxury cruises. The ship will have multiple dining options including an al fresco glass-enclosed restaurant, an open-water sports platform, with zodiac boats, canoes and recreational equipment. Construction for the new began on March 6. Schreiner made the announcement during a Rhine sailing on the line’s newest ship AmaKristina. “As the luxury river cruise market continues to grow, we want to carry on as the leader in industry innovation,” he said. “While this new double-width concept has been on the table for some time, we believe, given the unique demand that exists, that now is the perfect moment to introduce this style of ship. “AmaMagna will provide guests with generous personal space, the freedom of multiple dining choices and exceptional stateroom comfort. “Combining this with our award-winning cuisine, noteworthy shore excursions and remarkable onboard service, we feel this ship is a game-changer.” AmaMagna will feature 97 staterooms – the majority of which will be over 300 square feet. Additional amenities include a large heated sundeck swimming pool with whirlpool and sky bar, spa area with new treatments, a fitness room large enough for small group classes.