Last updated: 01:00 PM ET, Fri May 27 2016

How Upscale and Luxury Cruise Lines Stack Up Amid an Expanding Market

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Azamara Club Cruises | Jason Leppert | May 27, 2016

How Upscale and Luxury Cruise Lines Stack Up Amid an Expanding Market

Rendering courtesy of Seabourn Cruise Line

As the luxury cruise market rapidly expands, the line between upscale and higher brands begins to blur, and not all companies come out on top. Traditionally, lines like Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises defined the upscale segment while the luxury segment was occupied by those such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises. Now Viking Ocean Cruises is, in many ways, crafting a new category, and other developments shift weights elsewhere.

Azamara Club Cruises

To compete, Azamara recently completed the dramatic redesign of its two-ship fleet — Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest — in what was anticipated to lead to a new-build announcement, but Cruise Critic is reporting that the line’s president, Larry Pimentel, said that’s now unlikely to happen. He’s quoted as saying, "I believe the timing for new capacity (from Azamara) is wrong. I think there is too much coming (from luxury lines).”

He added, “…within the next three years, I believe there will be cruise lines who will (be sold) or will merge, simply because they have to.” His line continues to be profitable, but its most direct competitors, Oceania and Viking, are expanding while Azamara’s ship numbers remain stagnant. Nonetheless, Pimentel is optimistic about future opportunities like the potential for sailings to Cuba.

Crystal Cruises

The most ambitious company on this list is easily Crystal, with its intent to launch new cruise ships, riverboats, a megayacht, aircraft and even a classic ocean liner. Provided it doesn’t stretch its signature high level of service too thin, the company is poised to become the clear leader in the luxury market. First up is the launch of the new Crystal River Cruises this July with the remodeled Crystal Mozart in Europe.

But it hardly stops there as six new riverboats, three cruise ships and one megayacht are planned, plus private planes, and if feasibility study results are favorable, the company will even relaunch the historic SS United States.

READ MORE: Luxury Cruise Lines Jockey for Position at Seatrade

Cunard Line

Also following the refurbishment model is Cunard with the extensive redesign planned for its flagship Queen Mary 2. While no new ships are expected from the line, the QM2 will emerge with many major enhancements to its accommodations and dining venues. For instance, all suites and a bulk of staterooms will be refreshed, and the Winter Garden will be converted to the Carinthia Lounge as a new cafe setting. Particularly welcome will be the addition of 15 single cabins to accommodate a growing number of solo travelers. The ship will relaunch after a month-long dry-dock this June.

Oceania Cruises

Oceania just christened its latest vessel, the Sirena, bringing its fleet size to six — four of which are former Renaissance Cruises ships, as are Azamara’s two. If ever there was a line primed to buy the latter pair, it’s likely Oceania, but those are now quite different looking than its own, which still more closely resemble their original designs. Historically, Renaissance was partially helmed by Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., who might eventually be eyeing, if not Azamara’s fleet, the remaining two R-class ships: Princess Cruises’ Pacific Princess and Fathom’s Adonia.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Corporate cousin to Oceania, Regent is also growing with the all-new Seven Seas Explorer coming out this July with a second sister ship to follow in 2020. The first is being touted by the line as the “world’s most luxurious cruise ship” — no small feat if it proves true. Highlights will include the monster 2,917-square-foot Regent Suite perched high above the front of the ship and a Culinary Arts Kitchen featuring the line’s fine cuisine. And not to be outdone by Crystal’s private jets, Regent will begin bundling business class air with its cruises in 2017, upping its most all-inclusive packages yet again.

Seabourn Cruise Line

Meanwhile, Seabourn also has two new ships in the pipeline, the Seabourn Encore coming late this year and the Seabourn Ovation in 2018. Both are larger versions of its Odyssey-class ships with an extra deck and expanded public spaces. Their interior design will be created by acclaimed hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany. Also, in another partnership, the luxury line has teamed up recently with world-renowned chef Thomas Keller for dining on the new ships as well as existing ones.

READ MORE: A Luxury Cruise Renaissance Begins

Silversea Cruises

Falling in between Oceania and the rest in regards to expansion plans is Silversea, with a singular new-build planned, dubbed the Silver Muse, slated to launch in spring 2017. The ship will essentially be an evolved sister ship to the line’s last Silver Spirit. Dining options will expand slightly by dividing the former main dining room space into new separate restaurants, and favorites will also come along for the ride like the line’s signature Relais & Chateaux venue and hot rocks al fresco steakhouse.

Viking Ocean Cruises

Following a similar path to Crystal is Viking, with a rapidly growing fleet of new ocean cruise ships that offer luxury features at a price point closer to upscale lines, carving out a new category in the process. Two vessels are already online — the successful Viking Star and Viking Sea — and at least four more are set to follow. In fact, Torstein Hagen, chairman and chief executive officer, has mentioned his desire to have a fleet of 10 such ships, which, if the company’s riverboat build rate is any indication, might likely come true.

Not only is the line expanding in capacity but also in coverage. The Viking Star will be the first to depart beyond Europe to the Americas and the Caribbean this fall, and the future Viking Sun is scheduled on a world cruise beginning in 2017 and stretching into 2018.


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