Luxury Cruise Lines Jockey for Position at Seatrade
Rendering courtesy of Crystal Cruises
Besides the announcements that upscale cruise lines made at Seatrade Cruise Global 2016, there was much to be read on the surface and between the lines as the luxury market heats up like never before.
At a dedicated panel, Rick D. Meadows, president, Seabourn & President, Cunard North America; Karl J. Pojer, CEO, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises; Edie Rodriguez, president & CEO, Crystal Cruises; Navin Sawhney, CEO, Ponant Cultural Cruises and Expeditions, and Enzo Visone, CEO, Silversea Cruises, sat down for a chat about the state of the luxury cruise industry, and the discussed future is sure to play out interestingly as the competition results in an abundance of choice for consumers.
Crystal Cruises continues to lead the pack with the biggest splash of announcements in recent months, and Rodriguez proudly recaps it all including the newly detailed mega-yacht – the Crystal Endeavor – set to join the Crystal Esprit in 2018. The line claims it will be the “world’s first purpose-built polar class” variety, but actually Scenic revealed its plans to build the similarly outfitted, albeit smaller, Scenic Eclipse beforehand. However, they are both scheduled to launch in August 2018, so perhaps Crystal will just sneak by as the first to set sail.
Either way, there is no denying that Crystal is making waves with the above plus another three new full-sized ships with residences, four new riverboats, a fleet of charter jets and a classic ocean liner – the storied SS United States. Most remarkably, Rodriguez admits all this amounts to only 50 percent of their future plans, begging the question, what could possibly be next? A partnership with Virgin Galactic and a luxury settlement on the moon? I wouldn’t necessarily put it past them.
It all follows the CEO’s mantra of “ECO: exclusivity, customization and options.” After all, she knows luxury means different things to different people, and these days that seems to mean a wide variety of cruise lengths that are less formal as Crystal now offers journeys from five to 128 nights while presenting black-tie dress as optional.
Meanwhile, competitors are trying to keep up with less lofty ambitions. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Pojer refreshingly sees a shift from “having to being” with less emphasis on material things and more of a focus on experiences, and admits that “high tech does not replace high touch.” For his brand, that translates into casual luxury that is family-friendly with more kids programs than others in the segment.
While not mega-yachts in size, Ponant’s expedition ships are also capable of sailing to polar regions, and the company also just announced an expansion with four more scheduled to come online. CEO Navin Sawhney reminds that, “good things do come in small sizes,” and that they too cross the Northwest Passage besides Crystal and Silversea Cruises. Plus, it has ships in Antarctica and new in the Kimberley, Borneo and Seychelles. On expeditions, the dress is casual, but the setting is elegant.
For the time being at least, Silversea Cruises probably offers the greatest variety of destinations between its fleet of luxury ships and expedition ships, and goes to 800 different ports every year, 30 percent of which the line tries to introduce new. CEO Enzo Visone says, “we sell dreams,” and it differentiates by its itineraries including unique places of interest like the Galapagos, Tower Bridge in London and the Corinth Canal. Never outdone, the new Silver Muse will launch in spring 2017.
I generally classify Cunard Line as more of a premium or upmarket company, but taking in to account all of its levels of service, CEO David Noyes said at a separate press conference, “you could argue that Cunard invented the luxury cruise concept.” In fact, President, North America, Meadows considers the experience luxury on a grand scale with Grills exclusivity and other sizable options. With the Queen Mary 2 set to get a complete makeover more reminiscent of the original Queen Mary, the line looks to be well on its way to elevating the product.
Seabourn Cruise Line
All-inclusive luxuries come more, of course, from Meadow’s Seabourn Cruise Line brand with three smaller ships and another two set to join the fleet in the future. Particularly exciting for the company currently is its culinary partnership with world-renowned chef Thomas Keller and The Retreat sanctuary coming to the Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation. Christopher Prelog, Vice President Hotel Operations and Hotel Procurement, calls it the “best cabana experience there is at sea,” more in line with extra spa services at $350 per day. The Encore will set sail in January 2017.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Not present at the joint panel but offering its own press conference was Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The line has its highly-anticipated Seven Seas Explorer launching on July 20, 2016, and the synergy it has with parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. affords the new ship entertainment options that were perhaps not available previously. By teaming with the Norwegian Cruise Line brand, the ship will offer four production shows detailed here, including one from shared franchise “Burn the Floor.” As such, new entertainment offerings are scheduled to rollout fleet-wide and also over to other sister brand Oceania Cruises as well.
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