Anthony Pearce takes a look back over 2019, another year of industry firsts
It’s been another incredible year for cruise, made up of many industry firsts and ship launches from across the industry, from river and expedition ships to two of the largest cruise ships ever built. Perhaps most excitingly, in April, the Cruise Lines International Association (Clia) announced that the number of ocean cruises taken by UK and Irish passengers reached over two million for the first time. Andy Harmer, Clia UK & Ireland director, said: “It is a significant milestone, as it illustrates how cruise has become a major player within the UK and Irish travel sector.
“As only the second European market to reach over two million cruises, this figure demonstrates the continued strength of cruising as a mainstream holiday choice in the UK and Ireland and is a testament to the industry’s resilience to economic and political changes.” We look back at some of the other major milestones from the year.
Viking expands and MSC defies the weather
Viking Cruises continued its rapid expansion in the ocean sector with the launch of Viking Jupiter, joining the Star, Sea, Sky, Sun and Orion. Around the same time, it agreed a deal with the Italian shipyard Fincantieri for two further ocean ships, due to be delivered in 2024 and 2025, with options for ships up until 2027 (details of its new expedition vessels also emerged later in the year). In March, MSC Cruises launched MSC Bellissima at an improvised ceremony in Southampton; the proceedings, which had been taking place in a giant marquee next to the ship, were halted as the winds of Storm Freya descended on Southampton.
Princess goes king-size and river continues to rise
In April, Princess Cruises signed a deal with Fincantieri to construct the largest ships ever built in Italy. The two 4,300-guest, 175,000 GT ships, will be delivered in 2023 and 2025 respectively, and will be dual powered, primarily by Liquefied Natural Gas. The same month, Norwegian Cruise Line expanded its Free at Sea programme, which is available for all cruises booked in the UK and Ireland. Guests who reserve a suite or higher category stateroom, including a Concierge Class cabin or a suite in The Haven, NCL’s ship-within-a-ship concept, now enjoy all five Free at Sea offers, such as beverage packages.
Spectrum of the Seas, the first of Royal Caribbean International’s modified Quantum-class of cruise ships, launched, as did Marella Cruises’ Explorer 2 and Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ Vasco da Gama, as the ex-UK specialist continued its impressive expansion and looked towards the German market. Coral Expeditions, the Australian adventure line, launched its fourth and largest expedition ship, Coral Adventurer, ahead of opening its UK office in Aldwych House in London.
As ever, spring proved a fruitful season for river cruise. Viking Cruises christened seven new river ships on the Rhine in Basel, with UK managing director Wendy Atkin-Smith named as godmother to Viking Sigrun, while Amadeus Star and Avalon Envision launched for their respective lines in April and May, while AmaWaterways also launched AmaMagna; in a glowing review, Jane Archer described the ship as blurring the line between river and ocean. At almost 22m wide, the vessel is twice the width of other river ships and oozes luxury, whether that be in terms of space (it holds just 196 passengers, which is less than river ships half its size). Furthermore, A-Rosa christened A-Rosa Alva and opened a new office in the UK in Cardiff, making a number of appointments. If that wasn’t enough, Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean International’s first Perfect Day island, officially opened. Key features include Daredevil’s Peak – the tallest waterslide in North America; Up, Up and Away – a helium balloon that takes guests up to 140m in the air; the Caribbean’s largest wave pool; the first overwater cabanas in The Bahamas; the Caribbean’s largest freshwater pool, Oasis Lagoon; and a 500m-long zip-line course that criss-crosses the island.
In June, Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Voyages, made a surprise appearance at the 2019 Clia Conference as part of the line’s latest bid to woo travel agents. The event, which was the largest travel agent conference in the country, came under the theme of Next Generation. Lisa Lutoff Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, Larry Pimentel, CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, and Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages also spoke at the event, which was attended by about 500 agents
Saga looks to the future, but Thomas Cook is history
In July, Saga’s first new-build Spirit of Discovery was christened in Dover by the Duchess of Cornwall, a ceremony that followed the keel-laying ceremony for sister ship Spirit of Adventure at Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. New-build director David Pickett told Cruise Adviser the first two ships could be “just the start” of a larger fleet. At 58,250 tons and with capacity for 999 passengers, Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure each have 517 crew and 99 cabins for solo travellers, but their interior designs are quite distinct.
In September, the industry was rocked following the collapse of Thomas Cook, triggering the biggest ever peacetime repatriation aimed at bringing home more than 150,000 British holidaymakers. More than 9,000 jobs were put at risk.
That month, Royal Caribbean celebrated the fifth anniversary of its agent rewards scheme, Club Royal (as well as the line’s own 50th birthday), at an event in Leicestershire. The company announced a host of changes to Club Royal including going digital, giving agents double spending money on certain experiences, a new training platform and the ability to make charitable donations through the scheme. It also celebrated its best performing agents with an awards on the night.
Having set sail on its maiden voyage from Reykjavík, Iceland, the long-awaited Scenic Eclipse was christened at Manhattan Cruise Terminal, New York City in September. Scenic Eclipse Godmother Dame Helen Mirren was joined by her husband, Academy Award-winning director Taylor Hackford, and welcomed on board by ship’s co-owners Glen and Karen Moroney
VR fun and Hurtigruten and Aurora break new ice
Autumn saw a string of launches with MSC Grandiosa and Sky Princess joining MSC Cruises and Princess Cruises, respectively. The latter, a 3,600-guest ship, includes the first-ever Sky Suites, which have the largest private balconies offered by the line, centrally located on the top decks of the ship. The two 65-square-metre suites will provide an uninterrupted 270-degree view and accommodate up to five guests.
Norwegian Encore, part of the Breakaway Plus-class, launched as the sister ship to Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Joy. It features the Galaxy Pavilion, a 900-square-metre VR world where you can fly a UFO, paraglide and race Formula 1 drivers (Click here to see Emily Eastman’s write up)
In November, Saga continued its incredible year by announcing plans to launch a new-build boutique river cruise ship in 2021. The new vessel will be named Spirit of the Rhine and follows Saga’s new ocean cruise ships.
In the same month, Hurtigruten christened its latest expedition vessel Roald Amundsen in Antarctica, becoming the first line to do so. At a ceremony in Chiriguano Bay on Brabant Island, polar pioneer and godmother Karin Strand named the new hybrid-electric-powered expedition vessel.
On the other side of the Drake Passage, Aurora Expeditions christened its new expedition ship, Greg Mortimer in Ushuaia, Argentina. The ship, the first to feature the revolutionary X-Bow, is currently sailing Antarctic voyages