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The French Cruise Market Finally Awakens - AidaSol Enters Service and Costa Favolosa Soon To Follow - Disney Cruise Line Expands - A Discovery II?

by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner" (It is now three years since Mark Tré wrote his first column for The Cruise Examiner and we would like to thank him for covering so many different aspects of the cruise industry for us in that time. Mark is taking a leave of absence in order to devote his time to other aspects of cruise marketing. But the idea of The Cruise Examiner will continue and we will be announcing a replacement in the near future)

Finally, the French cruise market is starting to get interesting as growth continues and cruise lines begin to look for more business from France. Meanwhile, Aida's eighth cruise ship, the AidaSol is christened in Germany while Costa's Costa Favolosa is being prepared for her maiden voyage from Venice in a few weeks.
As Halifax and Saint John on Canada's east coast and Victoria on the west coast prepare to welcome Disney Cruise Line in 2012, Vancouver suffers a big loss as Disney announces its Alaska cruises will sail from Seattle next year instead of Vancouver. Europe loses too. Meanwhile, will there be a Discovery II?


The French Market Continues To Grow

While France was the last cruise market in Europe to show any signs of growth, now that the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain have all surged ahead, the French market is finally starting to show some signs of life. It has now grown at 12% annually, although admittedly from a lower base, for three years.

As a sign of events, in two weeks there will be a joint inauguration ceremony for Compagnie du Ponant's 264-berth L'Austral and Le Boréal in Marseilles. And both Croisières de France and Croisières Paquet will now move to larger ships. At Paquet, the Grand Mistral will replace the Costa Allegra this year, while Crosières de France will replace the Bleu de France with the Horizon in 2012.

Meanwhile, looking for more business from France, P&O Cruises announced on Friday the appointment of Compagnie Internationale de Croisière as its general sales agent. Based in Paris, CIC already represents Cunard and Seabourn so this seems a natural move into the French market. How much demand there might be for a British cruise product in France may be debatable but Marks & Spencer is returning to Paris after an absence of several years, with an outlet on the Champs Elysées. Possibly of particular interest to the French is P&O's latest fleet addition, the Adonia, ex-Royal Princess, which was built at St Nazaire (as of course was the Queen Mary 2).

On the same day as P&O appointed CIC, Royal Caribbean International announced that it would open its own office in Paris (after having failed with an earlier one in 1999-2001). The new RCI Paris office will employ the fifteen employees of the present general sales agent Latitude Sud, who booked 15,000 passengers for Royal Caribbean in 2010. Starting in 2012, the Liberty of the Seas will make more than fifty turnaround calls at French ports, 29 at Marseilles, 23 at Toulon and three or four at Le Havre.

In the meantime, this summer, French passengers will be coached from Nice to Genoa for embarkation on board the line's Mariner of the Seas. Liberty of the Seas, while an American-sounding name, is appropriate for a Royal Caribbean ship serving the French Market, It was the French who donated the Statue of Liberty to the United States and one of the last great French ocean liners, along with the Ile de France and the France, was called Liberté.

Meanwhile, another arm of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Croisières de France, which falls under Pullmantur as the Paris-based marketing arm for a dedicated French market ship, will be graduating from the 752-berth 37,301-ton Bleu de France, built in 1982, to the 1,506-berth 46,811-ton Horizon, built in 1990, in 2012, after the Bleu de France becomes Saga Sapphire.

Meanwhile, after having built whole series of ships for the likes of Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Renaissance and MSC Cruises, as well as notable one-offs such as the Queen Mary 2 and Crystal Serenity, Chantiers de l'Atlantique, now known as STX France, is down to three orders - the MSC Divina, the mooted Phoenicia, which was launched as X32 on December 15, 2010, and the mooted Europa 2 for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

With Meyer Werft's order book full, Hapag-Lloyd had wanted to build in Germany, but that yard had been unable to deliver the Europa 2 by 2013. So STX won the order almost by default. Meanwhile, Fincantieri also has orders for enough ships to keep it relatively busy as well. But STX needs more orders and one wonders with Aida up to eight ships now whether STX will be able to tempt TUI Cruises with ships they can deliver earlier than any other shipyard.


AidaSol Enters Service As Costa Favolosa Is Prepared

The 71,000-ton AidaSol, fifth of Aida Cruises' new "Sphinx" class cruise ships and eighth ship in the fleet, was officially named in Kiel on Saturday at another star-studded event. Like the AidaBlu that preceded her and the sixth "Sphinx" class ship to follow, the AidaSol has an extra deck compared to the first four ships of her class, her own brewery and a 25,000 sq ft spa. Her 1,097 passenger cabins give her a double occupancy capacity of 2,198 passengers.

With dimensions of 252 by 32.2 metres (827 x 106 feet), vessels of this class were built at Meyer Werft in Papenburg and can just make it through the present Panama Canal. In fact, near sister AidaLuna became the largest cruise ship ever to reach Montreal, on the St Lawrence River, when she arrived there last year. She is one of the larger ships that can pass under the Quebec Bridge 139 nautical miles downstream at Quebec City.

After Saturday's naming ceremony the AidaSol departed on Sunday on a 9-night maiden voyage, a cruise of major north European ports and capitals calling at Copenhagen, Oslo, Dover (for London), Le Havre (for Paris), Amsterdam and Hamburg. This will be followed by two similar 7-night Hamburg to Hamburg cruises and from May to September, in an attempt to get further growth from the German cruise market, she will be engaged on a series of short 4-night sampler cruises from Warnemünde to Oslo, Copenhagen and back.

The European capitals cruises resembles closely an itinerary that has recently been offered by Aida's parent company Costa Cruises, and in fact all the Aida ships, although serving the German-speaking market, are registered Costa's head office city of Genoa.

The 114,500-ton Costa Favolosa, meanwhile, fourth of five of Costa Cruises' "Conquest" class ships and sixteenth ship in the Costa fleet, was presented to Costa Cruises in Trieste on Friday. This ship has a 65,000 sq ft Samsara Spa, with lunch and dinner at the Samsara Restaurant included in the fare for passengers booked in Samsara cabins and suites.
Her 1,508 passenger staterooms give her a double occupancy capacity of 3,016 passengers. With sixteen ships, not all in the Mediterranean, Costa will this year make 2,800 calls in 92 ports, carrying almost nine million passengers - a 33% increase over 2010. Costa Favolosa makes her maiden voyage from Venice on July 4.

Disney in Canada, Europe and Texas

Last Wednesday in New York, Disney Cruise Line announced that while it will be pulling into Halifax and Saint John for the first timein 2012, it would be abandoning Vancouver for a new base in Seattle. Not only that, but the line will be abandoning Europe, at least for now.

So 2011 will be Disney's one and only season sailing out of Vancouver. Except for one or two calls at Vancouver in 2012, the Disney Wonder will call at Victoria BC, thus allowing her to comply to US coasting laws that permit a ship to cruise from and to the same US port as long as her itinerary includes a foreign port of call.

In addition to its homeport of Port Canaveral, Disney will be sailing from three new US ports in 2012 - New York, Seattle and Galveston.

The 1,754-berth Disney Magic, cruising in Europe this summer, will move to New York in May 2012 for a series of twenty cruises through to summer and autumn. Galveston will then be added in September 2012, with Disney Magic offering twelve 7-night cruises from then until December. Her sister ship, Disney Wonder, will also move her Alaska cruises from Vancouver this summer to the US port of Seattle in the summer of 2012. Both Europe and Vancouver will therefore be losing Disney Cruise Line at the end of this summer's season.

In New York, meanwhile, one will be pardoned next year for thinking they see a Cunard Line or a French Line Transatlantic liner berthed at Manhattan's west wide liner piers. It won't be the Queen Mary or Normandie, however, but the Disney Magic. Like all Disney ships, she has been built to evoke the great "ships of state" from the 1930s. The Disney Magic will offer eight 8-night cruises to the Bahamas and nine 5-night cruises to Canada, thus adding more cruises to New York's port statistics. In 2010, New York counted over 582,000 embarking passengers and 241 ship calls, 30% up from 445,000 passengers and 181 calls in 2009.

The new 2,500-berth Disney Dream, meanwhile, has taken over the line's traditional 3-, 4- and 5-day sailings out of Port Canaveral and will be joined in 2012 by her sister ship Disney Fantasy. On delivery of the Fantasy, the Disney fleet will not only stand at four ships, but its lower berth capacity will have risen from 3,508 to 8,508, an increase of 2.4 times.

Discovery II?

In November 2009, All Leisure Group PLC purchased Phoenix Reisen's Alexander von Humbolt, second ship of that name and built as Crown Cruise Line's Crown Monarch in 1990. Her previous owner had been the now-defunct Club Cruise of the Netherlands.

All Leisure then chartered the ship back to Phoenix to complete a 2010 program, with P&O's Artemis due to be delivered to Phoenix as Artania in 2011. Meanwhile, All Leisure have kept quiet as to which of their three brands, Hebridean Island Cruises, Swan Hellenic (whose Minerva was the first Alexander von Humboldt) or Voyages of Discovery, might get the ship.

The Alexander von Humboldt completed her Phoenix cruises in November and is now in Genoa undergoing refurbishment for All Leisure, but still with an unannounced future. Part of the work under way appears to be the addition of about twenty new balconies. Meanwhile, her graceful clipper bow, which was prone to damage in heavy seas, has been turned into something a little bit more snub-nosed.

On Friday, All Leisure announced 2012 itineraries for the existing three ships, Discovery, Hebridean Princess and Minerva, which would seem to indicate that the latest acquisition might become a replacement for either Discovery or Minerva and not an addition. No announcement was made of any new ship or any additional itineraries but work on the fourth ship continues in Genoa.

One report indicates that the 508-berth fourth vessel might be renamed Discovery II when her refit is finished, but that it is not known whether she will be an addition to the 710-berth Discovery or a replacement for her.
We wait to hear further but here are the details for the three larger ships:All Leisure's Fleet

If one looks at the age of the ships the answer to the riddle might be obvious but on the other hand the Minerva also carried the name Alexander von Humboldt for a time.

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