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Upmarket Cruise Lines Play Musical Chairs - Other Cruise News: Southampton Sets A Record - January Transatlantics - What People Forgot About NCL's Freestyle

by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

The news on Friday that Seabourn was moving from Miami to Seattle to join Holland America in three months time comes just as Regent will be moving its own offices from Fort Lauderdale to Miami to join Oceania. These two lines seem to be doing slightly the reverse of Azamara, which has recently obtained more independence within the Royal Caribbean group. Meanwhile, six ships sailed from Southampton last week, a record that seems to go back to 1956.
And Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria are making their way across the Atlantic in tandem, due in New York on Thursday. Finally, "Hansa International Maritime Journal" from Germany reminds us where NCL's Freestyle Cruising and hull art really came from.


Upmarket Cruise Lines Play Musical Chairs

With the news on Friday that Seabourn was moving from Miami to Seattle in order to share back office services with Holland America Line, the latest chess move took place among the upmarket cruise lines. In effect, Seabourn is almost taking up where Windstar left off when Carnival sold that brand to Majestic International and they moved out of Holland America's offices. With Pamela Conover having decided not to accept an offer to move to Seattle, Rick Meadows, presently executive vice-president sales for Holland America Line, will take over as president of Seabourn as well, while Pam will take on a role as adviser and ambassador for the line. Oceania Cruises - Insignia and Nautica

This is rather convenient as Meadows was previously senior vice-president, sales and marketing, for Seabourn, a position to which he was appointed ten years ago when Cunard and Seabourn were separated. Previous to that he had been vice-president sales and marketing with Windstar Cruises, a the Holland America subsidiary in Seattle, before moving back to Seattle again with Holland America. Carnival Corp & PLC anticipate annual savings of between $20 and $25 million through this move.

To take place at almost the same time, Regent Seven Seas Cruises will vacate their Fort Lauderdale offices to move in with Prestige Cruise Holdings fellow cruise line Oceania Cruises. It's over two years now since the two lines merged some of their back office operations and in 2010 this helped Regent to post its best ever revenues and profits. And this is since it's all-inclusive has started to include not only drinks, gratuities and port charges but also shore excursions and sometimes even flights. Mark Conroy will remain as president of Regent while Bob Binder is president of Oceania and Frank del Rio chairman and ceo of parent company Prestige Cruise Holdings.

At the same time, Azamara Club Cruises, since the appointment of Larry Pimentel as president, has been gaining a little more independence from Celebrity Cruises, of which it was originally a part, and Royal Caribbean Cruises in general. It now enjoys its own executive section in the Royal Caribbean offices in Miami and hires its own masters instead of receiving them from the Celebrity pool. Its four captains now hail from Norway, Finland, Greece and the UK. While bookings are down revenue is up and Pimentel told "Tradewinds" magazine last week that newbuildings could become a possibility once Azamara has hit its right profit and turnover metrics, its top priority for now is to build passenger numbers and return on investment.

Meanwhile, in a recent interview, Conover, who will remain president of Seabourn while the line transitions to its new headquarters in Seattle, pointed out that the ultra-luxury cruise market has not achieved the same level of market penetration that the general cruise market had.

This leads one to believe that there must be much more opportunity in the upmarket niche, which is after all only a tiny part, less than 5%, of the overall market. But it does also make one wonder whether all the bally hoo and hoopla about Mickey Mouse, Shrek, Donald Duck, Starbucks, Sponge Bob Square Pants and Johnny Rocket at sea, along with zip lines, surfing and skating, Central Parks and ice bars is in fact a shot in the cruise industry's own foot, turning off a large part of the potential market.

Conover also pointed out that the berth capacity offered by the most upmarket lines was very small, in all cases coming to less than even one of the new mega ships of today. Just to have a look at the total lower berths on offer from some of these operators, including delivery of the Seabourn Quest in June:

Even the total 3,310 berths offered by Oceania with the recent addition of the Marina come to fewer than the berths offered on any one of the largest dozen cruise ships today. And even adding in Regent's berths to come to a total of 5,216, the lower berths on two fleets totalling eight ships still comes to fewer than are offered on either of the Allure or Oasis of the Seas.

It makes one wonder whether their marketing should be attuned to inviting people away from the noise and hubbub of the mass market ships as it has now become, back into sommething rather comfortable and more exclusive, the way cruising used to be. The problem seems to be that the upmarket lines don't have the kind of budget required to do that. And whether they should bring together their almost 15,000 beds to market them together, perhaps with Conover as some sort of ambassador. But while they do that, as Mark Conroy keeps saying, the big cruise lines give them a great pool to be fishing in.


Southampton Sets Record

According to some, for the first time since June 1956, the Port of Southampton hosted six passenger ships in one day, on Wednesday, January 5. Last week, it experienced its busiest day ever, handling 18,000 passengers to and from cruise ships in one day. And what was most surprising is that this was a winter day, and not in the summer cruise high season.

Sailing on Wednesday were Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth, off on a 103-day world cruise, and Queen Victoria, on a 25-day cruise to Los Angeles, both ships sailing in tandem for New York. Sister company P&O's Arcadia also sailed on an 82-day world cruise, with Carnival Corp & PLC thus accounting for half the cruise ships in port.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Line's Balmoral also left on a 109-night world cruise and Black Watch on a 77-night cruise around South America while Saga's Saga Ruby sailed from the fruit terminal at berth 104 for a 110-night eastbound world cruise via Suez (the other world cruisers were all going westbound through Panama). Berth 104 will soon become a dual-use cruise and fruit terminal and Southampton's fifth berth for cruise ships.

The "Daily Mail" in London even managed to publish an overhead view of the port showing all six ships in at once. More than 350 ships are booked for Southampton this year, up from 300 in 2010.

January Transatlantics

The Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, sailing in tandem, are due to pass Cape Race, Newfoundland, some time today. While Queen Victoria was a little late leaving Southampton the gangway having to be lowered to allow two passengers to leave ship because of a family emergency, she later caight up with the Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth had sailed from the Ocean Terminal, where she was christened by the Queen in October, while Queen Victoria sailed from the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal.

John Maxtone-Graham is one of the invited speakers on Queen Victoria and she is under the command of Cunard's first female master, Capt Inger Klein Olsen from the Faroe Islands. Terry Waite is meanwhile speaking on the Queen Elizabeth. Both ships meanwhile seem to be having something of a norovirus scare, or at least a precautiion, as they are asking people not to help themselves at the buffet and not to shake hands.

After a calm start until Saturday both ships ran into a little heavier weather on Sunday, but those on board seem happy with the way the almost sister ships handle. They arrive in New York this Thursday, January 13, to rendez-vous with fleetmate Queen Mary 2, a first for these three new Queens. The last time three Cunard Queens met in New York was three years ago when the Queen Victoria, then on her maiden voyage, met the veteran Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary 2 together in the New World port.

Where NCL's Freestyle Cruising and Hull Art Came From

A recent issue of "Hansa International Maritime Journal" from Germany served to remind us of where Freestyle Cruising had come from. Most of us know that when Star Cruises built the SuperStar Leo (now Norwegian Spirit) and SuperStar Virgo in 1998/99 that they incorporated no fewer than sixteen food and beverage outlets, an industry first.

But Hanse reminded us that In 1996, the old Deutsche Seerederei (DSR) commissioned the cruise ship Aida, the first of many to sail under the "Club Ship" concept. And when the market took a while to get used to this new all-buffet type of ship (they certainly are now) she had to be sold after about a year of operation. The buyers? None other than NCL, who proceeded to charter the ship back to Aida between 1997 and 1999, before selling her back to them. During this time it seems NCL took notice of the lipstick and eyes that had been painted on the hull of the Aida, as well as her many buffet restaurants.

A year after selling the Aida back to German ownership again, NCL itself was acquired by Star Cruises, who had just introduced SuperStar Leo and Virgo and set about ordering similar ships for NCL from the same Meyer Werft shipyard that had built the Star ships. In fact, ships that had originally been ordered for Star were simply switched to NCL.

At about the same time as all this was happening, lo and behold, NCL came up with its own updated version of cruising that it called "Freestyle Cruising." From the hull art and buffets of Aida and the multiple food outlets of Star Cruises came the American version of what is today called Freestyle, the epitome of which has not yet been reached. Last year's Norwegian Epic is only the latest version as NCL have now gone back to Meyer Werft again for two updated versions, that will also be far better looking than the Epic.

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