Cut and Splice: Stretching Cruise Ships
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Cut and Splice: Stretching Cruise Ships

With the retirement of its smallest and oldest ship this October one cruise line will now have a fleet made up entirely of lengthened vessels. Another stretched ship will start a career of year-round Mediterranean cruising in December and yet another is to become the largest ship in the fleet of the UK's largest tour operator cruise line next April.
This week we look at a procedure for enlarging a ship's capacity that first came into use in 1871.

The Allan Line

While many think that the idea of stretching a ship by adding a new midbody to increase her capacity is a recent phenomenon, the practice actually became popular in 1871 when engineering changes brought about a change from simple to compound steam engines. In order to install these larger engines and not lose capacity, it was found that by lengthening a ship it could accommodate the new engines.

Probably the biggest believer in this process was the Allan Line, whose head office was in Glasgow, that great hub of engineering. The Allan Line, later absorbed by Canadian Pacific, stretched half a dozen of its trans-Atlantic liners between1871 and 1874, usually by about 40 feet. The result was longer ships with more powerful engines and, as a bonus, some additional passenger capacity.

These days, however, engineering reasons are not usually part of the equation, although occasionally a lengthened ship will experience a slight gain in speed because of their new configuration. The prime incentive today is capacity and the opportunity to earn more revenues with the same ship and engines. Adding a new midsection can easily add another third to the original capacity and therefore earning power of a modern cruise ship.

Fred. Olsen Cruises

When Fred. Olsen retires its Black Prince this October, it will leave the line with a fleet of four cruise ships, all of which have been lengthened (two by Fred. Olsen itself). It will thus become only the second cruise line in the world able to make such a claim. The first was Royal Viking Line before the delivery of the Royal Viking Sun, and ironically two of Fred. Olsen's ships are from the Royal Viking fleet. For some reason, it has been mainly Norwegians that have gone into ship lengthening, and usually in German shipyards.

While the Black Watch and Boudicca were part of a trio that had already been lengthened by Royal Viking Line, it was Fred Olsen themselves that decided to stretch the Balmoral and Braemar. Interestingly, both ships at one time featured in the fleet of Norwegian Cruise Line, the Balmoral as the Norwegian Crown and the Braemar as the Norwegian Dynasty before going to affiliate Star Cruises. The third of the lengthened Royal Viking trio is now trading with Phoenix Reisen as their second Albatros.

Directly on delivery from Norwegian Cruise Line in November 2007, Fred. Olsen sent its new flagship Balmoral to the Blohm & Voss repair yards in Hamburg, to emerge in January 2008 with a new 98-foot midsection featuring a new pool area and 175 new cabins and suites. Now at 43,537 gross tons, her lower berth count has risen by more than a third, from 990 to 1,340, to give her a passenger space ratio of 32.5 tons per guest.

The Braemar was sent to Blohm & Voss five months later, in May 2008, receiving a new 102-foot midsection that increased her passenger capacity from 727 to 968 berths, or by a third. Along with new cabins came a new dining facility, new pool area, a pool bar and a new observatory area forward. The Braemar returned to cruising from Southampton that July, giving Fred Olsen two new stretched ships in the same year.

Louis Cruise Lines

Another ex-Norwegian ship, although originally operated by Greek owners Majesty Cruise Lines, is the Louis Majesty, which is now finishing her last season of Bermuda sailings as the Norwegian Majesty. When she delivers this December she will go straight into service for Louis Cruise Lines under her new name.

The Louis Majesty was one of three ships to be stretched by Norwegian Cruise Line in a late 1990s update of their fleet, when she was lengthened by 111 feet in 1999 at Lloyd Werft. On December 2, the Louis Majesty will replace the Coral sailing out of Genoa and Marseilles on Mediterranean and Canary Islands cruises and will be the first large Louis ship to cruise year-round in the Med.

Louis has another stretched ship in its fleet in the Aquamarine, which at the time of her 1980 lengthening in Finland, where she was built, was sailing for Royal Caribbean as the Nordic Prince. Now based in Piraeus, she operates in the 3- and 4-night Greek Islands circuit together with fleetmate Aegean Pearl.

The sister ship of the Aquamarine, the Festival, is now cruising the eastern Mediterranean for Caspi Cruises of Israel. Owned by the Clipper Group of Denmark, she is available for sale or charter from this November. She was lengthened in 1978 when was Royal Caribbean's Song of Norway. The last ship in this original Royal Caribbean trio, the Sun Viking, was never lengthened.

Norwegian Cruise Line

The other two NCL ships that were lengthened were the French-built Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind, which were both stretched 130 feet in 1998, also by Lloyd Werft. Louis had originally contracted to purchase the Norwegian Dream but that particular deal feel through and the ship was laid up in Freeport in the Bahamas last November. More recent reports have seen her leaving Piraeus Roads for Kalamata, but there are no reports yet of a subsequent sale.

Her sister ship Norwegian Wind has meanwhile found her way to Star Cruises, where as the Superstar Aquarius she operates daily gambling cruises from Hong Kong.

The Thomson Dream

As Costa Cruises takes on more newbuildings with more verandahs, news has now broken that the Costa Europa will be going on ten-year charter to Thomson Cruises. To be renamed Thomson Dream, at 53,872 tons she will become their largest ship and also the roomiest, with a passenger space ratio of more than 36 gross tons per passenger. This compares to just 26 for the Thomson Destiny, an ex-Royal Caribbean ship, and 27 for the Thomson Celebration and Thomson Spirit, ex-Holland America ships.

The ship was lengthened in 1989 as Holland America Line's Westerdam, when she returned to her builders Meyer Werft at Papenburg to receive a new 130-foot midbody that included additional restaurant space and 195 new cabins. Unfortunately, this was also when the once Home Line's Homeric lost her two forward-facing lounges to a new American-style show lounge, while more lounge space was added amidships.

The Thomson Dream will be based in Palma de Mallorca starting in April 2010, sailing on 7-night Mediterranean cruises to Civitavecchia (for Rome), Leghorn (for Florence), Barcelona and Tunis. Palma is connected to 22 airports in the UK so the Thomson Dream is sure to be a popular ship, especially with the impending demise of Ocean Village. Thomson will have the option of purchasing the ship any time after the first five years.

When asked if Thomson might return to ex-UK cruising, TUI Travel director of cruising David Selby was reported as saying, "As we are a tour operator with an airline, it makes sense for us to concentrate on filling our aircraft by offering fly/cruises in the Mediterranean."

Enchantment of the Seas

The third Royal Caribbean ship to be lengthened, after the Nordic Prince and Song of Norway, was the Enchantment of the Seas. Sent back to her original Finnish builders, Kvaerner Masa Yards, in 2005, she received a new 73-foot 2,500-ton midbody that added 151 cabins to her capacity and brought her overall length to 990 feet, making her longer than the QE2.

At the time Royal Caribbean chairman and ceo Richard Fain was quoted as saying "The refurbishment of Enchantment makes tremendous sense from both an economic and a strategic standpoint. We add substantial revenue without adding commensurate costs, while significantly improving the overall guest experience."

Unaccountably, but perhaps because Royal Caribbean was also involved in substantial newbuilding programs, none of the other six ships of her class have ever been lengthened, leaving her as by far the largest cruise ship to have been lengthened to date.

One That Got Away

One ship that was intended to be lengthened but never was caused the bankruptcy of a famous shipyard when Cammell Laird were forced to call in the receivers in April 2001. Almost as if in fear of her operation Costa Cruises' Costa Classica turned around en route to the shipyard and headed back fro Genoa. The problem was that Costa did not have the confidence that the British yard would be able to deliver the lengthened ship on time.

The newly-built midship section eventually had to be scrapped as it was of no use at all to anyone else. While the name lived on in their Gibraltar facility, it was once again revived on Merseyside last November.

Below are the particulars of cruise ships that have been lengthened, shown in order of size as they exist today.

(Source: By Mark Tré -

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