Unprecedented Capacity Expansion In Luxury Segment
The higher echelon of the cruise industry is about to undergo a growth spurt unlike anything seen in recent years: Regent Seven Seas will add 1 new ship, Seabourn will add 2, and the new Viking Ocean Cruises will launch 3 luxury vessels.
All 6 ships feature verandas for every stateroom, and all fit within a relatively narrow range of size - 40,350 to 56,000 gross tons. But the number of guests ranges from 604 (Seabourn) to
930 (Viking Ocean).
The expansion is generally seen as being good for travel agents as it gives them more than 4,700 commission-rich beds to sell. As for how it impacts luxury pricing, the answer may depend on how well each of the brands' messages resonate with consumers.
Here’s a recap of the new ship highlights and how they are altering the luxury landscape.
Seabourn: Bigger & Younger
The capacity void that Seabourn will face after the last of its smaller ships leaves the fleet in May 2015 will essentially be negated by the debut of Seabourn Encore in late 2016. With 4 ships the line will have about 1,950 beds, within 30 of the former 6 ship fleet.
In spring 2018, a 2nd addition, Seabourn Ovation, will push the line’s capacity to 2,558, with all ships having launched since June 2009.
Encore and Ovation will be the 2 biggest ships in the fleet at 40,350 gross registered tons, carrying 604 guests (302 suites, all with balconies). With a space ratio of 67, they’ll be
among the most spacious at sea.
Adam D. Tihany, most recently spotted designing HAL's Konigsdam, is responsible for all indoor and outdoor guest areas, including dining areas, the spa, showrooms, lounges, casino and outdoor deck areas. Designed as an evolution of Seabourn’s Odyssey-class ships, the biggest changes are another deck of suites and expanded public areas.
Seabourn is set to release more specifics in the future, so for now we're left speculating as to how the spate of changes will affect the line. For one thing, will larger ships impact the intimate feeling and stellar service that Seabourn is known for?
The same question was asked when Seabourn increased its ship capacity from 208 guests to 450, and most pax say that they could hardly notice a difference, so agents can take heart from that.
Regent: The Most Luxurious Ship Ever?
When Seven Seas Explorer joins the Regent fleet in July 2016, the line’s capacity will jump 40% overnight. The 56,000 GRT ship will continue Regent's balcony-only tradition, and the space ratio of 75 will be an industry high.
Regent hasn't been shy about promoting this ship as the "Most Luxurious Ship Ever Built" and the real question is if its pax will agree.
As for its business impact, Regent reported strong initial sales for Seven Seas Explorer but retailers say there are signs that the big capacity addition might cause some challenges, at least initially, in filling the line’s existing ships at desired rates.
Viking Ocean: A Fast Start
Viking has never been known for a lack of ambition, and is taking its explosive river growth patterns to the sea, launching not 1; not 2, but 3 ships by 2016, starting with Viking Star this April.
All will be 47,800 tons, smaller than Regent's 56,000 GRT Explorer, but will still accommodate more guests, in keeping with Viking's branding as more of an upper-premium line than a true luxury one. Very luxurious, however, is its decision to make the cabins balcony-only.
The interior of the ships will be familiar to those who have taken a Viking river cruise: they will share a clean, Scandinavian/Nordic feel to the design and décor. So it’s fitting that the christening ceremonies for Viking Star will be in Bergen.
Naturally, the line is heavily marketing to its past river cruise guests and says it will be competing with lines such as Azamara Club Cruises; Oceania Cruises; RSSC and Crystal Cruises.
The fact that Viking can compete directly with so many lines again alludes to its status as somewhat of a premium-luxury hybrid: it's a slightly cheaper, more crowded alternative to a Seabourn or Regent, but smaller than Oceania’s newer ships and has all balcony staterooms.
Agents selling Viking report a strong response, with space hard to come by in the summer and beyond. They repeatedly cite strong consumer messaging by Viking for the ocean product, along with easily understood all-inclusive pricing, as factors in the initial success.