A Toast To Cruising & The Enormity Of The Cruise Business

by Vanessa Lee

Crystal Serenity In Victoria Strait (photo credit Katie Jackson & Crystal Cruises)

Cruise & River Ship Tracking Map

Vanessa Lee on Seven Seas Explorer (photo credit Wallace Immen)

A Toast To Cruising

Do you know how many ships are cruising in the world today? No – well neither do I but I thought it would be interesting to take a guess and see. I wondered how many actual cruise lines are out there too – more than you might imagine!

What I did find out is that there are over 300,000 people on cruise and river ships right this minute. There are hundreds of ships on the water right now. Online cruise and river ship tracking devices allow you to actually see them all out there on the oceans and rivers of the world.  

A few stand out naturally as they are in more out-of-the-way places. One in particular is the Crystal Serenity as she is about 1/2 way through her inaugural voyage of the Northwest Passage – a remarkable feat in this day and age. The Serenity, captained by her Master, Birger Vorland, whom I have known for years having 1st met him on Seabourn Goddess (yes Seabourn Goddess not Sea Dream) back in the day, is venturing where no modern cruise ship has gone before. And she is accompanied, very appropriately by the RRS Ernest Shackleton, an ice-breaker vessel, in this the 100th  anniversary year of that famous explorer’s journey through some different icecaps in the Antarctic.

There are a few tiny dots in the middle of the Pacific which are the Wind Spirit and the Paul Gauguin in the Tahitian Islands of French Polynesia and a few off the southern coast of Africa and some cruising South America. A few are in the Indian Ocean but most ships right now are on the west coast of Canada and Alaska, in the Caribbean basin, in Europe and the Med and off the coast of Asia. Which makes total sense for the time of year.  

So back to the enormity of the cruise business. I started making a list of all the mainstream, luxury and contemporary brands. Then I made a list of all the river lines and  the smaller expedition cruises and of course the others that are more niche. I came to a total of 76 and I know I missed some. I am sure that you can’t name all and why should you? Likely you deal with the world’s top 20 cruise lines on any given day. And if you just pick the most obvious 20 you might be surprised to see that those have more than 175 ships in their respective fleets. Amazing.

And how many river cruise lines are there? Again more than you might have considered. I managed to come up with 19 but I know I have missed a few there too.  And then I thought – how many of those ships have I sailed upon and how many of the cruise lines? Well some of those are sadly defunct – both ship and cruise line. Some are revered ships and some passed on almost unnoticed. Many have had a few lives along the way……

So actually I have sailed on more than 250 ships in my day – in fact I admit I have lost count of how many ships and many I have been on a number of times. And I am working my way through every cruise line and I am probably under 30 – so I have my work cut out for me clearly!

Then the next thing I thought about was – how many new ships are being built over the next few years. And the answer is again, “More than you think”.   This year we still have 4 ships to come, and in 2017 there are at least 10 new ships, then 12 more in 2018 and 9 more in 2019. In 2020 there are currently 7 new builds on order and on it goes into the early 2020’s.  MSC will themselves launch 11 new vessels in the next number of years. Small, luxury line Ponant has 4 ships coming out starting in 2018. The usual suspects like Royal, Norwegian and Carnival Corp have new builds coming of course but so does every luxury brand as well. And expedition is taking off madly – there are lots of new vessels being readied for this lucrative market which has exploded.

Yes river has gone a little quiet but that’s a good thing as the growth was massive there for a while – too much in fact. But you have new entrant Crystal River Cruises  this year with 4 more ships to come and most river cruise companies will bring in 1 or 2 new ships each year in the natural scheme of things (while losing some of their older vessels at the same time, of course).  

Ocean ships, depending on their size and guest capacity can cost anywhere from a few hundred million dollars to upwards of ½ to ¾ of a billion dollars - and more.

And it’s not just money being spent on new builds – it’s the huge amount of dollars being spent on refurbishments and renovations of existing cruise ships. That sector alone represents several billions of dollars being spent on just a few fleets right now including those of Norwegian, Royal, Celebrity and Holland. The recent remastering of the Queen Mary 2 is another prime example. She’s 12 years old, has a long life yet to live but like any girl, she needs a makeover every now and again. It’s a dramatic investment in a very lucrative and successful segment of the travel business and one which is simply growing by leaps and bounds.

So if you’re just focused on selling a few cruise lines in the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe, then think again. Consider those 300,000 happy cruisers right now who are on ships in every imaginable place, having the time of their lives. Think about what all the cruise lines are doing with their new ships, how beautiful they are and how much time and effort they are putting into them to bring your clients one of the best vacations of their lives. And go book some more cruises and spur your clients on to trying new ships, different ships and far and away places that will deliver the best kind of memories and make for great story-telling for years to come.

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