Tauck Doubles Down On Small Ships

Originally published on Travel Market Report.

Tauck River Cruising will double its small-ship cruising capacity over the next four years, president Jennifer Tombauch told reporters at Seatrade this week.

Through a partnership with French-owned cruise line Ponant, Tauck will use four Ponant new-builds, starting with Le Lapérouse in summer 2018. By 2020, Tauck expects to be sailing a total of nine ships.

Le Lapérouse will debut with a seven-night “Iceland: Land of Fire & Ice” itinerary on July 3, 2018, sailing out of Reykjavik and stopping at tiny villages and isolated islands.

Tombaugh said demand for Tauck’s small ships is high, but the fleet has only five Ponant ships for 10 itineraries. Still, “we’d like to think we do small better than anyone,” Tombaugh said. And the partnership, which includes the new underwater lounges that were revealed this week, also falls in line with Tauck’s desire to showcase destinations.

“It’s how we blend the destination in with our overall experiences that make it so special,” she said. “It’s about being the best at what we do and delivering those great experiences to our guests.”

Tauck also revealed this week that it will add sailings to Cuba on Le Ponant starting in December 2018.

It’s how we blend the destination in with our overall experiences that make it so special.

Tauck will run the itinerary—which includes a seven-night cruise plus a one-night pre-cruise stay in Miami and two nights in Havana— three times in December 2018 and three times in January 2019. The cruise starts in Havana, and then sails around Cuba to Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba.

Meanwhile, on the river, the 92-year-old Tauck will debut two of its refurbished river vessels this year—Emerald and Sapphire, both with fewer, but bigger, cabins. The middle decks, which previously had 30 115-square-foot cabins, will now have 20 225-square-foot cabins.

Sapphire, which previously held 118 guests total, will sail on April 3 with only 98; Emerald will relaunch on April 7. The ships will also get The Bistro, a new dining venue on the upper deck, with a dedicated kitchen and chef.

Tauck will do the same to the rest of its 110-meter vessels for 2018.

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Norwegian Cruise Line Gives Sneak Peek Into Project Leonardo

Originally published in Travel Market Report. 

At Seatrade on Wednesday, Norwegian Cruise Line showcased a few details about its four next-generation ships, part of an agreement it signed with Fincantieri S.p.A. shipbuilders last month.

The ships, which will be delivered every June starting in 2022, are designed to “bring guests closer to the sea,” president and CEO Frank Del Rio said.

They will sport huge lower decks, which Del Rio called “Beach Decks,” with infinity pools and restaurants. “We’re famous for breaking molds and going against the grain,” he said.

The ships will all come in at 140,000 gross tons and will carry 3,300 guests—a number small enough to still allow the ship to enter smaller ports. “It provides flexibility to deploy these vessels around the world,” Del Rio said. More details about the new builds will be released in coming months, including some “breakthrough technologies” that will enhance the guest experience.

Norwegian Bliss
The third ship in Norwegian’s Breakaway Plus class, Norwegian Bliss, will debut in June 2018, sailing from Seattle to Alaska.

Bliss, which enters the Breakaway Plus class after Escape and Joy, will be sailing out of Seattle’s new Pier 66, a “brand new guest experience,” senior PR director Vanessa Picariello told reporters.

Bliss’s observation lounge will span the entire forward part of the ship and will provide 22,000 square feet of lounge space, each foot with access to a 180-degree view of where the ship is headed. In the middle of the lounge, Norwegian has installed a bar with a polished aluminum front and a granite top.

The ship’s “ship within a ship” complex, The Haven, has been “designed to give folks the luxury cruise experience with the bells and whistles of a big ship and the ability to sail with their families,” Picariello said.

The Haven on Bliss will have the same number of suites as on Escape, but the public area will be doubled, with a new two-story observation lounge as its centerpiece feature. The observation lounge will open at the front part of the ship, giving guests “the connection with the destination you’re sailing to,” Picariello said.

Cuba update
The Cuban-born Del Rio, who emigrated in 1961 right before his seventh birthday, told reporters that “so far Havana and Cuba in general have been very well received by our guests.”

The first five sailings “sold like nothing else we’ve ever seen before,” at meaningfully higher prices.

Norwegian’s Cuba itineraries, which started this month, leave Miami Monday afternoons and land in Havana on Tuesday morning. The ship then stays over Tuesday night and until 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, when it departs to Great Stirrup Cay, and then returns to Miami on Friday morning.

There are 15 different shore excursions in Cuba, including “The Life of Hemingway in Havana,” “The Legendary Tropicana Cabaret” and “The Art Of Cuba – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” All shore excursions are OFAC-compliant.

“We’re very pleased with the performance on the shore excursions; guests were very happy,” Del Rio said.

Ponant Unveils ‘Multisensory’ Underwater Lounges

Originally published on Travel Market Report. 

Fort Lauderdale, FL— Ponant gave guests a glimpse of one the more innovative details of its new builds this week when it announced the addition of underwater lounges to four of its new yachts.

“It continues to demonstrate how we’re innovating because it’s a way to very respectfully enjoy and understand the ecosystem and the environment you live in,” Ponant’s CEO of Americas Navin Sawhney told TMR at Seatrade. “All our leadership on expedition cruising is based entirely that.”

While the cruise line wouldn’t reveal many details about the lounges, it did say that they would be “multi-sensorial” and the first-of-their-kind at sea.

The lounges will be added to the ships in the new Ponant Explorer series—Le Lapérouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville and Le Kerguelen.

Two of the ships are currently under construction. Le Lapérouse continues with the laying of the first block, and the first sheet of steel was cut for Le Champlain in early March. Those ships will hit the water in summer 2018.

The next two ships—Le Bougainville and Le Dumont d’Urville—will arrive in time for summer 2019.

All four ships will measure 430 feet in length, with 92 cabins and suites, and 110 crewmembers. All have the same fine French cuisine and service for which Ponant is known, including an infinity pool and all- balcony staterooms. And all will comply with the international “Cleanship” label for innovative green equipment, including: a dynamic positioning system to avoid dropping anchor in order to protect the sea bed; silent and fuel-efficient electronic propulsion; FarSounder sonar providing 3D vision of the sea bed at different depths; diesel engines that can run on lighter, less-polluting marine diesel oil; wastewater and sewage treatment systems on board; and low-energy bulbs for lighting.

With the additions, Ponant will have eight ships in all, making it the youngest and largest expedition fleet in the world.

For travel agents, Sawhney said, the ships will act as a draw not only for veteran cruisers but also for the new-to-cruise market, because of the unique destinations to which they sail.

“The commission is the price of many average cruises and the client will have an experience they will be so proud to share with others,” he said.

For agents who have yet to sell Ponant, the cruise line provides webinars and training on how to sell an expedition ship on its travel agent website.

MSC Continues Focus On North America With Meraviglia Deployment

Originally published in Travel Market Report. 

Thirteen years and twelve ships since MSC Cruises started its quest to become a dominant force in the North American market, the cruise line is getting ready to make a splash with three ships set to sail out of Florida by the end of 2018.

“We are ready to make the further step to North America,” executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago told reporters at Seatrade Global Conference in Fort Lauderdale this week.

Of the 11 ships that MSC has on order, two will debut this year when Meraviglia hits the water in June and Seaside does the same in December.

Seaside, dubbed “the ship that follows the sun” for its Caribbean focus, will be the first of two new builds heading to the North American market. Meraviglia will then join Seaside in the fall 2018 and is “coming here to stay,” president of MSC North America Roberto Fusaro said. Those ships will join MSC Divina, which is already homeporting in Miami.

“Three ships, two of them year round, our three newest classes of ships [will show] the best of shipbuilding can offer,” he added.

Initially, MSC focused its growth the company’s “back garden”—Europe—and that’s reflected in its numbers. Of the 1.8 million guests that cruised with MSC last year, only 10%, or around 200,000, sailed in North America.

But, according to Vago, “supply drives demand” and the cruise lines believes that putting new additions and expanding in North America will inevitably drive those numbers up.

Part of the expansion was finding the right partners and MSC believes it did that when it signed agreements with Cirque du Soleil, Samsung and Hewlett Packard, all of which will have products onboard MSC ships.

“We want to ensure that we are able to elevate the guests experience with qualified partners,” chief executive officer Gianni Onorato said.

MSC invested $20 million to accommodate Cirque du Soleil at Sea onboard its ships, building an exclusive on-site dinner lounge for up to 100 guests booked for each show.

Executives told reporters that MSC for Me, the program that includes new wearable technology and a mobile device app, will not only debut on all new builds, but will be retrofitted to the rest of the cruise line’s fleet.

MSC for Me will have five basic functions for guests. The first, it will help them navigate ships with interactive maps and real-time monitoring of kids via the wearable technology. The second is a concierge service that gives guests access to online booking services for restaurants, excursions and more. Then, there’s an organizer function that will allow pre-cruise bookings and mobile check-ins to allow guests to make the most of their time.

New VR technology will also allow guests to see experiences in real time, including photo galleries showing an ongoing story of a sailing. And last, MSC for Me will allow personalized recommendations and face recognition to help staff take care of every need.

The team also said that while the focus on MSC’s move to North America has been the Caribbean, they have plans to bring the ships to many other North American destinations, including homeporting a ship in New York “sooner rather than later.”

“We will have lots of opportunity for our American guests,” Fusaro said. “We are certainly looking at all options.”

In A Year Of Record Growth And Innovation, Cruise Industry Sees More To Come

Fort Lauderdale, FL — The cruise industry is “truly in the largest growth and innovation era this industry has seen” and expectations are sky-high for the future, agreed industry executives at the keynote session at the Seatrade Global Conference in Fort Lauderdale this week.

In the 12 months since Cindy D’Aoust was appointed CEO and president of the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), the demand for cruising has reached record heights—and the next decade will bring 200,000 passenger births, 1 million jobs, and a whopping $117 billion in economic impact worldwide, she said.

Demand for cruising has grown by 62% in the past 10 years, and “there’s no signs of this unprecedented growth slowing down.” The growth will come all over the world, with new ports and destinations being added all the time, but “Asia has the potential to surpass the North American market in 10 years.”

CLIA is working  with local leaders in Asia on operational safety and building a tourism community to foster growth in that area, D’Aoust said.

Carnival focuses on brands
Carnival Corp. is fostering its growth through a particular type of innovation. “Without realizing it, our guests became a part of a community, and when they’re gone they can’t wait to come back. That’s the sort of innovation we’re focused on,” said CEO and president Arnold Donald.

With that goal in mind, Carnival is defining each of its brands, so consumers can more easily identify whether they prefer Princess or Carnival.

It’s also focused on delivering “an even greater, even more personalized, elevated guest experience.”

Other initiatives include the company’s new partnerships with Oprah and Ellen Degeneres and its new Ocean Medallion that was launched earlier this year.

“It’s like an iceberg; what you see is a very small part of what exists,” Donald said.

“Travel agents bring us the right guest onboard the right ship on the right brand.”

NCL focuses on destinations
At Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, meanwhile, there’s nothing more vital than where a cruise ship is sailing, president and CEO Frank Del Rio said. It’s so important that he personally reviews each and every itinerary before it goes on sale.

“Destinations not only sell tickets, they generate the most onboard revenue,” he said.

Designing itineraries is difficult, challenging and rewarding at the same time, Del Rio said. For instance, there are nearly 50 possible ports just on the route between Barcelona and Rome, which means thousands and thousands of itineraries are possible. To choose the right ones, Norwegian relies on factors including consumer demand, geopolitical climate and yield. And they listen to the input of NCL’s most important partners, travel agents.

“Travel agents bring us the right guest onboard the right ship on the right brand,” Del Rio said.

RCCL focuses on the environment
Most moves from Royal Caribbean Cruises are aimed at moving it ahead of its competition in the industry. But when it comes to the environment the whole industry is working together.

“On environment and safety we don’t compete, we work together for the importance of our industry and for the benefit of our industry,” president and CEO Richard Fain said. “It’s nice to have one thing we all can agree on.”

The goal is always to bring a cruise ship’s environmental impact down to zero. While a number of new innovations, including liquefied natural gas and fuel cell power, are helping cruise lines reach that goal, even the smallest thing can cause a problem.

When Royal Caribbean wanted to crush and recycle used wine bottles and then bring them to a recycling facility, it found the bottles fostered bacteria that could be a health hazard if not handled properly. Now it stores the crushed bottles in special freezers, solving the problem.