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Superliners set sail for Bahamas

Superliners set sail for Bahamas

Top operators build biggest cruise ships ever seen

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2009
January 1, 2009
Alex Black

Stroll along Bay Street in downtown Nassau on any given day of the week and the vista is dominated by the impressive presence of the cruise ships docked at Prince George Wharf. These seafaring giants bring in approximately three million tourists a year to Bahamian shores, with each ship carrying around 3,000 passengers, boosting the Bahamian economy by an estimated $150 million annually. But these ships are small fry compared to what will be cruising Bahamian waters later this year, as a new generation of superliners takes to the seas.

Despite the global economic slowdown, cruises to The Bahamas and Caribbean region in general are enjoying a  period of renewed vigour. More US vacationers in particular are opting for holidays closer to home as they tighten their purse strings amid economic uncertainty and the rising cost of living. That’s good news for those cruise operators who have increased the number of tours available and added vessels to their fleets.

Banking on a new era of expansion, Royal Caribbean International has wasted no time in laying out its intentions, commissioning European shipbuilder Aker Yards to build the world’s largest cruise ship. When it launches at the end of this year, Oasis of the Seas, as it was recently christened, will be 43 per cent bigger than the next largest cruise liner, standing 16 decks high and weighing 220,000 tons. The ship is capable of carrying 5,400 guests at double occupancy and features 2,700 staterooms. The superliner will reportedly cost $1.08 billion to build.

Industry firsts
But it’s not all about size. “We have not set out to build the largest ships in the world. Our goal is to offer our guests more amenities and more options to choose from,” says Lyan Sierra-Caro, senior account executive, brand communications at Royal Caribbean. “In order to do this, we have had to build bigger ships to accommodate the innovative amenities found on the ship.”

The amenities on offer are set to take the cruise experience to a new level. “We’re pleased to be able to answer the question of ‘What could possibly come next?’” says Richard D Fain, chairman and chief executive officer, Royal Caribbean. “We are particularly excited about the neighbourhood concept which gives guests compelling choices and the ability to flow seamlessly throughout the ship to meet their individual desires and preferences.”

The “neighbourhood concept” involves the ship being divided into seven themed sections including a boardwalk, promenade and the jewel in the crown of the project—Central Park —an area of climate-controlled tropical gardens on the deck of the ship spanning more than the length of a football field. The park will have cafes, a piazza, winding cobbled streets and sculptured glass domes, flanked on both sides by six decks of balcony staterooms overlooking the gardens. The boardwalk area includes two rock-climbing walls, a carousel and AquaTheater—the world’s first amphitheatre at sea. The Royal Promenade will feature the Rising Tide levitating bar that ascends and descends over three decks and a mezzanine level walkway.

“We have introduced a number of industry ‘firsts’ on a level and scale that the world has never seen before,” says Adam Goldstein, president and CEO at Royal Caribbean. “Oasis of the Seas is the ultimate expression of the creativity and imagination found on all of our ships, providing guests with a collection of experiences that will offer an incredible cruise vacation.”

Preparing the way
Oasis of the Seas will venture into Bahamian waters during her inaugural voyage planned for December 12, 2009. To accommodate such an enormous vessel however requires substantial and costly modifications at the Nassau dock. Dredging of Nassau Harbour and the Prince George Wharf area is scheduled to commence early this year, with an estimated cost in the region of $7-$8 million. “We know that by 2009 a new class of super cruise lines will begin to sail,” says Minister of Maritime Affairs and Labour Dion Foulkes. “This class, called the Genesis Class, will require a deeper harbour. From summer 2009 the dredging should be complete and we will be able to accommodate these ships.”

With Royal Caribbean set to launch a sister ship called the Allure of the Seas in 2010 and other cruise operators likely to follow suit, the government believes the cost and environmental impact of dredging the harbour is a price The Bahamas has to pay. “We must take into account trends and new products in tourism if we are to remain a preferred destination for cruise lines,” adds Foulkes.

Talking to the press last year, the recently appointed Minister of Tourism and Aviation Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace echoed Foulkes’s sentiments: “The only way you can continue to be competitive is if that work [dredging the harbour] gets done, provided you do it in the most environmentally sensitive manner to make sure that the benefits that are going to be received are not outweighed by some of the costs, looking at costs in the broader sense.”

The Ministry of Tourism estimates that Oasis of the Seas could bring in $6 million in its first year of operation, delivering 102,600 passengers during the 2009/10 season. “These superliners will bring a massive boost to local businesses in the downtown area, and The Bahamas in general,” says Foulkes.

Sector trend
Other cruise operators are following Royal Caribbean’s lead although not on quite the same scale. Carnival Cruise Lines is launching a new class of superliners over the next several years, starting with the recently named Carnival Dream, scheduled to enter service in October 2009, and Carnival Magic, which will enter service in 2011. These ships will be the largest in the Carnival fleet, capable of carrying 3,652 passengers each, weighing in at 130,000 tons and costing $740 million each to build. Carnival Dream, which is currently under construction at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, will operate year- round services in the Caribbean and will be based in Port Canaveral, Florida.

“The Caribbean is, by far, the most popular cruising region for North Americans,” says Lynn C Torrent, Carnival’s senior vice president of sales and guest services. “It is easily accessible and affordable, and when combined with attractive, destination-rich itineraries such as these, a Caribbean cruise represents the ideal vacation choice for consumers.”

With major players such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival remaining so bullish on the sector’s prospects, The Bahamas looks set to reap the benefits of this trend toward a new breed of superliners.

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