This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver looks back at some of the most interesting stories of 2006.
Another year older
As 2007 rapidly approaches, I though I'd look back on the maritime news discussed in Cruise News, by yours truly, over the past year. It was certainly was an eventful year:
January saw the world's media carry numerous stories about Queen Mary 2's cruise to Rio de Janeiro. In short, propulsion problems forced the cancellation of three ports of call scheduled for the Port Everglades to Rio de Janeiro leg of a scheduled 38-day cruise (St. Kitts, Barbados and Salvador). In essence, the passengers purchased a 'cruise', but they were provided with a 'line voyage'. Anyone who has experienced both will know that they are very different experiences. It all ended happily ever after when Cunard eventually refunded the passengers, the full cost of the cruise, although not everyone agree that they should have.
In February, out of the blue, Royal Caribbean announced their intention to build the biggest cruise ship of all time. The ship is being built as part of the 'Genesis' project and will be 220,000 gross tons and carry more than 5,400 souls. Genesis will be over 45% bigger than the Queen Mary 2. I don't think anybody expected to see a ship in excess of 200,000 gt within this decade. However, it is little surprise that RCI are the ones to push the envelope. They are clearly the market leaders in designing state-of-the-art floating 'resorts'.
In April, we got some more details about Royal Caribbean's more modest giant 'Freedom Of the Seas' which was then under construction (…and is now a reality). At 160,000 Gross tons she is now the world's biggest cruise ship, eclipsing Queen Mary 2 in size, although arguably not in taste. In contrast to all this news about the 'biggest' the world, the news also broke in April that the Norwegian Cruise Line's 34,000 gt 'Norwegian Crown' has been sold to the UK based Fred. Olsen Cruise Line. Olsen already has a small fleet of intimate ships all under 35,000 tons.
In May we had three interesting nautical events. Firstly, we had David Blaine spending a week underwater in a goldfish bowl. I must admit that I though that Blaine was completely mad until I heard that he was paid nine million dollars for this week of work.
Secondly, we had 'Freedom of the Seas', the world's biggest cruise ship visiting both Southampton and New York. The wave of publicity surrounding this impressive vessel was like a media-tsunami. Legendary Singer and Songwriter Barry Manilow kicked off his Summer Concert Series Onboard World's Largest Ship. Apparently, when it comes to ships and noses, size really is an advantage.
Thirdly we had Wolfgang Peterson's remake of the 1972 movie 'Poseidon Adventure' hitting the big screen. Although rather good from a special effects point of view, as a movie it was a damp squib - instantly forgettable. It was certainly not on a par with James Cameron's Titanic.
In June it was confirmed that in 2007 Cunard will have a three-vessel fleet once again, with 'Queen Victoria' entering service. Cunard has not had this since 2004 when the charming Caronia was sold to UK's Saga Cruises to sail as 'Saga Ruby'. In fact there will be three Cunard Queens, for the first time.
The legendary SS Norway reached Indian waters to eventually be scrapped at the ships graveyard: the beaches of Alang. Ship enthusiasts have been praying for a reprieve since she was removed from service following a boiler explosion back in 2003, and several plans to return her to service have been announced. She still awaiting break-up and it now seems that it is too late to save her.
In July, to celebrate her recent 80th Birthday, the Queen of England undertook an eight day cruise around Scotland on the specialty cruise ship, Hebridean Princess. The entire vessel was chartered for the exclusive use of the Queen and members of her family. The Hebridean Princess is a former MacBrayne ferry that has been refitted as a cruise ship. This was the Queen's first holiday at sea since the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997,
In September it became clear that Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) had decided to join the exclusive "Mega-ship Club" by the end of the decade. NCL signed a contract with Aker Yards to build two 150,000gt cruise vessels, know as 'Project F3' (for third generation 'freestyle'), with an option for a third. The total value of the two vessels is reported to be $1.9 billion (€1.5 billion) and the ships will be built at Aker's shipyard in Saint Nazaire for delivery in 2009 and 2010.
In October, Seabourn Cruise Line announced that it will build two new ships for delivery in spring 2009 and 2010. Each of the 32,000-GRT ships will accommodate all guests in 225 suites. In an era where cruise ships just keep on getting bigger and bigger, the construction of two new 'small' ships is an incredibly rare event. Interestingly, the Seabourn newbuilds will be the smallest Carnival ships ever built, as their first purpose built ship, 'Tropicale' in 1981, was 36,674 gross ton.
So what will 2007 bring? The world's cruise industry is growing so we can expect to see continued expansion of the major cruise fleets and many of the minor ones, too. Aida, Costa, NCL, Princess, Carnival, MSC, RCI, and Radisson will all have new ships entering service. In addition, the ships will continue to get bigger. Anything under 90,000 gt will look small. All the major cruise lines will be operating in the Mediterranean in 2007 - the new Caribbean, but with more interesting ports of call. It's going to be another very exciting year and Cruisetalk is the best place to view and discuss it. A very Happy New Year to all our readers.