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Cruise Columnist
Cruise Ship Roundup 2000

by Brent Betit

Yahoo! Sealetter is back online, and we are rounding 'em up for you. Get along little dogies! Let's round 'em and rope 'em, and . . .

Wait a minute. I think I got mixed up with my cowboy column. You probably don't even know what a dogie is, do you? Well, neither do I. But I'll bet not very many cowboys know what the aft end of a horse means, either. Lucky for them!

This column marks a return to the electrons for the Sealetter, and represents a strong statement about the cruise industry in general. Sharon is not the only one who has returned to health.

If anyone believed the rumblings about the decline of cruising several years ago, recent events and announcements in the shipbuilding world should be enlightening. A visit to the Cruise Line International Association web site suggests that cruise line executives and their financial backers are "bullish" on cruising - with good reason. Thirty years ago, only about 500,000 cruisers ventured out onto the waves. Last year, about six million people slipped into a berth. The overall growth during those three decades therefore amounted to about 1,000 percent, and this year, the industry is expected to carry 7,000,000 cruisers. In the United States alone, cruise sales accounted for almost $12 billion in revenue. And total, potential cruise sales over the next five years are almost $100 billion worldwide. That is a lot of zeros in any industry. There is no other segment of the travel industry growing so fast.

Sealetter readers understand why. How else can you visit five or six or ten distant locales in less than two weeks and wake up every morning in the same bed? (And be served by the same waiter, cabin steward, and bartender, all of whom know your schedule, cater to your every whim, and do it all with a smile on their faces.)

The base infrastructure for cruising is, of course, cruise ships and their crews. No industry can grow without expanding its base infrastructure (no, not even the e-commerce businesses can). During the 1980s, about twenty new ships were launched, with double that, or 40 ships, launched during the 1990s. Even more aggressive growth is expected during the 2000s (boy does that "2000s" sound funny).

How many ships will be launched? About two more than the total projected releases of Microsoft Windows software (in other words, about 51). If growth is maintained on this track, by 2010 over a hundred new ships could be plying the waters. Think how hard it will be for NCL captains to avoid other ships then!

At the same time, existing stock is being aggressively renovated, and few ships are being retired or scrapped. All of this points to good news for the cruise public: more choice, more competition, and probably more worldwide port coverage. They can't all weigh anchor in St. Thomas, after all.

In my other career (the one that pays the bills), among other things, I supervise assessment at a small College. Assessment is higher education jargon for evaluation, and deals with data. As anyone who has examined studies coming out of Congress can testify, the same data can say many different things - sometimes even directly opposite things. This month, I thought it might be interesting to look at new ship data, to see what kind of hardware will be rolled out over the next five years.

The first bit of data is easy to extract: there will be literally tons of steel floated over the next half decade. 3,118,960 gross register tons will be launched by the year 2005 (but remember that in nautical terms, tons mean 100 cubic feet of enclosed space, not 2,000 pounds).

The 51 ships will hold a total of 75,415 passengers, and cost almost $12,000,000,000 to build. The average passenger space ratio will be a relatively luxurious 43.2 (to figure average passenger space ratio, divide the total gross register tons by the total passenger count; the higher the result, the more spacious the ship will "feel" for individual passengers).

Those are the easy statistics. Mining the data for more meaning is, well, more meaningful. For example, the fastest growing line, with a total launch of 7 ships, will be Princess. Or will it? Royal Caribbean now owns Celebrity. Between those two "brands," the line will launch eight ships.

Of course, that is meaningless unless we know how many total passengers the lines will grow by. Answers: 16,250 passengers for Princess; 7,800 for Celebrity; 10,428 for Royal Caribbean. Adding Royal and Celebrity's totals, the winner is RCI at 18,228 passengers.

Ah, but wait a minute! Princess is actually owned by P&O, which is launching two additional ships under the P&O brand name. Adding those two to Princess's totals makes it the overall winner in terms of ships launched (9), and in terms of passenger capacity, at 20,700.

Except, how can we forget that 1,000 pound gorilla of the cruise world, Carnival, which is eating cruise lines like bunches of bananas? Carnival owns, either outright or a majority share, the following: Carnival, Holland America, Windstar, Seabourn, Cunard and Costa. Soon, they're going to rename themselves Cruises-R-Us, and position themselves as the only cruise choice available - or at least, that appears to be their corporate strategic plan. I'll bet (and I hope) there are a few other cruise line executives who have different ideas!

But if we look at new ships within the six lines that Carnival controls, they are still not necessarily the new launch winner - Princess wins by a nose (actually, by about 270 noses). Over the next five years, the Carnival corporation will launch a collective 9 ships accommodating 20,430 passengers, enclosing 832,000 gross register tons, and costing $3,570,000,000. P&O's 9 ships, by contrast, will accommodate 20,700 passengers (remember those 270 noses?), and enclose 877,000 GRT. (Note: data on Project Queen Mary, the behemoth reportedly being constructed for Cunard, is not available. For the purposes of my analysis, I estimated tonnage at 150,000 GRT and passenger capacity at 3,000, as rumor has it this will be the largest cruise ship ever launched.)

Why is the biggest line (Carnival) slightly behind P&O in terms of new construction? I would suggest it is because their strategic plan actually focuses somewhat more on acquisition rather than construction. They appear to be trying to get a lock on more market share by diversifying their holdings, providing a broad spectrum of cruise choice, and buying out the competition. Rather than leading the pack in building new ships, they are focusing their net marginal revenue and borrowing capacity on outright purchases, at the same time investing substantially in renewing stock within their existing brands. Time will tell if this is a good strategy. For now, it appears to be working. Let's just hope they uphold their stated aims to leave the "brands" alone, and do not attempt to impose a kind of corporate sameness on all of their holdings. That would turn their holdings into the oceanic equivalent of a string of Holiday Inns.

Now that we have established the new build winner, sorting the data by size of ship launch is also interesting. Ships are definitely growing larger, acknowledging the "ship as destination" approach of some of the lines. After all, if you don't need to get off at that ho-hum port, because your ships is so fabulous, you'll spend your money aboard.

Royal Caribbean is the winner in terms of behemoth ships, with two 142,000 grt ships planned (sister ships to Voyager). P&O (Princess) is next, with five Grand Class ships planned at 109,000 or 110,000 grt. Carnival has three ships planned at 102,000 grt each. The remaining 41 ships are all less than 100,000 grt. It is also worth mentioning that Cunard has, in the works, a quite secret Queen Mary Project, which is rumored to be a monster of a ship, perhaps even larger than the Voyager Class. We will only have to wait until 2002 to get a look at her.

Ten years ago, a ship larger than 40,000 grt was considered large. 35 of the 51 ships that will be launched in the next five years are 40,000 grt or larger, with 27 of them larger than 70,000 grt. But small ship aficionados need not despair. Many of the large ship lines are retiring their small ships by selling them to lines like Commodore, Mediterranean Shipping, and Premier. A small ship experience is also still possible by sailing Seabourn, Silversea, Radisson Seven Seas, Star Clippers, Royal Olympic, or Renaissance. All of these lines are launching new ships over the next five years, including two new Royal Olympic ships at 25,000 grt each, which are supposed to be capable of doing 27 knots.

The cruise industry is, in other words, trying to stay ahead of the market by increasing capacity. Since supply should still slightly outpace demand, given the aggressive scrambling of the lines, all you cruisers should still be able to enjoy reasonably priced, high quality, fun-filled vacations for years to come.

I will include more data in later columns, perhaps even a listing of all the planned ships. That's it for this month, though.

Happy cruising.


Brent BetitBrent Betit is a freelance writer who lives in Vermont with his wife and two young children.

Brent has written many SeaLetter columns on such subjects as sea-going language, cruising with kids and cruise etiquette. To find all of Brent's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Brent Betit" as your search phrase.

Brent is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Brent@sealetter.com.

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