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Luxury, Luxury, Luxury!
The old long-distance ultra-luxury cruises offered by lines such as Norwegian America Line and Swedish American Line were ultimately succeeded by the new Royal Viking Line, formed in 1972, which was joined by Crystal Cruises in 1990.
In the meantime, from the small ultra-luxury ships of Sea Goddess, Seabourn, Silversea and Regent have now evolved large ultra-luxury ships as well. And all along, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has maintained an extremely high standard with its last two Europa's, the present ship of that name celebrating ten years service next year.
Recent developments have seen an expansion of this market and the demographics of the baby boom generation mean that the future looks very good.
Royal Viking Line
Founded in 1972, San Francisco-based Royal Viking was the first contemporary cruise line to offer varied longer itineraries as opposed to 7-day repetitive cruises. Originally owned by three Norwegian shipowners who supplied one ship each, Bergen Line the Royal Viking Star (today's Black Prince), Nordenfjeldske the Royal Viking Sky (now Boudicca) and A F Klaveness the Royal Viking Sea (now Phoenix Reisen's Albatros), the line was headed up by Warren Titus, the formed head of P&O-Orient Lines in the United States.
Each 21,000-gross ton ship carried 550 passengers as built and they were later enlarged by lengthening to 28,000 tons and 750 guests. In 1984 the line was acquired by Kloster Cruises, who built the 37,845-ton 850-guest Royal Viking Sun and the 9,961-ton 212-guest Royal Viking Queen.
In 1987 its offices were moved to Coral Gables, Florida, to be closer to Kloster's Norwegian Cruise Line, at which time Titus left.
In 1994, Cunard purchased both the brand and the Royal Viking Sun to operate with its own Sagafjord and Vistafjord, which it had acquired from Norwegian Cruise Line, while the Royal Viking Queen, which had originally been ordered by Seabourn Cruise Line and taken over on the stocks by Royal Viking, finally joined her original sisters Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Spirit.
In 1999, the Royal Viking Sun became the Seabourn Sun and the Royal Viking Line no longer had a ship, while in 2002 she passed to Holland America Line as their Prinsendam.
Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises was formed in 1988 as the first large-ship low-density luxury line, carrying many fewer guests than lines operating equivalent size ships. A subsidiary of NYK Line of Tokyo, the line's first ship, the 48,600-ton 940-guest Crystal Harmony, was launched at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan in 1990, while five years later a sister ship, the 51,000-ton 960-guest Crystal Symphony, was built in Finland.
Both were the work of Swedish architect Robert Tillberg, whose Tillberg Design also participated in the internal design of the 68,000-ton 1,060-guest Crystal Serenity, the line's third ship, built in the same yard as Queen Mary 2, Chantiers de l'Atlantique in St Nazaire, and delivered in July 2003, six months before her. The one thing that sets Crystal apart from its competitors is that it still offers the two-sitting system of dining, although it must be admitted there are two alternative restaurants, one Nobu and a fine Italian eatery, that offer variety of fare.
In 2006, the Crystal Harmony went to parent company NYK as its Japanese-market cruise ship Asuka II, replacing an earlier ship of that name, also Mitsubishi-built.
Talk continues about Crystal again building a third ship but until the dollar gains some strength and the US economy rebounds this seems unlikely.
Sea Goddess / SeaDream
The 4,260-ton 212-guest Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II were completed in 1984 and 1985 respectively, and after a poor season in 1986, they were chartered by Cunard Line for twelve years. In 1998, when Cunard was acquired by Carnival Corp the ships were then transferred to its Seabourn operation.
This was the first series of ultra-luxury ships whose decoration was entrusted to Norwegians Peter Yran and Bjorn Storbraten, of Oslo, who designed suites instead of cabins for them, each with its own sofa and sitting area near the entrance and separate sleeping arrangements in the window - which themselves featured king-size beds rather than the traditional separate berths.
Ultimately, in 2001, these ships were sold to SeaDream Yacht Club, headed by Atle Brynestad, founder of Seabourn and former chairman of Cunard Line and director of Carnival Corp. Co-owner and president of SeaDream is Larry Pimentel, himself a former president of both Seabourn and Cunard Line. The ships were rebuilt with more open yacht-like arrangements and renamed SeaDream I and SeaDream II.
The Yachts of Seabourn
San Francisco-based Seabourn Cruise Line had been founded in 1986 by Atle Brynestad and headed up in America first by Warren Titus, late of Royal Viking Line, and later by Larry Pimentel. This line built the 9,975-ton 212-guest Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Spirit, delivered in 1988 and 1989 respectively. An originally-planned third sister, completed in 1992 as Royal Viking Queen, became the Seabourn Legend when she finally joined the fleet in 1996.
Also in 1996, Carnival Corporation & PLC acquired a 50% interest in the line, and purchased the other half interest two years later.
As with the Sea Goddesses, design of these ships had been entrusted to Yran and Storbraten, but the living area in the suites was this time moved from the entry side of the suite to the window side to give more light. Much larger ships, these were the first "yacht-like" ships to approach 10,000 tons.
More recently, Seabourn have ordered three 32,000-ton 450-guest ships of the Seabourn Odyssey class at Mariotti, reportedly having beat Silversea to the berths, and these will be delivered in June 2009, 2010 and 2011. At three times the tonnage of their predecessors, they will carry only twice as many passengers.
Seabourn is now headed by Pam Conover, the former president of Cunard Line who oversaw the Queen Mary 2 project.
Silversea got its start in 1992, when the Vlasov and Lefebvre interests, who had sold Sitmar Cruises to P&O, opened a new Monaco-based ultra-luxury cruise line and built the 16,800-ton 288-guest Silver Cloud and Silver Wind at Mariotti Yards in 1994 and 1995. Once again, the design elements of these ships were entrusted to Yran and Storbraten.
They were successful enough that Silversea ordered a second duo, the 28,250-ton 388-guest Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, delivered in 2000 and 2001, once again by Mariotti.
This June, the line added another ultra-luxury touch when it introduced the luxury expedition ship Prince Albert II, to its fleet accounting for just 9% of its present berth capacity and 7% when two new ships are delivered.
The big news is this order for two 36,000-ton 540-guest ships to be built by Fincantieri, its usual Mariotti yard slots having been filled by Seabourn's order for three ships with which to compete with them.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Formed from Radisson Cruises and Seven Seas Cruises, Regent's first ships included the 180-guest Song of Norway (now Le Diamant) and 354-guest Radisson Diamond (now a gambling ship in Asia) plus the 320-berth Paul Gauguin, based in Tahiti. But beginning with the 28,550-ton 490-berth Seven Seas Navigator from Mariotti in 1999, the 48,000-ton 708-guest Seven Seas Mariner followed from Chantiers de l'Atlantique in 2001 and the 42,000-ton 708-guest Seven Seas Voyager in 2003.
Having gone all-inclusive (fare, gratuities, drinks) two years ago Regent is out to give all-inclusive Seabourn and Silversea a run for their money, as well as now offering a large ship alternative to Crystal with open sitting.
But the biggest news is last year's acquisition of Regent Seven Seas by Apollo Management LP, which had earlier acquired Oceania Cruises. The two lines will maintain their separate identities and markets but have been rolled together into a company called Prestige Cruise Holidings. Talk now is of another newbuilding or two for Regent.
At least as far as the "Berlitz Guide to Cruising" is concerned, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' 28,000-ton 408-guest Europa is the only ship to qualify for "five stars plus" and she has now for eight consecutive years, ever since she entered service. Her namesake, the 1982-built 33,800-ton 600-guest Europa, had also held a five-star-plus ranking for much of her career and has been followed by a worthy successor. Although the Europa is not an all-inclusive ship in usual terms, compared to North American-operated ships she should be as drinks on board are still duty free.
All that remains of the concept of duty free in American ships today is the bottles that are sold for passengers to take ashore. Drinks and wines are now sold at hotel prices but on Europa, these expenses are nominal by comparison.
On the expedition side, Hapag-Lloyd also operates the 8,378-ton 184-guest Hanseatic, a ship that scores in the middle of the Silversea range at five stars.
One rung down the ladder from the all-inclusive Seabourn, Silversea, Regent and SeaDream and ultra-luxury Crystal and Hapag-Lloyd is Oceania Cruises. Their first three ships, designed by John McNeece, at 35,000 tons and 68i4 guests, have staterooms that are quite a bit smaller than the standard of the ultra-luxury lines, but carry a much smaller number of guests than today's mega-ships, thus offering a sort of entry level of luxury at a more affordable fare.
More recently, since their acquisition by Apollo Management, Oceania has ordered two new 1,252-guest ships of 66,000 gross tons, for delivery by Fincantieri in 2010 and 2011.
These new ships will have input from the well-known Yran and Storbraten. Perhaps a good comparison for them might be the 68,000-ton Crystal Serenity, which carries 1,100 guests at double occupancy at about the same size.
There are of course a select few other ultra-luxury operators, such as Hebridean International Cruises and the Sea Clouds, but these main ultralux operators, most of whom are in the course of building or planning new ships, will provide a valuable alternative to the mainstream lines that are going mega with all sorts of new innovations.
For those who like the genuine cruising experience, more ships will be available, and some at fares that will be quite competitive. But one reason some people like to pay high fares is that they can afford to, and another is that it keep the level high, i.e. they are likely to meet people of a similar background to themselves.
As one ultra-luxury line sales manager said to this writer recently, "Would you rather be on a ship where you realize you don't like most of the people on board, or one where you know you will like most of them?"
(Source: By Mark Tré - Cybercruises.com)