CARNIVAL, RCL UP THE ANTE IN AUSTRALIAN CRUISE MARKET Bigger, better ships will soon be heading for Australian waters

Issues & Trends – March 2011

Bigger, better ships will soon be heading for Australian waters

By Caroline Gladstone

CELEBRITY Cruises claims it will “turn Australian cruising on its head”, when it brings the 122,000-ton ship Celebrity Solstice to Australia for the 2012/13 summer season.

The three-year-old vessel will be the youngest, largest and highest-rated ship ever to be based in Australia when it arrives in December 2012 for a series of 10 cruises.

The move follows the announcement in January that Carnival Cruises Lines will permanently base the 10-year-old Carnival Spirit in Australia from October next this year.

Celebrity Cruises Australia managing director Gavin Smith said the Solstice – launched in November 2008 and rated 4.5 stars by the revered Berlitz Guide to Cruising – will be “light years ahead of any ship working out of Australia”.

“It’s young, large and beautiful”, he said, and at 317 metres it is longer (and larger) than Queen Elizabeth but 28 metres shorter and 30,000 tons lighter than Queen Mary 2.

Like Carnival Spirit, Solstice is too tall to fit under the Harbour Bridge and will have to berth at Circular Quay’s Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT).

The announcements that two big ships are set to “call Australia home” is expected to force the government to invest in new cruise infrastructure.

But while Carnival Australia managing director Ann Sherry, a strong advocate for Garden Island as the new cruise terminal, said Spirit’s arrival would be the impetus needed for the government to act, Gavin Smith declined to comment on the issue of an alternative terminal east of the Circular Quay.

He said Celebrity Solstice’s cruise schedule would be devised to fit in with other ships already booked into the OPT.

Smith, however, said he was a supporter of the White Bay cruise ship terminal project (at Balmain) and believed the new road works would make it viable. “It’s a great spot for a cruise terminal,” he said, adding that he did not believe Barangaroo (a new business and recreational development just north of Darling Harbour) would be suitable for cruise ships.

The Carnival and Celebrity announcements mean the competing cruise lines will have to sell around 100,000 extra berths between them a year on South Pacific, Australian coastal and New Zealand cruises come 2012. Solstice carries 2850 passengers and the 88,500-ton Carnival Spirit carries 2667.

But the prospect doesn’t seem to daunt either company with both Sherry and Smith saying the current buoyant Australian cruise market will continue to grow.

Last July parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises announced the return of Century cruises to Australia after a two-year hiatus and released a program of 13 cruises aboard the 15-year-old Century.

Smith claimed bookings for this program had been so strong that Miami head office decided the local market could support a bigger vessel for the 2012/2013 season and beyond.

Solstice is expected to offer similar cruises to Century including a circumnavigation of Australia and cruises between Australia and New Zealand with departures from Sydney, Auckland and Fremantle. Overnight stays in Sydney will also feature on several itineraries.

While Solstice’s fares have yet to be released, Smith said they will be “common rated with Century”.
Australians are expected to comprise 50 per cent of the market, with North American and UK passengers making up the rest.

“We are bringing one of the world’s best ships to a place where many people want to come,” Smith said.

Smith said his challenge was to get the maximum amount of Australians on board. However he believed that putting a ship with a large percentage of balcony cabins (Solstice has 85 per cent balcony accommodation) into a destination-intense itinerary would pay off.

Celebrity Solstice is the first of three Solstice-class ships to be launched since 2008 – two more are under construction and will enter service this year and next.

They feature larger cabins and bathrooms than other Celebrity ships, a new stateroom called Aqua Class providing unlimited access to the spa’s relaxation room and Persian Garden and exclusive use of the light-cuisine Blu Restaurant, 10 dining venues including four specialty restaurants and a concept known as the Lawn Club – a 2130 square metre area of real grass on the top deck. Here passengers can play lawn bowls or relax.

The new deployments will see Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have three seasonally-based ships by 2012, while Carnival Corporation (the umbrella company for more than 10 brands) will have seven permanently-based ships. Ann Sherry said it was amazing growth considering Carnival had just two ships based in Australia year-round in 2007.

There are six restaurants and eateries and 16 bars and lounges.

Carnival will also court the Australian and New Zealand market, and top up sales with US passengers.
Smith said Celebrity was not going head-to-head with Carnival Cruises Lines. “Carnival Spirit is not even a reference point [to the Solstice],” he quipped.

Brochures for the Solstice are due out at the end of March; Carnival Spirit’s will be released mid-year.





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