Will cruise sector bounce back as biggest ever ship sets sail?

Photo credit: Pascal Bredel, marinetraffic.com

The cruise sector is finally getting its mojo back after a tumultuous few months.

In 2018, it was estimated that the world cruise industry was worth a hefty $150 billion. But as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the sector, even the biggest players were left reeling as loses mounted up. 

Shares for the largest three cruise organisations were $30.30, $10.50 and $12.60 respectively on 1 April 2020. That was approximately 70 – 80 per cent lower than at the beginning of 2020.  

Exclusive analysis from MarineTraffic earlier this year showed cruise ship arrivals were down an incredible 55% in 2020. AIS data revealed that just 26,080 passenger ships (>49,999 GT) arrived at ports worldwide as the pandemic shut down even the world’s biggest economies.

However, almost two years on since the first case were discovered in China, the world is slowly getting back to normal amid successful vaccination programmes. 

The biggest cruise ship in history will officially make her debut in 2022. Measuring a mammoth 1,188ft long, 210ft wide, Royal Caribbean ‘s new Wonder of the Seas is almost ready to take paying passengers. The vessel’s sister ship, Symphony of the Seas, currently holds the title as the world’s largest cruise ship. 

As with many modern cruise ships, it’s seriously kitted out. Features include; FlowRider wave simulator machine, a 10-deck-high zip line, an outdoor movie screen, basketball, volleyball, mini golf, AquaTheater shows, pools complete with bars, whirlpools and a spa and fitness centre.

The ship will make her debut from Florida in March on a series of itineraries around the Caribbean. Pre pandemic, $2 billion was contributed to the Caribbean via the cruise sector every year. 

In spring 2022, Wonder of the Seas will be Europe bound for a series of trips around the Mediterranean, departing from Rome and Barcelona.

Last month, she was towed out of the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France, before being put through her paces on the open seas.

Over four days she covered 1,550 nautical miles and hit speeds of up to 24 knots (27mph). Around 500 workers were involved in the trials and more than 40 sea acceptance tests were completed. 

Michael Bayley, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International, said: “The momentum taking off across bookings and our returning ships in the U.S. and Europe is significant. With half of our fleet sailing again, we are encouraged by what we’re seeing. These regions are in the position to welcome a brand-new, innovative ship like Wonder of the Seas.

Wonder will shine bright as the world’s newest wonder in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. And what’s in store is the ultimate vacation experience that highlights the very best of Royal Caribbean, reimagines renowned favourites and introduces new adventures every guest, no matter their age, can enjoy. 

Just last week, Princess Cruises celebrated the arrival and return to service of Majestic Princess at the Port of Los Angeles.

Princess contributed $594m to the Los Angeles economy in 2019. Over the past decade, Princess ships have made more than 700 calls.

 “We are pleased to welcome guests aboard Majestic Princess today and celebrate the ship’s maiden voyage from the West Coast,” said Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz.

“We have been sailing out of Los Angeles since our cruise line first began in 1965, and our guests and crew are helping the City of Angels generate substantial revenue for local businesses with our west coast cruises homeporting from here year over year.”

But despite clear green shoots in the cruise sector, the long-term future remains uncertain.  

Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have had to borrow to stay afloat. 

The trio have amassed an eye-watering $58 billion in debt. Carnival had $26 billion in long-term debt as of 31 May. Royal Caribbean Group owed $20.1 billion as of 30 June, according to second-quarter earnings reports. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, meanwhile, was $11.9 billion in debt at the end of June.

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