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Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas returns to Miami

  • Written by Teijo Niemelä

Royal Caribbean International re-introduces newly-enhanced Empress of the Seas to the fleet in March 2016. Following a stint with sister brand Pullmantur, Empress will head to Miami giving guests the chance to get away from it all and enjoy a lively, casual, laid-back atmosphere while visiting some of the Caribbean’s most popular islands.

Guests can languish over daily ‘Sunday’ brunches served with a complimentary mimosa or Bloody Mary, enjoy the flexible “My Time Dining” with no formal nights, take in the new Las Vegas-style “Sequins & Feathers” show and then party all night long in the newly reimagined Boleros Latin Lounge. Empress of the Seas also will offer fast pier-to-ship boarding with earlier boarding times of 11:00 a.m. to help guests maximize their vacation time even further.

“We’re excited to welcome Empress of the Seas back to the family, and back to the Caribbean,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. “Empress’s short Caribbean getaways will give adventure-seekers the opportunity to party, chill and repeat. They will feel like it’s the weekend every day on Empress.”

As Miami’s newest hometown ship, Empress of the Seas will offer short 4- and 5-night getaways from Miami to Nassau, The Bahamas; Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; Grand Cayman and Key West, Florida. With longer stays in every port guests will be able to experience spectacular golden sunsets in the Caribbean. Plus, on select 5-night itineraries guest can experience the authentic Mexican culture and cuisine during overnight stays in Cozumel, Mexico. Reservations are available for booking today.

“Miami welcomes Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas to the Cruise Capital of the World,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez. “We thank Royal Caribbean for expanding their cruise business at PortMiami. This new deployment further demonstrates the cruise line’s commitment to growing their business in Miami-Dade County. It represents continued economic growth and more job opportunities for our world-class community.”

Empress of the Seas will offer signature amenities including a thrilling rock-climbing wall for adrenaline seekers; new pools and whirlpools, including an adults-only Solarium; a spa with an extensive treatment menu; and a complimentary Adventure Ocean youth program. Empress also will offer a variety of dining options, including the casual atmosphere of the Windjammer Café and fine dining at the brand’s signature steakhouse Chops Grille. In addition, the ship will offer Voom, the fastest internet at sea.

Originally launched as Nordic Empress in June 1990, the ship was the first to set sail from Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey in 2004. Built in Chantiers de L’Atlantique, St. Nazaire, France, the ship spans nine decks, encompassing 48,563 gross tons, and has a double-occupancy capacity of 1,602 guests.

Crystal Esprit christened in the Seychelles, ready to set sail

  • Written by Teijo Niemelä

Crystal Cruises officially welcomed Crystal Esprit to its fleet of ultra-luxury vessels Sunday, as the yacht was christened in an elegant ceremony held at Eden Island Marina in Mahé, Victoria, Seychelles. Crystal’s president and CEO, Edie Rodriguez, welcomed a distinguished audience of local dignitaries, yacht guests, travel partners and professionals and executives from the line’s new parent company, Genting Hong Kong (GHK), for a day of celebration, as Crystal Esprit marks the beginning of one of the most significant brand expansions in luxury travel and hospitality history.

On hand to christen Crystal Esprit was the yacht’s godmother, Lady Gaenor Anne Meakes, fiancée of Mark Richards, one of the world’s most awarded and recognized yachtsmen. Richards serves as chief executive of Grand Banks yachts, based in Australia, and is an eight-time champion skipper of the 628-mile Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race. Lady Meakes christened the yacht with the traditional breaking of Champagne against the hull – specifically a bottle of Louis Roederer, Cristal Brut, 2004. The evening culminated with an elaborate fireworks display at sea.

“To say today is a special day is an understatement,” said Rodriguez. “Since joining Crystal just over two years ago, a personal goal of mine has been to see Crystal realize the next step in continuing to pioneer luxury travel and hospitality; and today I am seeing that dream fulfilled.” She went on to personally thank GHK Chairman and CEO, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, for his and his company’s support of her vision for Crystal’s future.

Crystal will, indeed, pioneer the luxury travel and hospitality industry far beyond the reaches of ocean cruising, as the line is poised to launch Crystal River Cruises in 2016 and 2017, with five luxury river yachts – more than double the originally planned number – gracing the waterways of Europe include the Rhine, Seine, Danube, Main, Garonne, and Dordogne Rivers. Crystal Luxury Air will take off with all-first-class outfitted Boeing 777-200LR and Boeing 787 Dreamliner taking guests on multi-week journeys to far-off destinations not typically served non-stop by major airlines.

Read more on Crystal's massive expansion program from the next issue of Cruise Business Review.

Carnival Corporation & plc reports a 40 percent increase in full year earnings

  • Written by Teijo Niemelä

Carnival Corporation & plc announced adjusted net income for the full year 2015 of $2.1 billion, or $2.70 diluted EPS, compared to $1.5 billion, or $1.93 diluted EPS, for the prior year. Full year 2015 U.S. GAAP net income was $1.8 billion, or $2.26 diluted EPS, which included unrealized losses (non-cash) on fuel derivatives of $332 million and other net charges of $17 million. Full year 2014 U.S. GAAP net income was $1.2 billion, or $1.56 diluted EPS, which included unrealized losses (non-cash) on fuel derivatives of $268 million and other net charges of $20 million. Revenues for the full year 2015 were $15.7 billion compared to $15.9 billion for the prior year due to the unfavorable impact from currency exchange rates of over $800 million.

Carnival Corporation & plc President and Chief Executive Officer Arnold Donald noted, “We nearly doubled our fourth quarter results and ended the year with 40 percent higher earnings. Strong operational execution delivered $0.25 per share higher earnings than the mid-point of our full year 2015 December guidance, despite a $0.10 drag from the net impact of currency and fuel prices. This year we achieved a 4.3 percent improvement (constant currency) in revenue yields compared to the prior year due to higher onboard revenues and increased ticket prices as we have driven demand in excess of capacity growth, while our ongoing efforts to leverage our industry-leading scale helped to contain costs. Our strong performance led to record operating cash flow of well over $4 billion versus $3.4 billion last year,” Donald stated.

Key metrics for the fourth quarter 2015 compared to the prior year were as follows:
– Net revenue yields (net revenue per available lower berth day or “ALBD”) increased 4.1 percent in constant currency, which was better than the company’s September guidance, up 3 percent. Gross revenue yields decreased 2.5 percent in current dollars due to changes in currency exchange rates.
– Net cruise costs excluding fuel per ALBD increased 3.2 percent in constant currency, which was in line with September guidance, up 3 percent. Gross cruise costs including fuel per ALBD decreased 10.7 percent in current dollars.
– Fuel prices declined 46 percent to $316 per metric ton for 4Q 2015 from $584 per metric ton in 4Q 2014 and were better than September guidance of $366 per metric ton.
– Changes in currency exchange rates reduced earnings by $0.08 per share.
– Adjusted net income was $389 million, or $0.50 diluted EPS, before U.S. GAAP unrealized losses (non-cash) on fuel derivatives of $117 million, or $0.15 diluted EPS. U.S. GAAP net income was $270 million, or $0.35 diluted EPS.
– The company repurchased approximately 8 million shares under its $1 billion stock repurchase program.

Highlights during the fourth quarter included the grand opening of Amber Cove, a new Carnival Corporation cruise facility on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, and the launch of P&O Cruises (Australia’s) Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden, which have been impeccably appointed to suit Australian guests. In October, Carnival Cruise Line and AIDA Cruises announced they will each enter the China market in 2017 with a second Carnival Cruise Line ship to be positioned there in 2018. In 2016, there is already a combined fleet of six ships from the Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises brands scheduled to operate in China. Also, Princess Cruises will introduce the Majestic Princess to the Chinese market in 2017. That ship is currently under construction and will be the first vessel built specifically for Chinese guests incorporating a unique blend of international and Chinese features. Carnival Corporation also recently announced the formation of a joint venture with the China State Shipbuilding Corporation and the China Investment Corporation aimed at accelerating the development and growth of the overall cruise industry in China including the planned launch of the first world-class, multi-ship domestic cruise brand in the Chinese market. These latest developments further strengthen the company’s leading position in China, which is expected to, over time, surpass North America as the world’s largest cruising region.

2016 outlook

At this time, cumulative advance bookings for the first three quarters of 2016 are well ahead of the prior year at slightly higher constant currency prices. Since September, booking volumes for the first three quarters of 2016 are in line with last year’s levels at higher prices.

Donald noted, “As we had anticipated, with less inventory remaining for sale, we have begun to sell at higher prices than the same time last year, particularly close to departure, affirming our expectation of continued yield improvement in 2016.”

Based on current booking trends, the company forecasts full year 2016 net revenue yields in constant currency to be up approximately 3 percent compared to the prior year, of which approximately 1 percent is due to an accounting reclassification for the Europe, Australia and Asia segment. The company expects net cruise costs excluding fuel per ALBD in constant currency for full year 2016 to be up approximately 2 percent, of which approximately 1.5 percent is also due to the reclassification. The reclassification has no impact on operating income.

Current currency exchange rates and fuel prices, net of fuel derivatives, are $0.22 per share favorable compared to the prior year. Taking the above factors into consideration, the company forecasts full year 2016 adjusted earnings per share to be in the range of $3.10 to $3.40, compared to 2015 adjusted earnings of $2.70 per share.

Looking forward, Donald stated, “We have accelerated progress toward and remain well positioned to achieve our double digit return on invested capital threshold in the next two to three years. Over time, we expect to continue to return excess cash to shareholders as demonstrated by our recent 20 percent increase in quarterly dividends and more than $400 million in share repurchases.”

Donald also noted that four new ships are scheduled to enter service for Carnival Corporation brands in 2016. Holland America Line’s Koningsdam and AIDAprima will debut in April, Carnival Vista will enter service in May, and Seabourn Encore in December. Each vessel has a wide variety of exciting and innovative new features that will generate consumer buzz for those brands.

First quarter 2016 outlook

First quarter constant currency net revenue yields are expected to be up 3.5 to 4.5 percent compared to the prior year. Net cruise costs excluding fuel per ALBD for the first quarter are expected to be 2.5 to 3.5 percent higher in constant currency compared to the prior year. Based on the above factors, the company expects adjusted earnings for the first quarter 2016 to be in the range of $0.28 to $0.32 per share, compared to 2015 adjusted earnings of $0.20 per share.

Costa Cruises cuts out agents in UK, to sell online and through call centre - report

  • Written by Kari Reinikainen

Costa Crociere, the Italian unit of Carnival Corporation & plc that trades as Costa Cruises in the UK, has decided to cut out travel agents in the UK and to sell its cruises through its website and through its call centre, Travel Weekly reports

“Costa Cruises confirm that we are introducing a different business model in the UK that will see all passenger bookings made directly through our call centre and online sales platform,” the report said.

“This transition is intended to reflect the evolving state of the UK market, centralising UK operations through a single, dedicated team based in Costa head office in Genoa. All 2016 bookings made by British travel agents will be unaffected and will be managed by those agencies with the full support of the Costa Cruises customer service team," the report quoted the company as saying.

In the view of Cruise Business Online, the cruise industry has bee remarkably reluctant to follow a general trend in the travel industry to taking bookings in-house  in general and in driving the use of the Internet in selling its product in particular.

MSC Cruises to create private island experience in the Bahamas

  • Written by Teijo Niemelä

MSC Cruises, the Geneva-based global cruise line has unveiled ambitious plans to create an unprecedented exclusive marine reserve island experience in the Bahamas.

The visionary project was officially launched yesterday afternoon (16 December) in the Bahamian capital Nassau, where Prime Minister Perry Christie and MSC Cruises Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago signed a 100-year lease agreement that will enable MSC Cruises to occupy and develop the island, to be called Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve.

Over the next two years MSC Cruises will work hand-in-hand with the Bahamian Government and ecologists to develop the cay, a onetime sand extraction station, into a thriving marine reserve that will harmoniously coexist with the local ecosystem. This is a project that will transform the local economy base from resource exploitation to resource conservation.

And in keeping with the company’s commitment to providing absolutely authentic cruise holidays, the island will offer some of the finest beaches in the world, amid an array of Caribbean-inspired experiences. MSC Cruises will invest around $200 million in creating a flourishing natural haven from a desert island.

MSC Cruises Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago commented: “This is a natural progression for our company, which is growing very rapidly, and we are thrilled about providing this totally new experience for our guests in the Caribbean.”

“Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve and its exclusive offerings will be a magnificent extension of our shipboard experiences. We are scrupulous about ensuring every decision we take keeps each of our ships true to the promise of our brand, offering the authenticity and quality our guests expect. This is what made us the leading brand in many of the markets we operate, including across Europe, South America and South Africa. We will apply the same thinking and attention to detail to our Caribbean offering, of which this exclusive marine reserve will become a cornerstone, because we know our guests will be bowled over by this industry-unique experience.”

As well as being the only marine reserve island experience, at 95-acres (38.5-hectares) in size, and with 11,400 feet (3.5 km) of pristine beach front spread across six distinct beaches, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve will be – by a large margin – the biggest island development by any cruise company in the Caribbean. In addition, it will offer a multitude of other key distinguishing features.

For example, a purpose-built berth and pier right on the seafront means that MSC Cruises guests will be able to step off the ship straight onto the island. This unique feature also means guests can move at leisure between ship and island, which will be especially useful since a key part of their visit will be the island’s night life, in particular live music and entertainment at the 2,000-seat amphitheatre, and many restaurants and bars. In addition, the ship and all onboard services – including the casino – will stay open while berthed at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve.

All installations and experiences on the island, which lies 20 miles (32 km) south of Bimini and just 65 miles (104.5 km) east of Miami, Florida, will be fully sympathetic to the culture and traditions of the Bahamas. A comprehensive landscaping plan will see more than 80 indigenous Caribbean trees, grasses, flowers and shrubs, such as Jamaica Dogwood, Red, Black and White Mangroves, and Beach Morning Glory, expertly planted across the island. And there will be an architecturally faithful Bahamian village, plentiful restaurants and bars offering local specialities, a variety of shops and an inviting arrival centre with island-themed music gazebo.

For MSC Yacht Club guests, the northwest corner of the island has been set aside as an exclusive spa and wellness sanctuary, with private bungalows and massage huts.

Also, getting around the island will be a breeze, thanks to a network of walking and running paths, bicycle rentals and other stress-free transport options.

As well as all must-have water sports and beach games, other highlights include:

– A family beach with kids’ restaurant, play areas and other useful facilities

– A charming inland lagoon for absolute tranquillity

– A thrilling zip wire crossing the island

– A pavilion for weddings and celebrations

MSC Cruises plans to break ground on the development in March 2016, and Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve will open to guests in December 2017.

The Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve project will offer a permanent MSC Cruises presence in the Bahamas, for which the Company plans to recruit 240 Bahamians in various roles over 2016 and 2017. The cay will be ideal for all MSC Cruises ships serving the Caribbean region, notably MSC Divina and the under-construction next generation ship MSC Seaside (launching December 2017), both sailing from Miami, plus MSC Opera and MSC Armonia, sailing from Havana, Cuba. In addition, the Company will open a crew training school in Nassau to provide local manpower for the growing number of MSC Cruises ships sailing the Caribbean.

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