It’s been a strange 2008 for the cruising industry, with plenty of highs yet a growing undercurrent of recession waiting to dampen the euphoria.
The highs were the ship launches – eight of them, starting in April with MSC Poesia and also ending with MSC Cruises, which names MSC Fantasia on December 18.
Despite the credit crunch, the year started with messages of reassurance from cruiselines. Cruising is good value, cruising will survive the crunch, cruisers have savings so they won’t be affected by the economic downturn.
But then talk changed to recession, unemployment started to rise, interest rates hit lows never seen before and even those cruisers living on their savings started to think twice about booking a cruise.
In November, Carnival UK chairman David Dingle told Travel Weekly: “People want to be sure of their personal position before committing [to a holiday]. I cannot pretend cruising is not feeling some of this and we are seeing some rebasing of our booking curve people are waiting longer to book.”
As 2008 ended, discounts became the buzzword as cruiselines cut prices to encourage bookings.
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines pulls celebrations at Dover to welcome new ship Balmoral, formerly Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Crown, because work to stretch the ship by 30 metres has overrun. Fred Olsen is confident the inaugural will leave as scheduled on January 30. It sets off in mid-February.
Princess Cruises enters the world cruise arena with Royal Princess, which departs from Fort Lauderdale to circumnavigate the globe.
Norwegian Cruise Line says it is pulling a second ship out of Hawaii, leaving just one ship in the NCL America fleet. Pride of Aloha is initially destined to join Star Cruises, but plans change and it reverts back to its original name, Norwegian Sky, sailing three and four-night Bahamas cruises from Miami.
Viking River Cruises launches three and four-night sampler cruises between Basel and Düsseldorf.
Sushi king Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa opened two restaurants on Crystal Symphony – The Silk Road and Sushi Bar. He already has restaurants of the same name on Crystal Serenity.
NCL reveals details of its upgraded Freestyle 2.0 product, which includes sparkling wine on embarkation, lobster at dinner and flags on the deck so passengers can wave down a waiter when they want a drink.
Three new ships are named in the UK – MSC Cruises’ MSC Poesia in Dover, P&O Cruises’ Ventura and Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas. Between them they carry about 10,000 passengers.
Former Orient Lines’ ship Marco Polo departs on its maiden cruise from Tilbury for new owner Transocean Tours.
NCL unveils details of its new wave cabin design at STX Europe’s shipyard in France, at a keel-laying ceremony for the first of its two 4,200-passenger ships, code-named F3.
The Association of Cruise Experts’ second UK Cruise Convention opens in Southampton. There are lectures and seminars, and agents have the chance to visit five ships.
The 500-passenger easyCruise Life sets sail on its maiden voyage for budget cruiseline easyCruise from Piraeus, Athens, for a seven-night cruise around the Greek islands.
NCL’s Norwegian Jade arrives in Southampton, opening the cruiseline’s debut season of cruises from the south coast port.
Carnival increases fuel surcharges from $5 to $7 per person per day.
The great fuel surcharge race begins. One after another, the cruiselines increase the surcharge to cope with the rising cost of fuel.
Silversea’s new ship Prince Albert II, formerly World Discoverer, arrives in London, from where it sets off for its maiden season in the Arctic.
Holland America Line’s Eurodam spends the night in Southampton, giving the UK trade a chance to see the new ship before it is named in Rotterdam.
Costa Cruises floats out two ships on the same day, in different shipyards in Italy. Costa Luminosa and Costa Pacifica will be named together in Genoa in June 2009.
Carnival Cruise Line makes its ex-UK debut with a spectacular naming ceremony for the new Carnival Splendor at Dover. The ship will be sailing 12-night cruises from the UK port to the Baltic.
Voyages of Discovery makes fuel surcharge history by billing a couple for £892. They cancel their cruise in anger.
Oceania Cruises announces its new ship will be called Marina. The vessel, one of two 1,260-passenger ships on order for the cruiseline (with an option on a third), is being built in Genoa and will launch in autumn 2010.
MSC Cruises orders two new Musica-class ships, each almost 90,000 tons and with capacity for 2,550 passengers. Royal Caribbean International’s giant Oasis of the Seas goes on sale.
P&O Cruises reveals that cruising today is cheaper than it was 10 years ago.
News emerges of a dispute between NCL and STX Europe over design changes to the revolutionary F3 ships. These are to have no theatre, no main restaurant and the first ice-bar at sea. NCL and STX refuses to comment.
Celebrity Cruises’ new ship Celebrity Solstice leaves the Papenburg shipyard where it was built, sailing backwards down the River Ems on its way to sea trials.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines sells its 50% share in Island Cruises to TUI Travel, which already owns the other half. In March 2009, Island Star is to be transferred to RCCL’s Spanish brand Pullmantur, Thomson Cruises gets Island Escape.
Peter Deilmann launches a debut programme of Christmas and new year cruises for winter 2009/10.
Carnival UK announces the demise of Ocean Village. Its two ships will transfer to P&O Australia in autumn 2009 and 2010.
Carnival Cruise Lines blames economic uncertainty for its decision to pull its summer 2009 Dover-Baltic cruises after just one season.
Cruiselines announce the end of fuel supplements in 2010, and introduce a tortuous system whereby cruisers will be refunded the charge in 2009 if the oil price stays below a certain level.
Another big month for ship launches. Princess Cruises names Ruby Princess in a very red ceremony in Fort Lauderdale eight days later, in the same port, Celebrity Cruises names Celebrity Solstice.
Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II departed Southampton for the last time, heading for Dubai where the ship will become a floating hotel.
Royal Caribbean International’s giant Oasis of the Seas is floated out at the STX Europe shipyard in Turku, Finland.
Silversea pulls Prince Albert II’s summer season in Tahiti to offer Arctic cruises instead. The cruiseline says, due to current economic conditions, it makes more sense to operate the ship within reach of its three leading markets – the US, UK and Europe.
P&O Cruises reveals details of new ship Azura, launching in 2010, emphasising it will go back to the brand’s core values. It will have single cabins – an industry first for a new ship – and an Indian speciality restaurant.
Fuel surcharge plans change again as Carnival lifts fuel surcharges from the middle of the month, instead of waiting for 2010. Many cruiselines follow suit, but not P&O Cruises, Ocean Village or Fred Olsen.
Hapag-Lloyd will take passengers off its cruise ship Columbus as it sails through the Gulf of Aden after pirates open fire on an Oceania ship in the region. They will disembark at an unknown location and rejoin the ship in Dubai. Other cruiselines ponder what to do following the attack.
Complete Cruise Solution launches its Wave incentive programme, offering increased commission for agents and onboard credit for passengers, almost a month earlier than usual to try to boost bookings.
Italian diva Sophia Loren names MSC Cruises’ new ship MSC Fantasia in Naples. The vessel holds 3,959 passengers and has a VIP Yacht Club offering butler service.