Royal Caribbean chief says second UK ship ‘when not if’

Royal Caribbean’s Ben Bouldin said it was a matter of “when not if” the line bases two ships in the UK, but there were currently “no plans” to do so.

Speaking on board new vessel Wonder of the Seas as it made its European debut, the operator’s vice-president for the EMEA region did not rule out the possibility of another ship departing from Southampton, joining Anthem of the Seas, which first started sailing from the port in 2021.

“I absolutely want to have a second ship in Southampton, and it’s a question of when rather than if, but there are no clear plans at the moment,” said Bouldin.

“Our ex-UK marketplace is very buoyant and Anthem continues to be incredibly popular with our guests.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to increase deployment, but there’s no firm decision yet.”

Bouldin did not rule out the possibility of Wonder of the Seas one day departing from the UK, but said the Oasis-class ship “performs better” in warmer climates.

“Interestingly, Wonder is set up for it [UK sailing],” he added. “It was originally going to sail in China, so it’s got the climate-controlled solarium and the more sheltered 360 aqua-theatre at the back.

“Those are two developments designed to facilitate being in more variable climates, but generally speaking, the Oasis class performs better in hot weather as it has a lot of outdoor space; the challenge with the UK market is that you never know what [weather] you’re going to get.”

He added he was “not ruling it out” but there were currently “no plans” for it to happen.

While Royal Caribbean has enjoyed a strong recovery after a first-quarter loss, Bouldin warned there was “still work to do” before the line returns to pre-pandemic levels of trading.

“We’re in a situation where we need to book as many passengers as we can,” he added.

“Normally at this stage of the year we’d be pretty much fully sold for our summer season, so we’ve got a bit more ground to make up on some ships and we’re prioritising our efforts on selling them.

“Things are looking good but there’s still work to do and there are still bumps in the road. It’s two steps forward, one step back at the moment.”

Bouldin cited the rising cost of living as an area of concern, because it “impacts people’s gung-ho nature to book a cruise and makes the pool of people smaller”.

But, despite the hurdles, he was optimistic about the future, and hoped 2023 could be a record year for the line.

“I’m very confident,” he said. “For sure it’s going to take a little while for us to get back to our enviable position of 2019, which was our best-ever year, but we hope to bounce back and be in best-ever year territory in 2023.”

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