Building the next generation of cruise ships

From massive fleet expansions to first-time newbuilds, the cruise industry is booming. Sam Ballard speaks to the executives behind some of the biggest new ships

Building the next generation of cruise ships
MSC Meraviglia is the first of 11 new ships to Join MSC Cruises' fleet between 2017 and 2026
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

It’s no secret that the cruise industry is enjoying something of a renaissance when it comes to newbuilds. Shipyards, which for a long time had stopped relying on the business generated by cruise lines’ newbuild programmes, have now started to see their revenues driven by them. According to Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) 2017 Cruise industry outlook there are 230,788 new berths currently on order, all due to be delivered by 2026. Given that this is across the 80 ocean ships and 17 river vessels that have been announced so far, the figure is likely to rise beyond the many billions that have already been slated for investment.

One of the companies that is spending the most – €9 billion (US$10.6 billion) at the last count – is MSC Cruises. It launched MSC Meraviglia, built by STX France, in June 2017. “MSC Meraviglia has been a series of highlights for both myself personally and MSC Cruises,” explains Rocco Gargiulo, project coordinator for MSC Meraviglia. “She is the first of 11 new ships to come into service between 2017 and 2026 under our investment plan, which is an important investment not only for MSC Cruises, but also the industry. From a technical perspective, she’s able to travel up to 22.7 knots and has been designed to operate in all seasons. She’s able to call in most of the world’s cruise ports and offers the widest and most exciting range of onboard features on any MSC Cruises ship. One of the proudest moments for me was when the ship received her official flag and blessings for good fortune, which pays tribute to centuries-old maritime tradition that runs deep in our DNA.”

Andrea Gangale, the line’s head of product development and guest experience, adds: “One of the most unique features about MSC Meraviglia has to be the Carousel Lounge, where we host two highly interactive Cirque du Soleil at Sea shows created just for MSC Cruises, with two performances six nights a week. MSC Cruises specialises in world class partnerships and MSC Meraviglia is evidence of this.”

MSC Cruises will also launch MSC Seaside from Fincantieri’s yard this year. MSC Seaside is another entirely new class of ship that will offer more outdoor space than any other MSC Cruises ship.

“MSC Seaside is the first of a completely new and innovative generation of cruise ships being built by MSC Cruises and Italian shipyard Fincantieri,” comments Mimmo Lubrano, the project co-ordinator. “The ship’s exterior was completed over seven months and we’ve since focused on completing the interiors, fixtures and fittings to the super-high standard we expect at MSC Cruises. This ship is another new prototype for MSC Cruises and, while challenging, the reward of seeing your project completed to such a high standard is worth all the hard work.”

Norwegian Cruise Line is also expanding, and together with Meyer Werft, launched its first China-bound ship Norwegian Joy this July. It also has six newbuilds under construction – Norwegian Bliss and a fourth Breakaway Plus-class ship at Meyer Werft, and four Leonardo-class vessels at Fincantieri, the last of which will debut in 2025. The company, which has upped its game since its US$3 billion acquisition of luxury players Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises (as part of its deal for Prestige Cruises), is now analysing what went well with Norwegian Joy’s launch before Norwegian Bliss debuts in 2018.

“I’m particularly proud of The Haven Suites and Concierge class of accommodations onboard Norwegian Joy,” says Arturo Guerrero, vice president of hotel operations and newbuild delivery at Norwegian. “Along with the private Concierge Lounge, which forms part of the new Concierge concept for our brand. The premium enclave has a unique set-up which offers our guests an elegant area to relax and take in the beautiful views.” It is this luxury offering that has set tongues wagging and left industry spectators curious as to how Norwegian will maintain standards in new markets.

“Our biggest challenge is making sure that we provide a truly tailored experience for our guests, from the features mentioned previously down to the décor and the crew,” Guerrero says. “We wanted to ensure that 90% of our crew working onboard Norwegian Joy were Chinese as this would help us to deliver the right experience for our guests in the ship’s main target market, China. This meant that we needed to coordinate a robust training schedule so that the new crew members coming onboard in June had had the opportunities to not just know the ship inside and out, but also understand the Norwegian Cruise Line brand.”

Another cruise line that is preparing for its biggest launch with the help of shipbuilder Meyer Werft is Saga Cruises. Spirit of Discovery – the first ship the company has ever built – will be launching in 2019 and is already getting its fair share of column inches.

“Over the past 18 months we’ve been developing the ship’s basic design and structure, selecting machinery systems and agreeing the onboard accommodation,” explains David Pickett, Saga’s newbuild director. “Right now, almost exactly two years from delivery, we’re in the midst of agreeing detailed internal layouts with the shipyard. We’re looking forward to seeing mock-ups of our new cabins in August, followed by the start of steelwork production by the end of 2017.”

There are few companies that have as much buy-in from their customer base as Saga, which will be reflected in the ship’s design. “Spirit of Discovery is being designed with Saga Cruises passengers in mind,” Pickett explains. “At all stages, our passengers have reviewed and guided our decisions, from key design features to the finer details in the cabins. While I enjoy the creative design and building process, with the most exciting part always being when the ship comes to life with passengers onboard.”

Judging by the amount of involvement past passengers have, it isn’t just Pickett who is excited to see the latest stage in Saga’s development.

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