In the Observation Lounge with Glen Moroney

Scenic Eclipse, the world’s first discovery yacht, has charted a pioneering course from the outset. CFR's executive editor Jon Ingleton boarded the vessel in Jeddah this October, joining international guests from the first cruise in Saudi Arabia since 2014

In the Observation Lounge with Glen Moroney

CFR

Jon Ingleton enjoys paddelboarding in front of Scenic Eclipse, which is anchored off a small island in the Jaba AL Lith archipelago

For Glen Moroney, CEO and founder of Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours, launching Scenic Eclipse was a particularly stressful endeavour – first the shipyard fell into bankruptcy and then a global pandemic hit. However, Moroney was relaxed when I joined him, and others, for an informal coffee in the Observation Lounge onboard Scenic Eclipse on Sunday 17 October 2021 during a cruise in the Red Sea.

Here, he shares his perspectives on shipbuilding, new technology, cruising in Saudi Arabia and other topics.

Designing and building ships
We’ve ended up being a rather unique sort of company. We started operating land tours, then we began operating cruises and we’ve now morphed into a company that designs, engineers and builds our own ships from scratch.

I lead our team to design the exterior and how the ship is laid out, the size of cabins, number of restaurants and all the technical aspects. Meanwhile, my wife Karen collaborates with her two assistants to do all the interiors. She’ll tell you about the speakers, the ceiling, where that carpet came from, how she went to Marcolini Marmi to pick the marble blocks, how she designed the coffee tables. She took care of everything, right down to the crew cabins – and they’ve got the same toppers and mattresses as our guests. The bar was my idea though, 100 whiskeys. But she did everything else!

Karen started assisting with the design of our river cruises back in 2011 and has since become progressively more involved. When we brought out Emerald River Cruises, Karen did 100 per cent of the interiors and then she worked on the interiors for Scenic Spirit and Scenic Aura in Asia. . Then along came Scenic Eclipse and she said: ‘Wow, this is going to be fantastic.’ Of course, this was a major project. To be honesty, it took a lot of hours to complete the exterior, general arrangement plan and the technical side of things, but it was only about five per cent of the time it took to do the interiors.

I love cruising on this ship. We designed it to reflect what we love. Yesterday, for example, I went to the gym to work out, had a sauna and then I jumped in the chilled plunge pool – it is freezing but you come feeling a million dollars. After that I had a massage, coffee in Azure, breakfast and lunch in the Yacht Club and I've now had two dinners in Lumiere. The ship offers the perfect combination between relaxation and rejuvenation. When I was in the spa yesterday, I just thought ‘wow, this is pretty cool.’ I think we got the whole experience right.

The latest ship technology
We ticked every box. We’ve got everything on here: zero-speed stabilisers, ABB Azipods, diesel electric propulsion, dynamic positioning system, 168 cameras, all-automated safety systems. If one of the fire sensors goes off, and nobody touches it, the air conditioning cuts off, the fire doors close and the fire system starts spraying high pressure water.

It's as technologically advanced as any ship ever built. We went to Antarctica and we were sailing in eight-metre-high seas across the Drake Passage with all of the restaurants and the bars open and operating. I was receiving messages from the onboard crew saying that they’d done the passage plenty of times before on other ships where everything was closed and people were locked in their cabins.

The stabilisers have the same hydraulic drives as those on Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas. This enables Scenic Eclipse to lean over slowly in really rough weather, which gradually slows her down and then she just pulls it back.

Future fuels
My personal belief is that in the medium- to long-term it will be hydrogen. I think there will be biofuels biodiesel too. I'd love to see that sooner than later because you've got the existing infrastructure, so you don't have to change anything. But I think longer-term it will be hybrid.

Planning and cruising in Saudi Arabia
We travelled around for six days, and the people were so welcoming and friendly. I've connected to Saudi Vision 2030 – the Kingdom wants the country to open up and is genuinely excited about the changes that are coming. You’re really at the ground here because they’re only just starting, and they’re two years behind their plan because of Covid-19. But the plans they have got are spectacular.

However, at this point in time I don’t think Saudi Arabia has the infrastructure in place for us to just offer a Red Sea cruise for the international market. Consequently, our cruises will include calls in the Holy Lands, the Suez and then go on to Saudi Arabia, so it will be included as part of a longer cruise. I’m sure this will change over time.

As Saudi Arabia has been closed for so long, cruise operators tend to think that we’ll just put the throttle down and charge past its long coastline. Obviously, that's not now the case. Just talking to people, there's a huge desire, but there are a lot of questions. And I know that they're actively looking at all of that.

If you speak to Mark Robinson, chief operating officer of Cruise Saudi, he will tell you that the organisation is fielding constant requests for port visits. You're one the first international guests that has been here (on a cruise ship) for years, so you'll have to ask yourself what’s your perception after you've finished. That's pretty cool thing, right?

Crew welfare
I think you have to ask the crew members how they’re treated but they seem to be pretty happy. In total, 75 per cent of the crew cabins onboard are single cabins and I think that’s probably the highest proportion of any ship. Instead of just having a normal twin they have a single cabin and the wet room in the middle, which means that only 25 per cent of the cabins are twins.

You would have noticed that we have a diverse group, which is a really noticed principle. We have Canadians, Europeans, Asians and people from pretty much everywhere else. It seems to work really well, and we don't have any problems employing crew member. And, when you talk to them, they seem to feel like it’s a family.

Growth
Our growth plans have been slowed by two years. Although Eclipse 2 should have been in operation by now, we had to pause the building process but we’re in full production now, as is Azzurra. Eclipse 2 will be the last of the series and we’ll be launching a new series of vessels that we've already started engineering. You know I will never build anything over 300 passengers, ever.

We had a huge problem with Scenic Eclipse. It was a difficult and very stressful time, but ultimately, I'm now sailing on something that I think is pretty special. And , delivering the experience is really exciting. If anyone takes a look at the videos and imagery of what we did down in Antarctica, they will see that it was phenomenal.

 

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
18 October 2021

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