Setting the pace

Royal Caribbean outlines current developments
Setting the pace

By Michele Witthaus |

Royal Caribbean International is experiencing one of its busiest phases ever, where the physical aspects of its ships are concerned. The rolling programme of upgrades that constitutes the extensive Royal Advantage programme of revitalisation has already transformed Rhapsody of the Seas and Grandeur of the Seas, with Mariner of the Seas to receive many new features and a further three to five ships per year scheduled for this type of upgrade in the near term. Meanwhile, two ships are in the pipeline for delivery in 2014 and 2015 as part of the massive Project Sunshine newbuild programme.

As Goldstein surveys the fleet in the midst of all this activity, he is pleased with what he sees. “As a brand we are known for the distinctiveness of the fleet and the features and amenities on board the ships. This is a very competitive industry and people are bringing out new capacity all the time. So it’s natural for us to put the focus on new ship projects and the revitalisation of our existing ships.”

He is confident that the company’s commitment to ongoing investment in developments such as Project Sunshine and Royal Advantage will yield positive results despite significant costs. “With the new and revitalised ships, we think our brand will be in a very nice position to drive profitability in the upcoming years,” he says.

There have, of course, been some obvious synergies between newbuild and refit activities over the years and this can be expected to continue. For example, the introduction of the Oasis class was followed by the realisation that many more of the new features from these ships could be retrofitted to the older vessels than had been expected, says Goldstein. “Although of course it’s not possible to transport Central Park, the Boardwalk or the Royal Promenade, it is very possible to transport technology features like pervasive wifi, digital signage and giant movie screens by the pool.” Likewise, it has been relatively easy to replicate a number of the specialty restaurants in the smaller ship environment.

Against the backdrop of the fleet’s physical evolution, RCI’s deployment and itinerary strategy has undergone some game-changing shifts in focus in recent months, including establishing a year-round presence in the Asia Pacific region (see cover story for more on Royal Caribbean’s upcoming itineraries). “We spend a very significant amount of time on a continuous basis overseeing the deployment of our ships and there are a lot of aspects to this, certainly far more than twenty or thirty years ago, when we had one person who was responsible for deployment,” says Goldstein. “Now we have a department of people who concentrate exclusively on deployment and itinerary planning and are also constantly liaising with internal and external resources.” Managing homeports, ports of call, interports and berthing schedules to ensure that ships can reliably be in the right place at the right time is an increasingly complex task for today’s major cruise lines, he says. “This runs on an annual cycle which seems to get more intense every year.”

With 2015 looming large for all shipping operators as the year in which punishing new emissions limits come into force, there will be no relief from pressures on the operations front either. The first-phase introduction of emission control areas (ECAs) is already posing deployment challenges for RCI, says Goldstein. “ECAs loom very large for me and for my senior leadership. We certainly expect some level of impact, and we have to take that into account in all of our itinerary planning and deployment. We have a responsibility to deploy our ships in the interests of all of the company’s shareholders as well as our guests. Depending on how these issues play out, it will affect our deployment in one direction or another.”

Given that various jurisdictions, particularly the United States and Canada, are still not clear on exactly what regulatory regime will be in place in the coming years, it is hard for cruise operators to devise workable plans, explains Goldstein. “As the first phase of some of these ECAs come into existence this summer in the US and Canada, there are a lot of issues in terms of being able to source the types of fuel that the ECAs are mandating to comply with the low-sulphur requirements.”

There is still time for productive dialogue around how to reach emissions targets and particularly over what could constitute equivalency, in his opinion. “There might be other ways, either onboard or in trading, banking or averaging fuel credits, to achieve equivalencies leading to the desired results, rather than just the type of fuel used.”

Royal Caribbean has taken the lead in exploring gas scrubbing technology as one of the ways forward, with a trial underway on Independence of the Seas. “We’re on the frontier of trying to establish equivalencies,” says Goldstein. “There is an enormous amount of work going into this – there really are no working examples today of an effective scrubber at scale on any ship in the world that I know of. Land-based scrubbing technology is fairly well established for cleaning sulphur emissions from fuel burning, but reproducing that capability on ships is a very new and daunting undertaking.”

Daunting as it may be, Royal Caribbean has a history of putting unexpected things on ships. “Our desire to provide more active options onboard and to break down the misconception that all you did on a cruise was eat and gain weight led to Voyager of the Seas coming out with the rock climbing wall, which became the icon for this area of endeavour,” says Goldstein. He is still delighted each time the company introduces another unprecedented facility and revels in having “the most amazing jogging track and table tennis facilities ever seen at sea.” While he won’t be drawn on how Project Sunshine will carry this trend forward, he promises that there is plenty more to come in this vein.

This is an abridged version of an article that appeared in the Autumn/ Winter 2012 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read the full article, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.

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