After the economic downturn in 2008-09, conventional wisdom -- if you're in the discretionary-dollar business, like travel -- would have meant cutting back on adding new product for the foreseeable future.
Airlines and cruise lines had to take possession of new aircraft and ships that were already ordered, but the airlines had the luxury of mothballing or selling their older aircraft or cancelling routes.
Cruise lines christened all those new ships and refurbished old ones and generally soldiered on through and out of the recession with a growing fleet.
Now the 2011-vs.-2010 numbers are out, and they prove it was a wise move.
The number of cruise passengers has increased 10 per cent to 16.3 million. Canada's numbers climbed to 691,000.
Among large major cruise lines, close to 20,000 new beds -- down 20 per cent from last year -- are being added, with those numbers decreasing again in 2013. Let's call it fleet rationalization. With ocean cruise lines building at a record-breaking pace in the last three years, it appears they are taking a breath.
River cruise lines, on the other hand, have no intention of slowing the torrid pace of new builds that began in 2011. If my math is right, this year, 14 new river cruisers will be launched, mainly in Europe. A full list and the details on new ships, river cruisers and refurbished ships in the next couple of years are on my blog (portsandbows.com).
Disney Fantasy, Carnival Breeze and Celebrity Reflection probably hold the most interest for North Americans this year, even though all are siblings in a class of ship already on the water.
The Disney Fantasy, second and last in its series, has made major changes to dining areas, the outside top deck, and especially the on-board entertainment. The ship will begin regular sailings March 31.
The Breeze is also the last in its series. Words seldom used to describe Carnival, "muted tones," are being uttered by those who have seen the decor. Joe Farcus, the legendary and outlandish designer for Carnival, is gone, and the new team is adding a "classier" touch to this "fun ship."
Celebrity's Reflection makes it five and done for the Solstice Class. It will be launched in October, with more staterooms and one more deck.
Meanwhile, the river cruisers are being led by Viking's Longships. Six are being launched this year, generating a good share of the industry buzz. The first of the 190-passenger ships will arrive in less than two weeks, with new builds going into 2013.
The most nostalgic launch on the river will be the first new build in 15 years to sail the Mississippi and other U.S. Midwest rivers. American Cruise Lines' 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi will debut in late summer.
In 2013, Norwegian or Princess regulars will watch with great anticipation the arrivals of the Norwegian Breakaway and the Royal Princess. No sister ships here. These are prototypes, with more of the same to come.
With the newness slowing, refurbishing, reconstruction, makeover -- call it what you will -- mean more ships going under the knife than ever. For these used ships, that also means more staterooms, the latest technologies and restaurants, bringing to these vessels many features that are proven hits on previous newer models.
First into dry dock this year was Carnival's Spirit, with Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas concluding the year. In between, 12 ships are undergoing varying degrees of reconstruction.
With the sinking of the Costa Concordia and the powerless Costa Allegro in the Mediterranean, it will be interesting to see if this year's growth supports the industry's ambitious plans.
-- Postmedia News
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