Tag Archives: windstar cruises

ARE DELUXE SHIPS GETTING TOO BIG?

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At 28,000 tons and carrying under 400 guests, Silversea’s Silver Whisper is one of the finest luxury ships in service anywhere

It’s a question well worth asking, when you consider developments over recent years. Are newer, bigger ships trading off intimacy and accessibility to ports in order to create more dining experiences and ever larger, more luxurious suites? Has the formerly unique magic of the deluxe, all inclusive ships been diluted in some quarters by a headlong rush to build bigger, flashier ships than was the case some three decades ago? Let’s take a look….

This article was prompted in part by the decision of Windstar to embark on an ambitious, triple ship expansion programme. It’s three motor yachts- fondly remembered as the original, start up trio for the very upscale Seabourn Cruises- will be updated with the addition of a twenty-five metre new mid section. Tonnage will go up from the present 10,000 to around 13,000; an increase of roughly a third. But passenger capacity will go from 212 to 312-an almost fifty per cent increase in real terms.

All three ships will benefit from new suites, and no doubt those added balcony rooms will do much to increase the allure of the already superb Windstar product. There will also be a welcome brace of new restaurants, together with a new spa, and much expanded health facilities. But will this upping of guest numbers do anything in the long run to dilute the on board Windstar experience that people know and love?

It isn’t simply the enlargement of existing ships that is worth considering. Look at Silversea. That line started in 1994/1995 with a brace of beautiful, bespoke 19,000 ton sister ships- Silver Cloud and Silver Wind- that carried just 279 guests each. The same line’s latest ships now come in at around the 40,000 ton mark, and the recent lengthening of the 2009 built Silver Spirit brought her roughly up to that same size as well.

Over at Seabourn, those same, original 10,000 ton sister vessels cited in the Windstar paragraph have been supplanted by a series of wonderful new vessels, each one four times as large as those original building blocks. Seabourn had rightly realised that a lack of expansive cabin balconies on those ships was seen as a drawback; a fact that Windstar’s decision to upgrade those same three ships would seem to vindicate. But a fourfold increase in overall size is still quite the leap.

When Oceania Cruises turned it’s mind to new builds in 2011, the two resulting ships- Marina and Riviera- were svelte, sublime twin revelations in many ways. And, at 66,000 tons each, they were more than twice the size of the R-Class ships with which the company had been founded back in 2003. Passenger capacity almost doubled as well, right up to 1,266 on the new ships.

But not everybody has gone down the ‘bigger is better’ route. Always at the edge of the luxury pack, Crystal Cruises’ initial plans for a trio of 100,000 ton, deluxe sister ships, complete with an entire deck of Condo suites for sale, was scaled back down to a more bijoux trio of 60,000 tonners that sit neatly between the lines’ existing brace of seagoing scions, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. And, in another move, both of those latter ships have actually had their on board guest capacity reduced. This is partly to finally allow both ships to offer single sitting dining, and also to create some larger, more expansive suites at the very top end of both ships.

Regent Seven Seas, too, has also remained on it’s successful, well proven trajectory of crafting ships of around 50,000 tons. The line’s recent Seven Seas Explorer is just 4,000 tons bigger than the 2003 built Seven Seas Voyager. For Regent, ‘steady as she goes’ seems to be the mantra in terms of size and on board numbers.

Azamara Club Cruises has played it coy, nurturing and burnishing a trio of 30,000 ton, former R-Class sisters that, in time, will almost certainly be joined by a fourth. As things stand, this is one of the best balanced lines of all in terms of synergy.

Does size really matter in the long run, then? Not so much in terms of personal space on the luxury ships, where the passenger numbers are still kept at a uniform low. If anything, accommodations have actually grown in terms of size and opulence. And, of course, these larger ships can offer far more diverse, sophisticated dining options. And, while entertainment is not always the main priority on many upscale ships, it’s also true that crafting a larger class of ship allows for more diversity and range in the on board offerings. And there are few greater luxuries associated with top end cruising than choice, whether in terms of food, accommodation and yes, even entertainment.

Where a bigger ship-however luxurious-can lose out is in terms of access to smaller, more intimate ports of call around the globe. That’s immutable, and one of the areas in which size really does matter.

The bottom line? It’s always going to be a trade off, even at cruising’s gilded apex. If it’s ease of access and the destinations that are your prime driver when picking a cruise, then opting for a small ship remains an obvious given. But, if the on board lifestyle and luxe are more your prime consideration, then any one of the more recent breed of larger, luxury cruise ship will please and pamper you, 24/7.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here either, by the way. There’s just diversity. And we’re all the better off for that, whatever cruise type we decide to choose.

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WINDSTAR GOES BIGGER; THREE YACHTS TO GET NEW MID SECTIONS,CABINS AND DINING OUTLETS

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Windstar’s Star Breeze

When extra capacity becomes an imperative and you simply don’t have the time to build a new ship from scratch, sometimes the best solution is to ‘stretch’ one or more of your existing ships instead, to accommodate more guests.

Stretching ships as an expedient is nothing new; in the 1970’s and early 80’s, both Royal Caribbean and Royal Viking Line did exactly that with (almost) all of their first line tonnage. Later. Home Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line did something similar, but on a larger scale of ship. And even Royal Caribbean not so many years ago ‘stretched’ one of it’s Vision class ships in the American short cruise market.

Stretching is faster on the whole, it’s usually cheaper, and it also allows the option of staggering the rebuilds so that at least some of the ships are always in service, guaranteeing that vital revenue flow that all lines need to keep to survive.

Recently, Windstar Cruises decided to go down this same, tried and tested path. The line is introducing a $250,000,000, three ship expansion project- the Star Plus initiative- that will bring all three of it’s current motor yachts right up to the forefront of intimate, contemporary cruise vessels.

Between October of 2019 and November 2020, Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride will each in turn be cut in half at the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo, Italy. There, all three ships will have a newly built, 25.6 metre long mid section inserted.

Tonnage for each ship will go up, from the present 10,000 to a projected 13,000 tons in all. The addition of some fifty new suites and cabins will bring the guest capacity of each ship up to around 312- one hundred more than at present.The new, added space will allow for the creation of two new, as yet unspecified dining venues on each ship, together with a new spa, a much larger fitness centre, and extra retail space. Crew accommodation will also be significantly upgraded; always a good move.

Far more crucially-both for the environment and Windstar’s bottom line- all three ships will be completely re-engined with a set of four new motors. These are designed to make the ships cleaner and more fuel efficient, and also to give them a slight increase on their present speed of around eighteen knots.

The yachts- all near identical sister ships built between 1989 and 1992- have been carefully inspected right back down to the bare steel, and were found to be in such excellent overall condition that a rebuild on this scale was eminently practical, as well as financially sound.

In all, this vastly ambitious project should raise passenger capacity across the six-ship strong Windstar fleet by something like twenty four per cent overall. At present, no plans have been announced in regard to the stellar core trio of sail assisted vessels that were the line’s founding sisters, but I would be very surprised if some kind of complementary upgrade programme is not at least being considered.

Eschewing the on board formality and set dining times of some other upscale lines, Windstar has long been a byword for casually elegant cruising in a more intimate environment, with the six ships literally covering most of the globe between them. With a reputation for high quality food and excellent, personalised service, it has long been the choice of those who prefer to take their cruises in an upscale, unstructured environment that still pays attention rather than lip service to the smallest detail.

I’ll be following this one with more than a passing interest. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

 

ROYAL VIKING LINE- THE ORIGINAL DELUXE CRUISE LINE

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The legendary Royal Viking Sky, seen here after her lengthening in 1982

Today, there are a handful of sybaritic, top end cruise lines that promise their guests the sun, the moon, and the stars on a golden platter. Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, Seadream and Silversea come most readily to mind.

All of the above are absolutely high end, incredible experiences. But, while they all compete with one another for the cream of the trade, one thing that all of them have in common is their original source of inspiration.

That source being the legendary Royal Viking Line.

Founded by the suave, patrician Warren Titus in 1972, and with head offices quartered in San Francisco, the line pioneered an almost identical trio of superlative sister ships, designed to take top end cruising to a stratospheric level. The plan was simple, but sweeping; create an environment of casual, spectacular ease and luxury that embraced the best of everything, from food, cabins and service through to stunning, far reaching itineraries. Wrap all of this up in a trio of incredible, swan like vessels, and garnish with real Scandinavian hospitality and flair. Titus thus laid the corner stone for the line which, even today, evokes unashamed awe and nostalgia as the true progenitor of luxury cruising.

First out of the stocks was the Royal Viking Star, in the summer of 1972. She was followed by the Royal Viking Sky in the summer of 1973, and by the third ship- Royal Viking Sea- in December of 1973.

The actual physical appearance of these three vessels was nothing short of stunning. Always immaculate in shades of bridal white, each boasted a graceful flared bow, and fine flowing lines topped amidships by a single funnel, one that owed a lot of influence to the rival, much larger QE2.

The three sisters were all of around 21,500 tons as new, and all were delivered from the Wartsila shipyard in Finland. Designed for epic, long distance cruising, the three sisters carried only around 550 passengers each- 200 or so less than similarly sized vessels of the day. And, although balcony cabins were not yet then in vogue, the on board space and accommodation was, quite simply, spectacular for the size of the ships.

Their clientele revolved largely around wealthy retirees, often from the Pacific Coast of North America. These were people used to expecting- and demanding- the best of everything. On Royal Viking, they were indulged and cossetted in a way that had never been seen before, on ships that were intimate enough to have everything imaginable, and yet still small enough to slip into the most secluded, sought after ports in the world. From Papeete to Portofino, these spectacular, modern day Vikings became a familiar, much treasured sight. Within a short time, Royal Viking gained a stellar reputation as the only real way to cruise. All three ships were so popular that they often sold out many months in advance.

This led to some dramatic cosmetic surgery for the trio. Beginning with the Royal Viking Star in 1981, and then followed by Royal Viking Sky in 1982 and Royal Viking Sea in 1983, each ship was taken out of service, cut in half, and then joined together with a new, ninety three foot long new mid section.

These extensions had the effect of raising the gross tonnage of each ship to 28,000, and allowed the ships to cater for a new total of 750 passengers each. Despite this, the three sisters were still able to accommodate all passengers at one seating for dinner, an industry ‘first’ that set the tone for almost every luxury line that followed them.

If anything, the additional length made them more beautiful and yacht like than ever. Still venerated and utterly sophisticated, the three ships went back to their own series of fantastic voyages. But change was in the offing.

In 1984, Royal Viking Line was bought out by the legendary Knut Kloster, as part of his plan to make Norwegian Cruise Line an international conglomerate. Grand as it was, the plan was way too early, and beset with logistical and financial hurdles. Disenchanted, Warren Titus left the company in 1987. But, by that stage, the visionary Kloster was already envisaging a big new build for the fleet. The first, in fact, since 1973.

When she emerged in 1989, the 39,000 ton, 850 passenger Royal Viking Sun had the same general appearance as her smaller siblings, with the exception of her superstructure. This was now garlanded with rows of the newly in vogue balcony cabins, and topped by a shorter, more squat funnel. Big things were expected of this new Viking flagship when she first appeared.

Kloster also gifted the line a small, luxury mega yacht, the 10,000 ton, 1992 built Royal Viking Queen. With all outside suite accommodation for just 212 passengers, she was at that time the most spacious cruise ship afloat anywhere.

But this bullish expansion belied the fact that Kloster’s overblown operation was now in deep financial trouble. Simply put, it had grown too big, too soon. By 1994, the whole operation was sailing on a rising tide of red accountant’s ink.

By now, even the sybaritic Royal Viking Line had lost a great deal of its shine. Newer rivals such as Seabourn and Sea Goddess ate voraciously into its former core passenger base. After twenty two years, Royal Viking Line was finally wound down as a company in 1994.

But the impact of Royal Viking on high end cruising has been seismic. Many of the senior staff on their ships have now transferred to the likes of Silversea, Oceania, and even Crystal.

And it is testimony to the original strength, excellence and adaptability of their design, that all five original Royal Viking ships still remain in service today. The original trio in particular are still utterly unmistakable. Over time and tide, they have evolved into some of the most graceful and elegant vessels still sailing to this day.

Today, Royal Viking Sky survives as Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca, having there rejoined her sister ship, Black Watch, the one time Royal Viking Star. Royal Viking Sea, meanwhile, sails on as Phoenix Seeresien’s magnificent Albatross.

Fittingly, Royal Viking Sun graduated to Holland America Line, sailing for them to this day as their ‘Elegant Explorer’, the beloved Prinsendam. And, still sybaritic to this day, the former Royal Viking Queen remains in service as the elegant Star Legend, of Windstar cruises.

In Royal Viking, Warren Titus created far more than a salubrious brand. He created a legend, one echoed today in the service, cuisine and stance of every de luxe cruise ship in service across every ocean on the globe.

For that, and for the memories that this great institution created over the better part of two peerless decades of excellence and indolence, Warren Titus deserves to be ranked right up there with the likes of Albert Ballin. To this day, Royal Viking remains a byword for the best of everything in luxury cruising. And history will only further embellish that reputation over the years to come.