Ship Make-Overs: As Good As New Ships?

Can a cruise line with no newbuilds in sight compete with ones taking on dazzling new ships every year? Can a luxury line compete on service alone when its rivals are taking part in a wave of new construction?

The lines on the non-newbuild side of the equation say yes, and in fact, they contend that they offer their guests an advantage: Instead of investing in newbuilds, they spend resources keeping their current fleets fresh.

It’s hard to argue with the logic – if Royal Caribbean International is spending $1.5 billion on one ship, Oasis of the Seas, it’s bound to leave the company strapped for less cash to spread across upgrading its 20 other vessels.

Meanwhile Princess Cruises, whose main rivals Celebrity Cruises and Holland America are in the midst of fleet expansions, is the largest North American cruise line with no newbuild on order. But the 16-ship line just spent millions upgrading the Coral Princess and the Ocean Princess.

Princess gave the Coral Princess some of the features found on its newest vessels, like the Sanctuary adults-only, quiet area and Movies Under the Stars jumbo outdoor screen. The Ocean Princess, formerly the Tahitian Princess, received new upholstery, carpet and flooring, among other upgrades.

Holland America Line is taking both tacts. It has newbuilds in place and on order, but the company also has spent more than $525 million on its Signature of Excellence initiative, which saw upgrades of features and amenities on its ships fleetwide.

In the luxury sector, Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises are competing with a segment that is undergoing its first newbuidlings wave in a decade (with new ships for Seabourn and Silversea). Neither Regent nor Crystal has newbuilds on the books, but both are spending millions to keep their products current.

Crystal just gave the 15-year-old Crystal Symphony a $25 million makeover with a reconfigured Lido deck, refurbished specialty restaurants; and upgraded penthouse accommodations. The reburb is part of a $65 million investment in both of Crystal’s ships in next three years.

Regent is following a similar course, with Navigator emerging from drydock late this year with a stem-to-stern makeover that Mark Conroy, Regent’s president, says will result in “a stunning new look and feel, two new dining venues and a spa operated by the renowned Canyon Ranch.”

It’s true that upgrades won’t garner the headlines earned by ships with zip lines and real growing grass on ships, but the continued investment in the fleet reminds loyal followers that the ships they have known and loved for years are being kept relevant and are not being neglected.

What’s your take on the issue? Can cruise lines with no newbuilds compete?

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