Wednesday, August 6, 2008

New Regent Seven Seas Ship Delayed Until 2012...At Least.

On Monday, Prestige Cruise Holdings announced its plans for the new Oceania Marina...and some interesting insight into the future for any Regent newbuild(s).

According to Seatrade, PCH has entered into a deal for potentially five (5) ships to be built by Fincantieri...all with the same hull; three for Oceania and two for Regent. While there has been a firm commitment for two Oceania ships, not so for Regent.

Robin Lindsay, Executive Vice President for Vessel Operations characterizes the Regent order as "semi-firm" and is dependent on financing. Lindsay was quotes as saying ‘We hope by the end of the year we will arrange financing to sign a firm contract.’ If that schedule holds, the Regent ship will be delivered in April 2012.

For those of you who also read the Cruise Critic message boards, I "did the math" many months ago and asserted that Regent would not have a new ship until 2012 and the usual suspect(s) flamed me for being so "anti-Regent". Alas, there is a big difference between being realistic and negative. The fact is that it will be AT LEAST FOUR YEARS before Regent will have a new ship...and that is dependent on financing; something that is much harder to obtain these days.

But we need to look further into this information...and into our crystal balls...to try and understand what this means.

The concept is that Oceania and Regent will share the same ships to a great extent. Not only hull forms, but engines, systems, etc. The main difference is that the Regent ships - if built - are in theory going to have 450 or less cabins versus the 629 on the Oceania ones.

But when Frank Del Rio discussed the Oceania Marina on Monday he made the ships sound incredibly similar to the current Regent Seven Seas product: luxury, space, cuisine and options. He told Seatrade the Marina will abandon the English country decor for a more modern "transitional and eclectic" one, have large cabins, marble or granite baths, seven dining venues and an internet connected laptop. (As an aside, my guess as to the last item is that in 4 years this will be an antiquated concept...something I said about the move to put ethernet wiring in new homes back in the '90s.)

One thing I find telling, however, is that PCH is not using pod propulsion. This technology has been shown to be more fuel efficient and provides better maneuverability. The reason given for going with propellers: the technology is not proven. Huh? Pods are being installed on vessel after vessel and even the earlier pods are now being retrofitted so that the former problems are just that. Reality check: Pods are a lot more expensive and omitting them can save significant dollars in construction costs...though increased operating costs will exceed that short term financial "solution"...especially on larger ships.

So with Oceania significantly improving its product to be very similar to what Regent and the luxury lines are offering today - save drinks and gratuities included and, possibly, a higher level of cuisine, are we looking at really nothing more than paying for more real estate on Regent...keeping in mind that Regent will be increasing its passenger counts on the new ships; not reducing them to afford a more personalized level of service.

To be fair, I do not know if the crew counts and design have been worked so that this is adjusted to some extent, but I cannot see how 900 passengers can be treated to the same intimate, luxury experience, as 450 or less can be on, for example, the new Seabourn Odyssey and her two sisters that will be sailing by the time the single new Regent ship MAY be delivered...or the new Silversea ship, etc.

I guess we shall see what the plan is when, in fact, there is a defined plan.