Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Seabourn Cruise Line Adds Another Odyssey-Class Ship and Sells The Triplets. Windstar Adds Yachts to its Sails, but Not Sails to Its New Yachts.

Seabourn Cruise Line has announced the sale of its triplets (Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend) to Windstar Cruises commencing in April 2014.


With Seabourn's contemporaneous announcement that it will be building a fourth Odyssey-class ship with construction probably starting within the next six months, it has decided to retain approximately the same number of berths and gradually sell-off the triplets.

The Seabourn Pride, the oldest ship, will depart the fleet after the end of its currently announced itineraries in April 2014.

With Seabourn new ship planned to be completed in 2015, the Seabourn Spirit will depart the fleet in April 2015 and the Seabourn Legend will depart the fleet in May 2015.

What does it mean for Seabourn's present six ship fleet?  Honestly, a bit of emotional disappointment for those that truly love the smallest, most intimate, luxury ships and a bit of a gamble that the Seabourn product will be a sufficiently superior and stylistically different product (service, cuisine and itineraries) to that which Windstar resulting in a streamline of both guest expectations and operating costs.

What does it mean for Windstar?  With its new ownership apparently flush with cash, there is no question that Windstar is working on becoming the "new" upscale cruise product.  Is this exciting?  Absolutely.  Are there concerns?  Absolutely.

Trying to be honest, and not pessimistic, the older Seabourn triplets have their problems and limitations.  The ships are old. As I write this I am staring at a commemorative t-shirt from the Seabourn Pride's 1988 Inaugural cruise and a poster from the Seabourn Legend's 1996 naming ceremony.  Over the past years Seabourn has done a nice job of keeping these ships running, but they require millions of dollars of upgrades and then they still lack the very much in demand balconies.  (I have had discussions with Seattle about how to renovate the triplets in a cost-effective manner...and it was not an easy exercise!)

There are also operational issues as the older ships are not able to readily comply with the newer environmental regulations nor can they travel on longer itineraries without taking more time and far more fuel per guest.

The Seabourn Spirit cannot visit Alaska any more
due to its inability to comply with modern environmental regulations.

That said, having one of the triplets in French Polynesia is a fantastic opportunity for Windstar.  (Wonder where I came up with that?)

And having hardware that can comfortably transport Windstar's guests for more than seven days at a time is a huge boon to its business model.  (Even my mother noted the limitation of Windstar's current cabins - no balconies and small.)

At this point there are years to sort out the guest side of things, with speculation as to where the ships will go, etc.

So let's take a breath and have our first reality check:

  • The Seabourn crew is sticking with Seabourn.  With a new ship on its way and the Seabourn product being heavily reliant on European/South African staff, there is a home for all of them.  Remember the new ships hold 450 guests vs. 208 on the triplets. (The word is already out that Seabourn has sent a letter to every crew member on the triplets guaranteeing them a job.)

  • Seabourn is modernizing its fleet while it has been "struggling" to maintain the older ships that are economically difficult to profit from more to appease the older Seabourn guests...as the Seabourn demographic gets younger and the demand for larger spas, fitness rooms, balconies, alternative dining, etc. has grown.  Financial success is a good thing.  Having ships that best meet the demands of Seabourn's growing client base is the first best step in that regard.

  • Seabourn will be able to expand its itineraries.  If there is one thing I hear all to often is that Seabourn needs new itineraries.  With the slower and environmentally/operationally challenged triplets, meeting that demand was been a struggle.  With newer, faster, more economical...and more luxurious...ships, I am very confident you will see expanded and unique itineraries.  (I will miss some of the smaller ports that now will not be options, though.)

  • Windstar has an already aging fleet of essentially single purpose ships that have limited capabilities.  While I love the concept, Windstar has struggled through multiple owners (including Carnival Corp.) trying to make it work, the new ownership "gets it" and understands that it needs different hardware...and it needs it sooner than later.  Am I a bit concerned about "the best laid plans"?  Absolutely, but that may be in large part because I really don't know - yet- the new ownership of Windstar.  That said, I like what I see!

  • Windstar is presently a "couples" type of cruise with a younger demographic and an upscale casual feel.  It is going to be interesting to see what changes are made to both the hardware and the message.  (Some of the inside marketing planning I have seen makes it clear that Windstar is not going to be focusing on an older demographic, but will stress the Windstar product in a slightly more upscale manner.
Now, should anyone perceive this as a death knell for Seabourn?  Or even something to worry about?  Let's take a very quick look.  Seabourn is building a fourth Odyssey-class ship. (Should I mention that Regent has been talking about building a new ship for about a decade...and nothing has happened while its fleet ages, its prices skyrocket and its bottom line well...bottoms out?)  As for sales, I don't know what other travel agencies are doing, but for Goldring Travel:  We have already sold as many Seabourn cruises for 2013 as we sold for all of 2012. 

As the number one selling agent of Seabourn cruises in the world, Eric Goldring, is confident that while it is emotionally hard to see part of the Seabourn family depart, it is pretty exciting to know there will be a new member of the Seabourn family and that the older hardware will wind up in good hands and with a life other than being scrapped.

In short: Seabourn wins.  Windstar wins.  And you, the cruising public, wins.

If you have any questions or want to book your Seabourn or Windstar cruise, drop me an email at eric@goldringtravel.com or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or UK: 020 8133 3450 AUS: (07) 3102 4685 International: +1 732 578 8585