Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Announces a New Ship - Seven Seas Explorer

Regent Seven Seas Cruises announced today that it has signed a contract to build the Seven Seas Explorer:  a new all suite- all balcony 738 guest 54,000 gross ton ship. 
It will be the largest of the Regent ships, dwarfing its 708 guest/48,000 ton Seven Seas Mariner and 708 guest/41,800 ton Seven Seas Voyager (as well as Regent's third ship, the Seven Seas Navigator at 490 guests/28,000 tons).  Note:  These are lower berth figures, so the Seven Seas Explorer's total capacity, including third and fourth berths, will be nearly 800 guests.

According to the Regent Seven Seas press releases, it will increase its capacity by 40% while providing its guests with the highest passenger to space ratio in the cruise industry.  It will also, according to Regent, make it the largest luxury cruise line in the industry.

Bigger Does Not Equal Better - The Devil Is In The Details!

I must pause at this point and ask, "Why is being the "largest" luxury cruise line a good thing?"  In this market I would think having the best service, the best culinary experience (not options), the best in-suite accommodations, etc. would be the superlatives being emphasized.  As least to me and my clients intimacy is a more important feature. 

Along those lines Regent Seven Sea's announcement hedges it's bets by claiming it will have "one of the highest space ratios and staff-to-guest ratios ever seen in the modern era of cruising".  Its present ships have approximately a 1.6:1 ratio (1.6 guests for each staff member), while Seabourn Cruises have a 1.3:1 ratio, Silversea Cruises has a 1.3 or 1.4: 1 ratio and SeaDream Yacht Club has a 1.1:1 ratio.  This is a very significant 30% difference and there is nothing in the press releases to suggest a change from Regent Seven Seas having the worst staff to guest ratio in the luxury cruise industry. 

If you think I am exaggerating this point, consider the Celebrity Cruises Millennium-class ships.  they have a 1.9:1 guest to staff ratio...which is far more comparable to Regent Seven Seas than Regent is to Seabourn, Silversea or SeaDream!  In fact, Regent's sister company, Oceania Cruises, has better guest to staff ratios of 1.5 or 1.7:1.

Am I being a bit harsh?  I don't think so.  If you are going to assert you are a luxury cruise line with superlatives about your staffing levels, you better be able to support them. My clients are going to know what they are getting as I will never allow slick marketing to get in the way of assuring they receive the best cruise experience.

Some More Details of the Ship

While details are quite limited and not even a profile of the ship is available, the ship will have 369 suites ranging in size from 300 square feet to 1,000 square feet, six open-seating restaurants, a large Canyon Ranch SpaClub, as well as an array of "ultra-elegant" public spaces.  A "museum quality, eclectic" art collection will also be provided.

The size of the ship most definitely puts it in the large ship category for the luxury category; with a length of 732 feet and a beam of 102 feet, making it 44 feet shorter than its sister-company, Oceania Cruises' Marina.

For comparison's sake the Crystal Symphony is 51,000 tons spanning 777 feet in length with a beam of 98 feet.  What this means to me is lots of decks as it is fitting 6% more space - 3,000 more tons (which is actually a measure of volume) in 6% less length than the Crystal Cruises ship while providing significantly more space and options than the current Regent fleet.

And Now:  The Questions!

The skeptic in me has another question:  Why is the delivery date to be in the Summer of 2016? 

It does not take three years to build a cruise ship.  With today's technologies a new cruise ship can be delivered in approximately 18 months.

I have two conjectures...and they are conjectures: 

Regent Seven Seas has been planning on making an Initial Public Offering (IPO) to become a separate public company.  With its heretofore newest ship being a decade old and there being virtually no upside growth potential other than cost cutting/higher fares, a new ship would be more than necessary to make an IPO a viable (and potentially profitable) option.  (You can read my articles on Regent's overall poor financial performance over the past two years by searching my blog.

Regent Seven Seas is planning on ridding itself of its ugly duckling, the Seven Seas Navigator.  This has been a problematic ship, with curious public spaces, significant vibration issues and a terrible maintenance record since Radisson Seven Seas purchased the abandoned Russian spy ship hull.  I know that Regent, even before Apollo Management came in, wanted to rid itself of this albatross.  The problem has been two-fold:  Nobody else wants this problem child and there was not enough money or financing available to purchase a replacement ship.

I don't know if either - or both - are actually on the table, but neither would be shocker to me.

Final Thoughts

If this was a premium cruise line making a similar announcement I would be hugely enthusiastic.  However, I see this as an effort by Regent Seven Seas to continue the "dumbing down" and the dilution of the luxury cruise market.

While Regent Seven Seas desperately needs a new ship (and to get rid of the Navigator), expanding the premium market with luxury hype in order to continue to market a lesser product at the highest rates in the industry is not something I will ever support.

When Regent Seven Seas provide some real details as to what makes its new ship special I will gladly write about it - objectively.  Unfortunately, what I see so far is nothing to crow about...and most certainly nothing that I am anxiously going to be waiting for...over the next 1/3 decade!

 Do you have any thoughts?  Let's discuss them on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum!