Cruise Lines Flee Europe, Blame High Airfare, Again

cruise lines
Chris Owen

North American cruise lines really want to be friends with travelers from Europe. A number of times, various cruise lines have scheduled their largest deployment ever to Europe, only to pull back later when demand for their services was less than anticipated. Looking ahead to 2014, that trend looks to be continuing as major North American cruise brands cut back on European deployment. But there is more to this story than simply cutting back the number of ships in Europe, because the price of airfare for North Americans to fly across the pond is prohibitive.

Europe Out, Asia In?
Carnival Cruise Lines announced that it will leave the entire Europe cruise market behind in 2014, blaming the high cost of airfare to the region for its addition to an industry-wide exodus. Carnival will move Carnival Legend to Australia and leave the rest of its fleet in North America. Frankly, Carnival’s European deployment was mostly Mediterranean sailing and mostly in the summer as the line rolled out new ships Carnival Magic, Carnival Breeze and Carnival Sunshine. Those ships were going to be over there anyway because that’s where the shipyard is that built them. I always viewed Carnival’s European deployment as more of a deployment of convenience.

As a bit of a hint as to where Carnival may be headed, Carnival the corporation (which owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and others) has officially launched its regional office in Singapore. That move signals a rock solid step towards developing these markets.

Tweaking A Good Thing
Princess Cruises is not entirely abandoning Europe. They will move Pacific and Crown Princess to Alaska in 2014, leaving five ships in Europe. This is where Princess’ long history of being destination focused is paying off for the line of the Love Boat. Princess has garnered a reputation for sailing around the world, to some of the most exotic destinations on the planet.Princess mixes it up every year to keep things interesting; they have drawn on experience from their many long-serving employees at various stops along the way. This year, Princess is featuring reduced-pricing airfare to offset objections by cruise travelers over the perceived high-cost of flying.

Royal Caribbean plans on sending eight ships to Europe next year, including sailing giant Oasis of the Seas to sail three times out of Barcelona while the ship is over there for some routine maintenance. That’s down from nine ships sailing European waters this year and 12 ships in 2013.

This year, families with children 12 and under who book a 2013 Royal Caribbean Europe cruise aboard Navigator of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas or Serenade of the Seas can enjoy free shore excursion tours for children when two adults in their stateroom purchase the same tour during May 2013.

Unlike Carnival Cruise Lines, a North American brand that has their trademark FunShip experience producing a fabulous cruise vacation like clockwork, Royal Caribbean is a truly international brand. Sending nine ships to Europe says one of two things, maybe more:

  1. They have been at it long enough that they figured out which ships are the right size to make money in Europe.
  2. Royal Caribbean just really has their act together and has the ability to sail around the world, all the time, year after year.

Oh, should I have sailed in Europe last year then?
This is not the first time North American cruise lines have pulled back on plans to offer what they do for European cruise travelers. Cruise lines were looking for more profitable waters to sail in when the economic depression occurred several years ago. Boasting their “biggest European deployment ever,” cruise lines were quick to turn back when Europe sailings did not fill up as they had anticipated.

The good part of all this is that cruise lines have the ability to move their mobile assets (floating hotels) to different parts of the world when economic issues, safety concerns or other reasons say repositioning is a good idea. Hotels that do not float cannot really do that.

Thinking about a European/Mediterranean cruise vacation? Now would be a good time to either go or begin planning. North American cruise lines want to sail there, but they need passengers to do that.

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