Thursday, March 15, 2012

Seatrade LED lights, efficiency, refurbs

I had the pleasure of attending Sea-trade yesterday in Miami for a few hours and I learned allot. I learned that there will be many more ships refurbished than built in the next few years, with many of the refurbishment's being more and more spectacular than ever. The Carnival Destiny is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of refurbishments, with its partial new deck and 3 deck high Serenity area.

Considering that RCLs median age for their ships is 15 years, they are in what they call a sweat spot of still being young ships but in need of sprucing up according to Kevin Douglas, VP Technical Projects and New Builds RCCL. Even so ships at the 15-20 year mark may be pushed off to other brands or sold as there is lots of downward pressure on the new build business due to low orders and low pricing.

I also learned that Oasis and Allure may stand alone for a long time as the largest cruise ships in the world as costs to build and other trends indicate the sweat spot for new builds is around 150,000 gross tons in size, not plus 200 gross tons.

A new player in the ship build business, at least a new player again, is Lloydwerft Bremerhaven, who is now building the Aidamar, a Sphinx series ship, due to be completed May 2012. At 71,100 Gross Tons, she will be Panamax sized. Lloydwerft Bremerhaven can only build Panamax size ships due to dry dock space, however this company specializes in refits and sees a bright future in many more refits than new builds as the trends shows.

Ship builders will be much more focused on efficiency in new builds than every before. As it were, hydrodynamics was always very important but now ships are going to be much more efficient in terms of per passenger. This means more efficient air conditioning, lighting and general power consumption. An example of this would be the use of LED lighting, which I saw demonstrated at the event. The life span of a regular Incandescent buld is about 2000 hours, and if used over the span of 10 years would cost around $198 to use, wherein an LED light of the same or similar luminance would cost around $30 to use over the same span of time. So as you can see the cruise lines see huge savings in power by using and switching to these bulbs. So don't be surprised if you start seeing LED lighting all over the place on ships in the next few years.

One very notable upgrade I saw realized yesterday was MTN's launch of iphone and ipad applications that allow you to utilize the ships wifi network to communicate between your family or friends right on your phones. This means no more "I will meet you at the pool in 30 minutes" just to find out your friend is not there and you have to search the entire ship to find them, just pull out your iphone and send them a text or call them. There will be an extra, nominal fee to use the application, and the application does not allow outbound calls at this time but will in the future. You can also send SMS pictures with the application. I am told by MTN this system has been deployed on smaller yachts to date, but no cruise ships yet, but that they have significant interests from all there large lines and its very possible to see it rolled out in 3-6 months from yesterdays cruise ship launch event.

One little tidbit I gleamed was that Carnival has no interest in using the same video technology as RCL has on Oasis for their in room video and menu system on new builds and will be using a new firm with what I consider a much nicer, more Android and polished interface, that will bring a full menu to the in room TV as well as stream, paid movies. RCL has some menu-ing but lacks full functionality as I noticed on my last trip.

One issue that came up was the new emissions mandate that will be ratified as soon as one year from now. Ship builders and Owners alike are very aware of this mandate and are not pleased at all about the cost thy will incur to update existing ships to clean water and stack pollution, but it appears they have accepted the mandate will happen finally and are planning to invest once forced to do so.

Finally, a noticeable storm cloud at the event was Costa Concordia. In just about every event I attended it was mentioned in one way or another, as it should be. There is no more important thing for customers and the industry than safety. I personally still have not heard anything about what Carnival is finding in its investigation on what happened and very little about what is being done to prevent this in the future. We have heard the Captain alone was at fault and that the crew saved many lives and that everyone must now muster after every embarkation, but that is really it...Has Carnival and the industry learned? I hope so..

I would like to thank Buck Banks for access, he was very gracious in allowing us all the needed credentials. I hope to attend again next year and from there on. All in all this is a worthwhile event for the industry both here and in its other two home locations.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A little of this and a little of that

It appears that the cruise industry has dodged a bullet and is doing ok in wake of the Costa Concordia incident, as bookings remain consistant with previous Wave seasons. Concordia has been almost completely emptied of fuel and is scheduled to be cut into pieces and removed in the coming months, this is also good news.

More bad news for Costa today, Costa Allegra incurred an engine fire, has lost power and is drifting in the Indian ocean. We are told that all passengers and crew are fine, and that the bridge has been in communication with authorities and tugs are en-route to pull her to the nearest port to disembark all passengers as soon as possible. More news as it happens.

This is really bad news for Costs, who is now 0-2 in safety. I am starting to wonder if this storied company will survive these incidents. Will customers overlook these incidents? It will become more clear as time passes and new births are sold and at what price point they are forced to sale them at.

In other news, MSC Poesia, has cancelled their Mediterranean cruises in October of 2012, calling it a "Refurbishment". Customers are receiving fare price protection, as well as $50 per person on board credit and airfare and hotel changes are being paid, or customers can opt for a full refund of their cruise fare.

In other news, the AP is reporting an Argentine province turned away two Carnival Corp. cruise ships early Monday, seeking leverage against Britain in the country's sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands.

The Star Princess and Adonia ships were refused entry to Argentina's southernmost city of Ushuaia early Monday after stopping at the islands en route to Chile. The decision was made by the provincial governor a month after the Falklands government turned away the same Princess ship, citing health safety reasons, after it had stopped in Argentina.

Carnivals John Heald is back on the high seas as of last week on the Carnival Magic out of Galveston. Take a look at his daily blog here.

Happy cruising!

Friday, February 3, 2012

To kick off or not to kick off

Its been reported that at least one person was kicked off a Holland America ship recently because they were not taking part in the Muster drill.

I have no argument with what happened, as much as I hate the drills it is something we all must do. My argument is with the timing of this incident. I see this as a little late and a distraction from the real issue.

Several bodies have been recovered from the Costa Concordia with life vests on. So I can only conclude that these people attended the muster drill or at the very least watch the video on TV in their staterooms prior to the accident. So the question I ask yet again is what happened to these people Carnival?

These deaths were not due to lack of knowledge of safety. These people were in vests, following directions that your crew were giving and somehow they were simply forgotten.

This question is the elephant in the room that no-one seems to be talking about. Its irritating to see the big corporations carry on as if its all over now. They are re-starting their advertising campaigns, talking about new ships, new shows, food, destinations and everything else except the obvious.

I find this despicable. This is an example of corporatism at its best. Minimize, distract, and avoid to save the bottom line.

If the media were to actually ask what happened to these people then the answers would really hurt.

The crew in its utter dis-organization in the final moments left these people to die by mistake.

So how safe is cruising? If you simply look at what happened you can see how the first major safety operation was conducted on a cruise ship.

Yes a great majority made it off safely. Lets not forget that this ship did not sink in the Atlantic at sea, it Partially capsized hundreds of feet from shore. Everyone should have made it out.

Now your going to hear, the crew was amazing, they saved 4000 lives, without the Captain, they are heroes and how dare you bring this up.

Anytime, even one life is lost, a rescue operation IS A FAILURE. Especially this one.

I'm not going to beat a dead horse here, so long as Carnival owns up to what happened. Pays the families of the dead huge sums of money, and takes a well earned-earnings beating for a few quarters and learns a lesson that it has to do better next time..Because as fate will have it there will almost certainly be a next timr since we don't live in a perfect world.

In the meantime, yes cruising is safe, go to the muster drills, and dont be a pain in the ass to the crew when they do the drill for you, since that person standing in front of you showing you how to dawn the vest may be the same person saving your ass.

Till next time.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Life Vests and Costa Compensation

By Rob Alfonso January 23 2012

Twitter sirobin171

Costa Concordia

More than 4000 people were rescued from the Concordia last week, with the help of the crew and Italian Coast Guard. All people involved deserve great credit for this.

However, some people did not make it off the ship and died, some with life vests on, in hallways and restaurants.

This is very saddening and disappointing to me.

These passengers knew there was a problem, did what they thought was proper to prepare and then somehow never made it out.

When one can can swim to land and the ship is only half sunk, EVERYONE should get off alive. There was plenty of time to scour that ship for people, get them in a safe place and get them off the ship.

So what happened to these passengers? Why were they left behind? By beaching the ship, the Captain gave EVERYONE on the ship a chance at survival.

So I am saddened, and upset, as you should be, at the failed execution of the safety plans in their entirety. There are no easy answers, and its going to take months to really know what happened and how to fix it. However with what we already know we can piece together what may have happened now.

It took more than one hour for the Captain and crew to start evacuating the ship. In this first hour people were simply told there was a technical problem and not to worry. People went back to their cabins in many cases and waited. Crew in hallways reiterated that they stay calm and that the situation was not serious.

So it appears that a lack of communication was the real problem. The officers knew they had a real problem minutes after the ship was damaged. This explains why people got stuck in hallways, and some trampled.

Its a sad fact that had an orderly evacuation started earlier, most likely, everyone would have made it out of the interior of the ship and probably would have survived.

The aftermath

Lets not think for a moment though that this can't or won't happen again. Real improvements are needed in safety. This will be up to the cruise lines to figure this out, and I fully expect them to do just that and report to us what they are doing to ensure that only the best safety plan is executed at sea in the future, with or without a competent Captain as the last one on board.

In conclusion

I love cruising. I want to see it around for a long time, however, Concordia is a black eye for the industry. The image of the Concordia laying breathless, half on her side, has been beamed into living rooms and offices all over the world. This image alone will haunt the industry for a long time.

The good news is that repeat cruisers (1 in 4 Americans) will mostly keep cruising, as a set of new polls suggest, and they will help keep the industry alive for a while. However there is a huge contingent of new customers that may now see cruising as a risk and may opt for land based vacations as tried and true, paralyzing growth for the entire industry.

Only time will tell, many cruise lines are booked heavily for the coming year and can rely on this pre-Concordia business for a while, its what happens later that is concerning.

Image change is now the 100 pound Gorilla in the room, a gargantuan task for the cruise lines to overcome. We shall see....

Concordia Compensation

The fact is that air fare is expensive. In many cases it costs more than the cruise itself if flying overseas. So for Costa/Carnival to offer a $200 ship-board credit per person to guests that had travel insurance thru Costa, that can only be spent on the ship-board account is really disappointing. Thats to say nothing to the people that had no insurance, they dont get any airfare compensation unless they can get it from the airlines.

Surely a few hundred North American guests were due to fly to Rome to pickup Concordia, each one paying between $700- $1500 for an airline ticket before March 24. Its also a safe assumption that many, many more European guests were flying to the US to cruise after March 24, each spending a comparable amount to fly.

I realize that if the cruise line covered all the plane changes and ticket changes it would be costly, however, in the end, it is the right thing to do. Considering this situation is entirely Costa's fault.

In conclusion

I learned this last week that only about half of all cruisers buy travel insurance. Now that we see what can happen, maybe a few more of you will get travel insurance. Just remember, most of the survivors had no passports, no cash, and just the cloths on their back. Many had to get their embassy in Rome to help them make ends meet the first few days. Travel insurance helps with allot of these things, not to mention you get back all the money you paid for the failed cruise.

Here is the official Costa compensation release:

Costa Cruises released options for those North American passengers who are scheduled on upcoming sailings onCosta Concordia or any other ships in the fleet. Guestsmust select their options by February 7, 2012.

The Costa Magica and neoRomatica will assume the Western Caribbean itineraries so guests vacations will not be interrupted.

Options for guests scheduled to sail on Costa Concordia until March 23, 2012:

  • Cruise Price Protection is available on any January-March,2012, 5-7 night sailings based on availability.
  • Re-book an 11 nights sailing on Costa Serena or neoRomatica
  • Cancel without penalty ( including Costa’s air, hotel, transfers, vacation protection, and government taxes and fees) and receive a full refund + 30% future cruise credit on a sailing within the next 18-months. If guests purchased their own air, Costa will reimburse up to $200 per person in form of on-board credit.
Guest set to sail on Costa Concordia after March 24, 2012:
  • Guest can book on Costa Magica or neoRomantica
  • Cancel without penalty
If guest purchased independent air, they need to contact their provider for their policies.
Guests booked on any other of Costa ships:
  • Guests booked on any Costa sailings can cancel for any reason without penalty including Costa’s air, hotel, transfers, vacation protection, and government taxes and fees. This must be done by February 7, 2012.