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.