Friday, February 5, 2016

S.S. United States, Historic Ocean Liner of Trans-Atlantic Heyday, May Sail Again

Crystal Cruises has signed a purchase option for historic cruise ship S.S. United States, the New York Times reports. The luxury cruise line will conduct a feasibility study on a makeover of the ship, which could cost $700 million to $800 million, that could see it sail again. The S.S. United States was the world's fastest luxury liner when it sailed in the 1950s, carrying 2,000 passengers on transatlantic routes. A Philadelphia philanthropist bought the ship from NCL a few years ago, but has struggled to raise funds to maintain it, bring the ship perilously close to the scrap yard. Crystal has said it will cover the $60,000-a-month upkeep cost of the ship while it conducts the feasibility study, which is slated to take nine months.If the study is favorable Crystal would transform the ship into an 800-passenger luxury ship that could sail a classic transatlantic route between New York and Europe. A concept rendering maintains the classic silhouette of the ship, but with some decks expanded in order to accommodate the addition of balconies, which were not present in the original design. The renovation project is not without its challenges. The ship's steam engines would need to be swapped out, and the presence of toxic PCBs in some areas would mean working with the Environmental Protection Agency to bring the ship up to modern standards. The S.S. United States has just been tossed a life preserver.  In its 1950s heyday, the historic ship — the world’s fastest luxury liner — dashed across the Atlantic carrying royalty and immigrants alike to American shores. But for nearly a half century now the “Big U,” as the ship is known, has been docked, collecting barnacles and rust after jet travel lured away all the customers. Now, however, there is a chance the S.S. United States may sail again, after Crystal Cruises, a luxury travel company, signed a purchase option for the ship. Just months earlier, preservationists almost had to scrap the Titanic-size vessel as their funds dwindled.
For Crystal it would be the latest addition to an ambitious and sometimes unconventional collection of luxury travel offerings — including excursions by personal submarine, and plans for a “cruising in the sky” luxury jumbo jet. It could also be among the most difficult. A makeover of the ship could cost from $700 million to $800 million, according to Crystal’s chief executive, Edie Rodriguez, potentially a little less than building something similar from scratch. Under terms of the agreement, the company will cover the approximately $60,000-a-month cost of caring for the ship for nine months while it does a feasibility study.  It’s not going to be easy,” Ms. Rodriguez said of the project. But while one could argue against it “from an opportunity cost perspective,” she noted, “some things are iconic.”  Crystal will need to figure out how to renovate a ship built for a bygone era. A technological marvel of its age, the ship entered service in 1952 and sailed with three orchestras on board. It was also specially designed to be a fast troop carrier if needed.  The 2,000-passenger Big U, about as long as the Chrysler Building is tall, still holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic, which it set on its 1952 inaugural round trip between New York and Europe. Its top speed remained a secret for decades during the Cold War. More recently, the vessel has struggled to find a purpose. With a gift from a Philadelphia philanthropist, a conservancy bought the ship a few years ago from the cruise operator NCL, which was close to scrapping it. But fund-raising has been a struggle, and late last year the preservationists themselves had to think seriously about scrapping their prize.  The prospect of the ship’s return to seagoing service was a dream we’d basically given up on because of the technological challenges,” said Susan L. Gibbs, executive director of the S.S. United States Conservancy, the group that owns the vessel. But Crystal, which is expanding its lineup of vessels, saw potential, Ms. Rodriguez said. She and the company’s chairman, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, decided that it would be a “crime” if the ship were melted down.
Crystal is owned by Genting Hong Kong, which holds a stake in NCL, the ship’s former owner. Mr. Lim is also Genting’s chief executive, which makes this his second experience with the S.S. United States. Asked what might kill the deal, Ms. Rodriquez cited environmental obstacles that could be raised by the E.P.A. and gave an example familiar to any homeowner. A budget of $100,000 for an addition, she said, can balloon to $200,000 “because you couldn’t get permits, because of the foundation.” That, she said, would be a “showstopper   
For more information and to make reservations on a Crystal Ship, with  exclusive rates and amenities, contact The Cruise Professionals at at 203-288-1884 or email:

Royal Caribbean Changes the Last-Minute Discount Landscape

Consumers and agents can no longer expect deep discounts on Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.-affiliated sailings in the last days leading up to departures.  Seatrade Cruise News is reporting that the company’s Chairman and CEO Richard Fain has declared there will be no new discounts within 30 days of sailing with the company on its brands — Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.
It’s all part of the company’s pricing integrity policy that had been previously inconsistent with some last-minute deals opening up 10 days prior to sail dates or before. Now the only exceptions will be on shorter three- and four-day voyages. Otherwise, the updated policy applies to all itineraries in the hopes that it will make pricing more digestible to consumers. Fain adds, “it's important we have a clear policy everyone could understand and follow.” Previously, it has not been uncommon for cruise lines to offer last-minute discounts to help fill unsold cabins, creating a disparity between a higher price paid by a traveler say a year out versus a lower one several weeks out. Fain admits this might cause some staterooms to remain empty through 2016 but expects it will even out by 2017. Presumably, by then consumers and agents will fully recognize that last-minute discounts are no longer available and will have to book farther out should they wish to sail, at the prevailing rate, filling in those cabins sooner.  As cruising becomes more popular internationally, Royal Caribbean’s pricing integrity policy indicates that cruise lines are becoming more confident in their regular rates than in the past — which will surely boost their bottom line. In fact, Fain thinks it has helped the company’s current reservations to reach a level comparable to its record high in 2015. The policy was first implemented in the U.S. and Canada about a year ago and expanded to the UK and Ireland last October. These four markets account for two-thirds of the company’s overall revenue. Fain concludes, “we now think we've got it right and we do not expect any changes in the near future.” It will be interesting to see if competitors follow suit. Most other lines do offer discounts, but that could very well change across the board, making price points more consistent but higher. Cruising remains an excellent value, but perhaps the days of outstanding low fares are drawing to a close.
For more information and to make reservations on a Royal Caribbean Ship, with  exclusive rates and amenities, contact The Cruise Professionals at at 203-288-1884 or email: