Saga’s First Newbuilding – Other Cruise News: China Cruise Update – Holland America’s 70 Years In Alaska

by Kevin Griffin

Saga last week released further images of its 999-berth newbuilding now under way at Meyer Werft in Papenburg for delivery in 2019. Meanwhile, Carnival Corp and plc has announced that it has ordered two ships, with options for an additional four, for its new Carnival-China brand, with deliveries to commence in 2023. Finally, in Seattle, Holland America Line this year is celebrating seventy years of cruising to Alaska.


Saga’s First Newbuilding

Saga’s latest release on its new 999-berth 56,850-ton newbuilding under way at Meyer Werft in Papenburg takes us back thirty years or so. In the late 1980s this shipyard was known for building smaller quality ships such as Home Lines’ Homeric, Royal Cruise Line’s Crown Odyssey and Celebrity Cruises’ Horizon and Zenith, all of which are still sailing. On their website, Saga said:

The new Saga's cruise vessel (Artist impression, courtesy Saga)

The new Saga’s cruise vessel (Artist impression, courtesy Saga)

“So what can we tell you about our new ship? Carrying fewer than 1000 passengers, she will retain the intimacy and personal service for which we are renowned. There will also be single-sitting dining in a choice of speciality restaurants, a selection of bars, indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, fabulous library, signature Britannia Lounge and much more – all with a fresh and contemporary twist on the traditions of classic Saga cruising.”

The new Saga's cruise vessel. The Verandah and Outside Dining (Artist impression, courtesy Saga)

The new Saga’s cruise vessel. The Verandah and Outside Dining (Artist impression, courtesy Saga)

“The cabins are going to be a real showcase – spacious and modern, the ship’s design also means every one will have a balcony. In addition, around 15% of the accommodation will be for solo travellers, with a choice of single cabin grades.”

A lot of thought has gone into the detail of design and construction. Saga has now finalised the sizes of the restaurants and the theatre. The designs of what promise to be stunning balcony cabins are also now being completed. Of the ship’s 540 staterooms and suites, 81 will be single cabins, resulting in a lower berth number of 999, or fewer than 1,000.

At the moment work is progressing on technical design, the engine, generator and propulsion plant.

The intention is to maintain the best bits of the existing Saga brand, but introduce new and unexpected elements. The ship is being built for a British company, whose clientele will heavily influence the design.

Perhaps the best comparison of these ships is to the Viking Cruises’ newbuidlings that are now coming out of Fincantieri in Italy:

The new Saga ship is scheduled for delivery in the summer of 2019. Saga also holds an option for a sister ship but a firm order has not yet been placed.


China Cruise Update

Carnival Corp & plc has announced the possibility of up to six newbuildings for their joint venture in a yet unnamed Chinese cruise line at the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co Ltd, part of the China State Shipbuilding Corp (CSSC).

As well as Carnival with the first Chinese newbuildings, other lines active in the Chinese market now include Carnival affiliates Costa and Princess, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises, all with plans for dedicated Chinese ships.

There are still issues to overcome with cruising from China. Port infrastructure, itineraries and sales, booking and distribution arrangemenrts with Chinese partners all come into play. At the moment, the Chinese prefer short cruises, which of course restrict potential itineraries, especially during the winter months.

Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding will build the first oceangoing cruise ships ever constructed in China. The deal calls for CSSC to build two ships in partnership with Italy’s Fincantieri for Carnival Corp & plc, with an option for four more.

This could be good news for China’s shipbuilding industry, which has been suffering from a slump in global demand for new vessels as container ships as little as seven years old are being sold for scrap. Half of China’s major shipyards have closed since 2013, despite government subsidies. Orders for new ships fell by a third in China last year.

October 2015: Carnival's announcement, in the presence of the Chinese president and British prime minister, that it was forming a new Chinese-based cruise line

October 2015: Carnival’s announcement, in the presence of the Chinese president and British prime minister, that it was forming a new Chinese-based cruise line

A joint venture of Fincantieri and CSSC will deliver the two ships to Carnival at a cost of $750 million each starting in 2023.

Nearly a million Chinese people cruised in 2015, up 40% from the previous year, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. This is still modest compared to the 11.3 million Americans who took a cruise that year, accounting for nearly half of the global total.

China is now the world’s fastest-growing cruise market, with the Ministry of Tourism estimating that 4.5 million Chinese annually will take cruises by 2020, rising to 10 million in 2030.

The joint venture between CSSC and Fincantieri, split 60-40 in favour of the Chinese state-owned company, will also likely involve technology transfer to help China acquire its own cruise ship building capability.

CSSC general manager Wu Qiang said at an industry conference in China last year that the global cruise industry needs fifteen new ships a year to keep up with demand, and that China wanted to help meet it. CSSC’s foray into cruise-liner building is backed by an industrial fund set up last year by five leading Chinese banks.

Holland America’s 70 Years In Alaska

Holland America Line has been in existence since 1873, while another company, Westours could trace it’s origins back to 1946.

Union Steamship's Coquitlam became Alaska Cruise Lines Glacier Queen in 1958

Union Steamship’s Coquitlam became Alaska Cruise Lines Glacier Queen in 1958

In November of that year, Chuck West opened a small travel agency in Fairbanks. Arctic Alaska Travel Service began pioneering efforts in Alaskan tourism the following year with the founding of Arctic Alaska Tours.

West offered Alaska cruises using four ships operated by the Alaska Steamship Company of Seattle and three smaller vessels operated by Union Steamship Company of Vancouver. Despite Alaska Steamship leaving the passenger business in 1954, West was successful enought that in 1958 he bought two of the Union ships mentioned above to form Alaska Cruise Lines.

Alaska Cruise Lines' Yukon Star was formerly Union Steamship's Camosun

Alaska Cruise Lines’ Yukon Star was formerly Union Steamship’s Camosun

Westours then became the parent company of the renamed Alaska Hyway Tours, the Gray Line sightseeing franchise in Alaska, a chain of three hotels and most importantly the brand new Alaska Cruise Lines.

The company began operating its own ships with two ships acquired from the Union Steamship Company of British Columbia, with the 148-berth Coqutilam becoming the Glacier Queen her sister ship Camosun the Yukon Star.

The pair were part of trio converted “Castle” class corvettes that Union Steamship had placed into passenger-cargo service from Vancouver.

Glacier Queen - Yukon Star cabins (Courtesy Shawn Dake)

Glacier Queen – Yukon Star cabins (Courtesy Shawn Dake)

A typical example of an early cruise was the Chilcotin’s first sailings in May 1947 on 10-day cruises to Skagway via the Gardner Canal with calls at Prince Rupert, Ketchikan, and Juneau.

Passengers paid up to $375 and were treated to nightly motion pictures, while a cruise director and hostess oversaw recreational programs such as an excursion on the White Pass & Yukon Route railway from Skagway into the Yukon Territory.

Under the Alaska Cruise Lines banner, the two ships now sailed on 8-day cruises from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, and the Alaska ports of Ketchikan, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines, then cruised Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm and turned at Skagway, their northern terminus. The trip could be divided into four-day one-way voyages or booked as a round-trip cruise.

After Holland America Line closed its North Atlantic service in 1971, it acquired West’s Alaska cruise interests, moving its own head office from New York to to Seattle, to set up as Holland America Westours.

In 1975, Holland America brought its newest ship, the 350-berth Prinsendam to Alaskan waters. This was followed in subsequent years by the 713-berth Veendam, 881-berth Statendam and even the then flagship, the 1,114-ton Rotterdam.

Alaska vacations continued to be sold as Holland America Westours through the summer of 1998 when the Westours portion of the name was finally dropped.

The Amsterdam at Seattle - Holland America Line

The Amsterdam at Seattle – Holland America Line

This year, 2017, will see six Holland America ships operating to Alaska. The six, including the 2,106-berth Nieuw Amsterdam and 2,104-berth Eurodam, will operate between May and September 2017.

Most will sail the 7-night roundtrip from Vancouver along the Inside Passage to Tracy Arm and calling at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan.

Three sea days feature scenic cruises around the Glacier Bay National Park and two days within the Inside Passage.

There is also a 14-day cruise available round trip from Seattle, which makes additional calls at Anchorage, Kodiak and Homer.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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