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Top Five Cruise Stories of 2015
There’s no doubt that 2015 saw some incredible happenings in the cruise industry. Like every year, new ships, new itineraries, and new announcements prove that cruise companies do not rest on their laurels when it comes to the cruise travel experience. So as the year comes to a close, we look back at the most exciting stories of 2015 and look forward to what they mean for tomorrow’s travelers.
Viking Ocean Cruises Debuts with Viking Star
On May 17, 2015, Viking Star was officially christened in Bergen, Norway, marking the official debut of Viking Ocean Cruises. Stemming from the ever-growing Viking River Cruises, the new ocean line marked the first new cruise line in nearly a decade; two sister ships are on their way. The 930-passenger ship (and her upcoming sisters, Viking Sea and Viking Sky) were the vision of Viking Ocean chairman, Torstein Hagen, who took the highly successful Viking River Cruises concept and translated it to an ocean experience. Viking Ocean also recently announced that Viking Star will head to North America in 2016 to sail a series of five new itineraries along the east coast of North America down to the Caribbean.
Fathom Launches Impact Travel
At a press conference in New York on June 4, 2015, Carnival Corporation announced the launch of its 10th cruise brand: Fathom. The brand’s concept of “impact travel” opens up a new market to conscientious cruisers wishing to make a difference in the communities they visit. The announcement revealed an initial itinerary to the Dominican Republic, where travelers will spend time on the ground helping at a local chocolate factory, building water purification systems for the community, or teaching English to school-aged children. Then, about a month later, the brand announced Cuba as a second itinerary (pending Cuban approval), where travelers will visit three ports, immersing themselves in local communities and culture. Both itineraries are expected to launch in spring 2016.
Introducing Virgin Cruises
We first heard rumblings of Richard Branson’s entry into the cruise industry in early 2014, and after months of rumors, the line officially formed in December 2014. But it was during a press conference in Miami on June 23, 2015, that Branson, founder of Virgin Group, and Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of Virgin Cruises, revealed initial details of the line. What we know so far is that Virgin Cruises has signed a letter of intent to build three mid-size, 110,000-ton, 2,800-passenger ships. The first will begin sailing in early 2020 on 7-day Caribbean cruises from Miami. The second and third ships are scheduled to set sail in 2021 and 2022. Only time will tell what else the no-doubt groundbreaking Virgin Cruises will bring in terms of design, amenities, and onboard activities, but the line is already promising to “make waves” in the cruise industry.
Crystal Cruises’ Major Expansion
In July 2015, seemingly out of nowhere, Crystal Cruises made an announcement that revealed the luxury line’s major global expansion plans that include growth into ocean, river, and yacht cruises, as well as air travel and even residences. The first phase of this major expansion came as early as this month, with the debut of the 62-guest Crystal Esprit in the Seychelles. Following will be five river yachts in 2016 and 2017, two luxury airplanes taking off in fall 2017, and three new ocean cruise ships beginning in late 2018 that include 48 luxury residences each. What’s more is that the line’s president and CEO, Edie Rodriguez, told Porthole Cruise Magazine that they’ve only announced half of what’s to come.
China, China, and More China
Like ducks in a row, one (major) cruise line after another began announcing plans to send its (newest and largest) ships to China to sail itineraries geared toward the Chinese market. It was back in 2014 when Royal Caribbean International first announced that after its initial season in the New York market, the line would send its then-newest ship, the 4,180-passenger Quantum of the Seas, to China to sail from Shanghai. That was pretty big news. But then this year, Princess Cruises announced it will send its upcoming Majestic Princess to China when it debuts in summer 2017; MSC Cruises announced that MSC Lirica will sail from Shanghai beginning in May 2016; Norwegian Cruise Line announced its entry into the Chinese market when it introduces its first purpose-built ship customized for the China market in 2017; and Carnival Cruise Line, which initially announced that it will send one ship to China in spring 2017, two weeks later announced a commitment to send two ships there year-round: Carnival Miracle in spring 2017 followed by Carnival Splendor in spring 2018.
— Jodi Ornstein
Photos: Viking Ocean Cruises, Fathom, Porthole Cruise Magazine, Crystal Cruises, RF