by Kevin Griffin writing for cybercruises.com
Last week the announcement was made of the largest ship to join the French passenger fleet since the s.s. France was taken out of service in 1974, with Celebrity Cruises’ trend-setting 1,814-berth Century following her two former fleetmates, the 1,442-berth Horizon and 1,340-berth Zenith, into the fleet of Croisères de France in 2015.
Here is the comparison:
Although first of her class, Century is the last of the trio to move to Europe. Near sister ships Galaxy and Mercury now trade as 1,948-berth Mein Schiff 1 and 1,870-berth Mein Schiff 2 for TUI Cruises of Germany. Century will replace Zenith, which has been operating on loan from CDF parent company, Pullmantur Cruises of Spain
Equipped with 314 new balconies in 2006 (a move that was also adopted by TUI Cruises after it bought her two sisters), Century has been popular in the North American market, where she has sailed both in the Caribbean and to Alaska, as well as in Australia, where she has also traded in more recent years.
The transfer of Century will hopefully promote a resurgence of cruising in France, which has been almost the last nation in Europe to join in the upsurge of going to sea for a holiday.
Crosières de France aims to achieve 55,000 passengers this year, 100,000 in 2014 and 120,000 in 2015. Part of this will include new offers of Baltic and Norway voyages for French passengers as well as a doubling of winter Caribbean offerings for the French market on Horizon. New cruises will make calls in the UK and overnight stays will be added to some itineraries at Venice and Amsterdam.
While not a particularly large cruise ship these days (she was the 143rd in the world by length overall at the end of 2012), Century is still larger in tonnage than the s.s. France, the pride of the French passenger fleet in an earlier era. Her arrival will add another 474 lower berths to CDF’s inventory and even if the fleet remains at two ships will still mark a 17% increase in capacity for CDF.
Should the French cruise market continue to grow, with no more Century class ships available when another ship is required, it will be an interesting to see whether it might be a newbuilding, as in the case of TUI Cruises, or whether Zenith might return or one of the Millennium class ships acquired instead.
However, there is a long way to go yet. The European Cruise Council, now known as CLIA Europe, published these cruise statistics for 2011 for the top source markets in Europe:
At the same time, earlier this year the 27 members of l’Association Française des Compagnies de Croisières joined the Cruise Lines International Association to become CLIA France, with which was a 9% increase compared to 12% in 2011.
Of this number, two-thirds took a Mediterranean cruise, and 12% took a Caribbean cruise, the latter being an increase of 37%, largely made possible by new offerings from CDF, which reserved 500 berths per sailing of the Horizon for French Passengers, joined by French-Canadians and Spanish passengers from Pullmantur.
But there remains a long way to go yet before the French market, with a penetration of only 0.7%, becomes anywhere near as important as its neighbours over the border in Italy and Spain (both at 1.5%), or its northern neighbours in the UK (2.7%) and Germany (1.7%). Is it really a case, as remarked by one Frenchman last week, that “the French do not travel well”, or is it a case that, although France deep maritime tradition, the right formula has not yet been found?
Whatever the outcome, Croisières de France is a Royal Caribbean brand so it will be interesting to see how Carnival Corp & PLC reacts to this latest move. In recent years, Carnival’s growth in the French market has been primarily achieved by putting French passengers on board Costa ships at Marseilles, but Costa is an Italian product, not a French one.
There have also been a couple of desultory efforts to revive the Paquet Cruises brand, owned for some years now by Costa, but as this was done with Spanish and Italian-market ships, the French did not seem to support the cruises enough to allow Carnival to be able to revive a distinct French brand.
Le Soleal – Compagnie du Ponant
The other major participant in the French cruise market is of course Compagnie du Ponant, which operates three new mega-yacht-styled vessels, the 264-berth Le Boréal (2010), L’Austral (2011) and Le Soléal (2013) and has on order a fourth sister ship from Fincantieri for delivery in 2015.
These ships also participate in the lucrative adventure market, with sailings in Antarctica and across Canada’s Northwest Passage. With four of them, these ships will offer a total of 1,056 berths, or about a third of the berth capacity of Croisières de France.
However, when one takes into consideration the fact that the CDF ships operate seasonally, with some going back to Pullmantur or on charters in Brazil in the winter, Ponant are probably closer to offering about half the capacity of CDF, but in a much more expensive market. Compagnie du Ponant has been owned by the UK-based equity company Bridgepoint since last year.