By Kevin Griffin The Cruise People, Ltd. London
In an article in “Fox Business” last Friday entitled “Next Generation Cruise Ships Might Not Be the Best,” Paul Motter pointed out a rather interesting thing about the new cruise ships now under construction for the major lines, and something that no one else seems to have noticed as yet – but they will have less space than their immediate predecessors.
Motter’s opening words were, “A fundamental change is happening in the cruise industry right now that could affect cruise travellers. The major lines are still building new ships, but the long-standing belief that the newest ships are always the best might no longer be true. The next wave of cruise ships set to arrive in 2012 and 2013 will be optimised for the new economic reality.”
Just as cruise lines have been building bigger and bigger so that economies of scale could allow them to keep cruise prices down and attract a wider audience, so now they have decided to squeeze a few more passengers aboard their newest ships. Part of this has no doubt been caused by the fact that the lines had significantly to reduce fares to attract custom during the recent recession, making them more reliant on on board revenue, which can now generate another 40-50% additional revenue over the ticket price.
Going back a bit, the first use of the term “Passenger Space Ratio” seems to have been by Douglas Ward twenty-five years ago in the first (1986) edition of his “Berlitz Complete Handbook to Cruising.” It is calculated by dividing a cruise ship’s gross tonnage by the number of passengers carried in lower beds, but can also be assessed by counting all beds, including third and fourth berths.
It is not appreciated by many that a ship’s gross tonnage is actually a measure of volume – at one time a gross ton was equivalent to 100 cubic feet, although that is no longer the case. And while gross tonnage is a measure of a ship’s total internal capacity, some have said that using a ship’s net tonnage, the measure of its revenue-earning spaces, would be more accurate.
At any rate, a high passenger space ratio indicates a roomy ship. Britain’s “Choosing Cruising” web site breaks this down into categories as follows: “below 20 poor; 20-30 average; 30-40 good; 40-50 very good; over 50 excellent.” Here are the calculations for the major classes of cruise ship in service today and the calculations as well for those now on order:
As long as cruise lines (the notable exception being NCL) have been building ships with PSR’s in excess of 40, there has been very good space for customers even if passenger numbers have been growing. But now, Princess and Royal Caribbean are planning to go back from the 40′s into the 30′s to join NCL in the “less space” brigade. Princess passengers who are used to their two Panamaxes, the Coral Princess and Island Princess and the Mitsubishi-built Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess are particularly likely to notice less space on the new Royal Princess when she arrives. Carnival, on the other hand, seems to be going in the opposite direction with its latest trio and staying above 40.
However, it is worth remembering the advice of Douglas Ward twenty-five years ago, when in his handbook he said “a passenger space ratio above 30 can be considered extremely spacious.”
In earlier years, a 22,000-ton ship carrying 1,000 passengers would have had a PSR of only 22, so we have got used to living in relatively prosperous times.
Finally, to quote Paul Motter in “Fox Business” once more, “while the cruise lines will inevitably market the forthcoming cruise ships most ardently, in fact the ‘greatest generation’ of ships is already here. For decades, the rule of ship selection had been ‘newer is better,’ but with this coming generation of new cruise ships starting in 2012 and 2013, that will no longer be true. The best ships will still be those of the 2008 – 2011 vintage – and they could become relative bargains.”