For several years, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) has been a major innovator in the cruise industry, continually producing bigger vessels and unique designs and amenities for each new class of ship. Building on its past successes, the Miami-based cruise line is striving for even more ground-breaking facilities.

RCI’s Voyager-class vessels were the first to boast onboard ice skating rinks and rock-climbing walls, as well as the largest ship size, but more innovations are expected to follow: in May this year with Freedom class, and next year when the first of two Genesis-class ships will debut.

EUROPEAN GATEWAY

There is tantalisingly little information available about the 220,000t, 5,400 passenger yet-to-be-named Genesis vessel, both from its builder Aker Yards and RCCL itself – all details are being kept firmly under wraps.

“The main reason why Southampton was chosen as Independence of the Seas’ home port was its convenience.”

Apart from heated swimming pools, there is not much speculation that the third Freedom-class vessel Independence of the Seas will be showcasing features that are any different to those of its sister ships, Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas; that kind of innovation is being saved for the Genesis project.

The main areas of interest surrounding Independence of the Seas are the destinations its itinerary will include, and that it will be homeporting in Southampton, UK.

The vessel will also hold the title of ‘the largest cruiseship to ever be home-ported in Europe’. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of RCI, explains that the main reason why Southampton was chosen as Independence of the Seas’ home port was its convenience. The vessel will be based in an area easily accessible by the European market.

“The UK is a strategic priority for us and it’s a very strong RCI market,” says Goldstein. “Based on the success of Navigator of the Seas in Southampton in 2007, we saw an opportunity to place a newbuild in the market in 2008. We are anticipating a successful first season for Independence of the Seas. The ship will be mostly British passengers, with a guest mix of over 90% from the UK, with 10% from the rest of Europe. Basing it in Southampton will bring an entirely new market.”

Such a location will provide passengers with an easy, convenient and affordable way to see a number of European landmarks and destinations without having to repeatedly unpack their suitcases.

“The amenities available onboard Independence of the Seas will give a fresh face to cruising providing guests with a variety of options to create their own unique adventure,” adds Goldstein.

MARKET APPEAL

Passengers from the UK will have an idea of what to expect from Independence of the Seas given the phenomenal publicity that both Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas received in that country during their inaugurations. However, the destinations that the vessel will offer are bound to impress.

Independence of the Seas will embark on its maiden voyage in May 2008, offering 14-night Western Mediterranean sailings from Southampton to the Spanish, French and Italian Riviera. It will be based in the Mediterranean for the summer season and will then sail to the Caribbean for winter.

“The amenities available onboard Independence of the Seas will give a fresh face to cruising.”

While one can only speculate what amenities RCI has come up with for its Genesis-class ships, there is no doubt this is the line’s big opportunity to set standards for the next generation of amenities as they have done on the Freedom-class.

“The overall variety of options available, the FlowRider and H2O Zone in particular, are the standout feature of the class,” says Goldstein. “Royal Caribbean provides an exciting vacation experience so it appeals to active people of all ages.It also offers pricing for Europeans that is very attractive as well as being good value for Americans paying in US dollars.”

Environmental considerations are rising to the top of the agenda for the cruise industry, and these are also important factors for potential passengers when choosing a cruise holiday. While the new Freedom-class ships are more fuel efficient, Goldstein explains that incorporating this technology is an ongoing process.

“The three ships are fundamentally the same from a fuel efficiency standpoint,” he says. “We are constantly improving fuel efficiency on all of our ships and the effects they have on the environment.”

CHOICE OUTLOOK

With the growing demand for a wider variety of exciting amenities and destinations, Goldstein sees future areas of operations for the Freedom class beyond those of North America and Europe.

“The vessel will also hold the title of ‘the largest cruiseship to ever be home-ported in Europe’.

“I can imagine this in the long-term, however, in the short-term, Asia’s principal homeports do not have the infrastructure to handle Freedom-class ships,” he says.

As for the next Genesis vessel, Goldstein remains tight-lipped. “I can’t reveal anything about Genesis other than we will continue raising the standards on a variety of features and options for our guests,” he says. “We want to give them the ability to choose what suits them, and for different members of a family or a group to be able to select from multiple activities at any given time.” Despite signs of a global recession Goldstein is upbeat about his company’s future growth.

“On 30 January we gave our quarterly guidance to the financial community” he says. “Our outlook is for 4% revenue yield growth in 2008, which if realised would be one of our stronger revenue years. We accept that we are not recession-proof, but we believe we are recession-resistant because of the great value that cruising offers. Independence of the Seas will enhance that value.”