Hotels, resort properties and cruise vessels all change hands from time to time, and the small ship segment of the industry is no exception.
If you’re busy and miss the cruise trade press for a week or two, news about changes of ownership, long-term charters or even new builds will surely pass you by. Not to mention the deals and agreements that aren’t even covered in the online trades or RSS news feeds, and which you learn about through the grapevine.
I wrote a blog post in mid-February that tracked down the current management and use of the eight original Renaissance ships. No surprise, it’s already out of date.
This short blog post updates that earlier one. It is reassuring that the six ships that were in service then will continue to be operated by travel companies that have great plans to keep them doing what they do best—taking intrepid travelers to places that aren’t always easy to get to, such as Antarctica, the high Arctic and destinations in Europe that aren’t frequented by larger ships.
For a chronology of the ships and the capacities in which they’ve been employed since being built between 1989 and 1992, please check my earlier post. Here are the latest developments on these original Renaissance vessels:
No change. This vessel is currently in service as the Dubawi, a private super-yacht owned by the UAE Royal Family.
No change. At present, the ship, pictured below, is called CruiseOne and is not operational. Platinum Yachts of Dubai, which converted RI into the mega-yacht Dubawi, might do the same with this one.
No change. The former Galapagos Explorer operated by Canodros was purchased by Silversea Cruises in 2013 and is now called the Silver Galapagos. The vessel runs seven-day programs year-round in the Galapagos Islands.
New ownership. It was announced earlier this year that Boston-based Grand Circle Travel (GCT) purchased the Corinthian from Travel Dynamics International (TDI), which is based in New York. In recent years, TDI had a management and/or ownership position of the vessel through its sister company, Explorer Maritime, using the vessel itself in Antarctica as the Clelia II, chartering the vessel for a while to Orion Expeditions in Australia as the Orion II, and more recently renaming it as the Corinthian for cruises in Antarctica and Europe.
Many, if not most of the Corinthian’s—and Corinthian II’s (see RVII discussion below)—Antarctic departures in recent years were full-ship charters to Grand Circle, so the purchaser knew what it was getting with the acquisition. And it falls in line with the Boston company’s much more aggressive move into small ship products over the past decade.
Starting with the 2014-15 Antarctic season, GCT will begin to assume operational responsibility for Antarctic cruises. Previously, the hiring of expedition staff, itinerary planning and regulatory paperwork were all done by TDI. The flip side of the transaction is that TDI will market Grand Circle’s itineraries of this and other GCT-owned vessels to its client base of university alumni and cultural organization groups. Travel Dynamics has enjoyed a very strong presence in this market segment for decades, and a reputation for innovative small ship itineraries.
During the 2015 summer months, the Corinthian will embark on a series of GCT-marketed European programs such as Maritime Jewels of the British Isles, Coastal France, Bordeaux, Basque Country & the Pyrenees, Spain’s Northern Coast, Grand Baltic, Iberia & Morocco. It appears that TDI will also be marketing some of these or similar itineraries among its clientele.
As owner of the vessel, Grand Circle will now have to deal with positioning the Corinthian between Europe and Antarctica, something it never had to contend with as a charterer. And so, it has launched a series of overlapping South American and trans-Atlantic programs ranging from 17 to 37 days for the early spring months of 2015. Many a fine expedition cruise company has struggled with similar voyages over the past 15 years, so it will be interesting to see if GCT, with its massive direct marketing machine and database of tens of thousands of loyal customers, can manage it at the relatively high per diems found on the company website.
New operator. (Disclosure: Poseidon Expeditions is a Navilogue client). Following the upcoming 2014-15 Antarctic season, Poseidon Expeditions will take over as charterer of the Sea Spirit. Previously sailing for the better part of a decade for Cruise West as the Spirit of Oceanus, mostly in Alaska, the ship was bought in 2010 by the Danish investment group TN Cruise K/S and renamed. Managed by Miami-based FleetPro, the ship was ice strengthening and provided other mechanical upgrades and then chartered to Quark Expeditions, which has used it since then for Arctic and Antarctic programs.
Poseidon Expeditions—a leader in North Pole icebreaker cruises since its founding in 1999—will market the vessel internationally from its sales offices in the US, UK, Germany, Russia, Japan and China. It will maintain the ship’s focus on Arctic and Antarctic programs and continue to work with FleetPro as ship manager. During the 2013-14 and 2014-15 Antarctic seasons, Poseidon sub-chartered roughly half of the departures of the Sea Explorer (see RVII discussion below) from Polar Latitudes.
No change. Now called the Caledonia Sky, this vessel is owned by Caledonia Sky Shipping, managed by Salén Shipping and operated by Noble Caledonia. In June 2012, the Australian privately owned company APT purchased a large stake in Noble Caledonia, and is actively marketing in Australia this and the other vessels (see RVII and RVII discussions and below) operated by Noble Caledonia. This ship is deployed on a variety of unique itineraries around Australia and New Zealand, the South Pacific and Far East.
New ownership. Currently called the Sea Explorer and chartered for Antarctic cruises by Polar Latitudes and for Arctic cruises by Quark Expeditions, this vessel had been owned by International Shipping (ISP) and then the Danish Clipper Group since 2003. It is managed by FleetPro, formerly ISP. During that time, Travel Dynamics chartered the ship as the Corinthian II for programs in Antarctica and Europe until relinquishing the lease to Polar Latitudes in 2013, when it was renamed Sea Explorer.
In June of this year, APT and Noble Caledonia announced that they were purchasing the ship. Judging from the companies’ websites, Noble Caledonia as well as Polar Latitudes and Quark Expeditions will combine forces to promote Sea Explorer itineraries in the Antarctic and Arctic. APT probably isn’t far behind in promoting Antarctica trips to its own customer base; Australia ranked second--behind the US and ahead of China--in the number of nationals visiting the White Continent during the past season. Noble Caledonia will also tackle the marketing of positioning voyages between the two polar zones, never an easy task, but one at which the London-based company is adept.
No change. The Island Sky, owned, managed and operated under much the same structure as the Caledonia Sky (see RVI discussion above), cruises on wide-ranging itineraries in the Indian Ocean, East Africa and Europe, all designed by Noble Caledonia.
Death and Taxes
While the dust—or, perhaps more appropriately, sea spray—seems to have settled for now around the original Renaissance fleet, I’ll take liberties with Ben Franklin’s famous quote and say this “has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Stay tuned...