Cruise lines focus on refits to freshen up fleets


As orders for new cruise ships have slowed amid inflation and high interest rates, several cruise lines have launched extensive renovation projects to punch up their older tonnage.

It makes financial sense, said Walter Nadolny, professor emeritus of marine transportation and global business at the State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx. A new cruise ship currently costs between $80 million, for a small expedition ship, to almost $2 billion for one of the giants. The price tag for renovations is far less, and projects often prioritize revenue-generating experiences.

“As far as a refurb, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than doing a newbuild,” Nadolny said. “The upscale restaurants and things like that are really a big moneymaker for them.”

Orders for new ships slowed after a stream of debuts following the pandemic pause in operations. Nearly 40 ships were to be delivered over the past two years; that pace dropped to 10 in 2024. While nearly 20 are expected in 2025, only nine are currently on order for 2026, according to Cruise Industry News.

Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company, has its smallest order book in decades. Its nine cruise brands expect no new ships in 2026 and will add one or two newbuilds per year for several years thereafter, said CEO Josh Weinstein.

While Carnival Corp. is using the slowdown to help heal the company’s balance sheet after taking on debt during the pandemic, expenditures will not come to a halt. The company said it expects 580 drydock days next year, an 18% increase over 2023.

Holland America Line eyes Nieuw beginnings

Holland America Line will use some of those drydock days for major renovations to four ships that range from 5 to 24 years old: the Nieuw Statendam, built in 2018; Nieuw Amsterdam, in 2010; Noordam, in 2006; and Volendam, in 1999.

The projects began late this year and will stretch into 2024. The work will increase accessibility in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and include upgrades to select cabins, lounges, bars, spas and open decks, Holland America said. The line also installed a new stand-alone restaurant, Morimoto By Sea, which charges $55 per person. The restaurant will only be installed on the Nieuw Amsterdam, which left drydock on Dec. 16, while other ships will host a pop-up version of the restaurant once per sailing.

One of the renovations Holland America executives are most excited about is reintroducing libraries across the entire fleet. Before the pandemic, the line converted several libraries into Microsoft Studios hosting technology classes. But guests told the line they missed the library and the ability to grab a book to read.

“As a leader in longer voyages, this is especially appreciated by our guests who love to read top-selling books while on vacation,” said Michael Smith, the line’s senior vice president of guest experience and product development.

Norwegian Cruise Line redefining Joy

Having taken delivery of two Prima-class ships in a one-year span starting in summer 2022, and with the third ship in the class not due out until 2025, Norwegian Cruise Line’s next project is renovating the 2017-built Norwegian Joy before it begins sailing from Miami in February.

The project includes replacing the Galaxy Pavilion’s virtual reality complex with a spa thermal suite, making it the largest in the Breakaway Plus class. The suite will have a sauna, ice room, aromatic steam room and other sensory experiences, like a Kneipp haptic foot hydrotherapy course where guests can massage their feet as they walk across a pebbled stream of hot and cold baths. Access will cost $299 for a week or $79 per day.

The project will also repurpose some of the Observation Lounge to make way for two dozen new balcony cabins.

And, Norwegian will expand two Premier Owner’s Suites in The Haven to give them three bedrooms, renovated living rooms and new separate dining rooms overlooking the forward-facing Horizon Lounge. The refurbishment will also expand the adults-only Vibe Beach Club by sacrificing the laser tag arena.

Windstar overhauling its three-mast ships

Half of Windstar Cruises’ fleet of six small ships will undergo a face-lift between now and 2026. The multimillion-dollar endeavor will redesign and update its three-mast sailing ships: the Wind Star, Wind Spirit and Wind Surf, which were built in the late 1980s.

The project includes renovating the pool deck and replacing the pool, updating technology such as stateroom TVs, adding new gym equipment and decorating with specially commissioned art.

Stijn Creupelandt, Windstar’s vice president of hotel operations and product development, said the work is focused on making everyday spaces useful for various needs, such as hosting events.

“This multiyear, multimillion-dollar initiative is all about providing guests with updated spaces that inspire relaxation, foster connection and offer multifunctional needs of an intimate-size sailing yacht,” he said.

Celebrity Cruises is honing its Edge

Celebrity Cruises in December debuted its fourth Edge-class ship, the Celebrity Ascent, and has a fifth on order. Meanwhile, the line is beginning to think about renovating its Solstice-class ships, of which the first launched 15 years ago, said Laura Hodges Bethge, president of the line.

While she would not say when the project would take place or what the line will change, she said that seven features will be added to the next Edge ship, the Celebrity Xcel, which could offer some hints.

It’s not the first time Celebrity has set out to add Edge-class design to its older ships. In 2018, the line launched the $500 million Celebrity Revolution upgrade plan, which adds features from the first Edge ship to older vessels in the fleet. They completed the work on the Celebrity Millennium, Eclipse, Summit and Silhouette, but the project was put on hold during the pandemic before the line could get to the other Millennium and Solstice ships.

Now, Celebrity is in the “dreaming” phase about what to do when that plan is revived, Hodges Bethge said.

Courtesy of Travel Weekly

Norwegian Joy cruising