It’s the stuff of nightmares. You rush to book the maiden cruise of a new ship and, a few weeks before you are due to set sail, the cruise line informs you the vessel won’t be ready in time.
Given the number of new cruise ships launching these days (this year there are more than 15), one could be forgiven for thinking that the building process is a well-oiled machine.
Mostly, it is. Celebrity Cruises’ new ship Celebrity Edge was a textbook example of how it is done. There was a fanfare keel-laying in June 2017 at the French shipyard in St Nazaire in France where the ship was built. In November 2018 – just 17 months later – Celebrity took delivery of the 2,918 ship and a month later she was christened in Fort Lauderdale.
Virgin Voyages is taking a little longer to build Scarlet Lady, its first ship, but the build is moving on apace. The keel was laid in Genoa in November 2017, she was floated out in February 2019 and will enter service (probably) in April 2020. A spokesperson said the company was taking extra time to make sure it got all the details right before bringing any passengers on board.
Then there’s Scenic Eclipse. The super-luxury vessel was supposed to launch last summer, but its unveiling has just been delayed for a third time.
So why do launches not go to plan?
Lots of reasons. The QE2’s shakedown cruise in 1969 – this is when owners test their new toy and the crew practice with punters for the first time – was rather more tremulous than it should have been due to an engine problem. The maiden voyage was cancelled and the ship went back to the yard for four months to be fixed.
In 2016, Holland America Line chose to delay the launch of its new ship Koningsdam by six weeks because it wanted to add a few additional features. Last year, MSC Cruises had to cancel MSC Seaview’s christening and her three-night maiden voyage due to delays with the final fitting.
In those cases we’re talking just weeks and months, which is bad enough for holidaymakers left without a cruise. But one has to feel especially sorry for anyone who booked in advance to secure a cabin on the new ships that the cruise lines Scenic and Hurtigruten were due to launch last summer. Both those vessels are still not ready.
Things must have gone very wrong?
That’s an understatement. In Hurtigruten’s case, the Kleven Werft shipyard in Norway where the vessel Roald Amundsen is being built, said the ‘complexity of the project’ meant they needed more time.
The vessel is the world’s first hybrid ship, able to run on battery power for short periods. It was due to launch in July 2018. It’s now on course to enter service on May 3, 2019.
Scenic’s ship, Scenic Eclipse, has been caught up in financial problems at the Uljanik shipyard in Croatia where it is being built. Unbelievably, workers weren’t being paid by the yard’s owners so they went on strike and blockaded the ship so subcontractors drafted in by Scenic couldn’t work either.
Scenic Eclipse was originally due to launch at the end of August 2018. This was delayed to January 2019, then to April 2019, and now it is expected in mid-August 2019.
Isn’t another very late ship being built in Croatia?
Another hugely delayed ship is Flying Clipper, which is being built for Star Clippers at the Brodosplit shipyard in Split. It was due to launch at the end of 2017, then was put back to spring 2018.
No reason was given for the delay, but spring came and went, and so did summer, autumn and winter, and still there was no ship.
Rather than picking a new date, Star Clippers’ owner Mikael Krafft just kept schtum until it looked like the ship was finally nearing completion. A smart move as it kept the delay out of the news.
The cruise line has now confirmed that sea trials have been completed and that Flying Clipper, a near-replica of the sailing ship France II, is expected to begin cruising in May this year. As nothing has ever gone on sale – and there are still no itineraries – no one one has been left disappointed or out of pocket.
What happens if you’ve paid for the cruise and there is no ship?
Cruise lines are pretty generous. If an inaugural sailing is cancelled they will issue a full refund for the cruise and associated costs. Hurtigruten offered discounts on alternative expedition sailings, while Scenic gave its booked passengers a 25 per cent future cruise credit.
Where possible a line will probably offer to move affected passengers to the new maiden voyage. That’s fine for those who can be flexible with their holiday time and are on a big ship that has plenty of space.
On a small ship such as the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, chances are the new maiden cruise – which would have been sold as a normal sailing – is full. So if being on the inaugural cruise was the big attraction, you’re in for a double disappointment.
Does being on the maiden cruise really matter that much?
Yes and no. Getting on a new ship is like driving off the forecourt in a new car. Carpets have a fresh smell, staff are usually excited (and proud) and some people simply like knowing they are the first person to sleep in their cabin.
Conversely, it can be a good idea to wait a few weeks when snags have been attended to and the crew have found their way around their new teams and home.
Passengers on Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas maiden cruise in 2016 were furious when they found shipyard workers were on board and toiling around the clock trying to finish the ship. Social media proved a useful vehicle for what was dubbed a ‘floating construction site’ by those on board and the papers soon picked up the story.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises didn’t fare much better when it launched Seven Seas Explorer the same year. The ship was supposed to be the last word in luxury, and looked lovely, but the crew didn’t have time to find their feet so the first passengers were waiting an hour between courses in the restaurants.
Has any cruise ship ever launched early?
Quite a few. Most delays are caused by prototypes with complicated new designs. Once one is done, it’s a cookie-cutter exercise for the shipyard to produce near-identical models.
A spate of early launches has caused its own problems. Cruise lines came up with the idea of a pre-maiden voyage, which meant those on the actual maiden cruise were no longer going to be the first on board. For some this went down like the proverbial lead balloon.