Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

InsightAfter a surge of newbuilding, the cruise industry is gearing down. The shipyards aren't in overdrive anymore.

Last year the net new addition to the global cruise fleet was only four ships. New deliveries rose to seven this year, but 2013 will again see the float-out of only four big ships.

Should travel agents be worried? After all, new and shiny is something to sell. New ships mean new features to talk about, new activities to try, new places to see.

So in terms of sizzle, there may be a drop-off. But as new figures from CLIA show, there's still plenty of steak on the table.

In its annual report on the economic impact of the cruise business, CLIA notes that the 2.3% increase in net new vessels masks a 4.1% increase in the number of beds on those ships and an 8.5% increase in bed days available for sale.

Bed days increased both because there are more short cruises, and because the new ships continue to grow. Last year, an average ship had 1,780 lower berths, up from 1,474 a year earlier.

Recent fleet changes at Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises provide a window into what's happening.

Last year marked the final sailing of the Celebrity Mercury under the blue and white colors. The ship was sold to TUI Cruises, a part of the giant German tour operator.

Built in 1997, the Mercury was then a bright development in the industry. Along with sister ships the Century and Galaxy, it revitalized the cruise interests of the Chandris family, which created Celebrity to succeed its outmoded Chandris Fantasy brand.

Built to carry 1,870 passengers, the Mercury was a big ship for its time. Today it is nothing special. But its departure makes way for the Celebrity Reflection, due in December, which will carry 3,030 passengers and has the new bells and whistles that the Mercury lacks.

The Reflection is the last of five Solstice-class ships that represent a $3.75 billion investment by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which acquired Celebrity in 1997.

A similar changing of the guard is under way at Princess.

Gone from the fleet is the dwarfish Royal Princess, now sailing for P&O Cruises as the Adonia. Next year, the new Royal Princess will be delivered with five times the capacity of its predecessor. It will also have a cantilevered walkway and bar on the top deck and the largest Movies Under the Stars screen Princess has built so far.

That ought to be enough sizzle for any hungry cruise vacationer.

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