Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

With all the new ships being built for the expedition market, it isn't surprising that some of them are delayed.

But by the same token, it doesn't help those companies whose ships are delayed that consumers can just move on to another brand.

Those firms that manage to get their ships delivered on-time gain a natural advantage over those that don't in terms of reliability, credibility and good will with travel agents.

Ponant, the French-flagged luxury expedition line, is one of those. Last week executives flew to Iceland on a chartered jet from Paris to christen their first ship in a new class, Le Laperouse, named for a French Navy captain and explorer of the South Pacific.

Built by Norway's VARD, owned by Fincantieri since 2013, the 184-passenger ship was delivered on schedule. It perhaps helps that Ponant has been in the expedition cruise field for 30 years, and that its new ship is similar in design to previous ships it owns.

Other lines have not been so lucky. Hurtigruten, the Norwegian specialist in coastal cruising and expedition, has had to delay both of its new ships, one originally set for delivery this year and the other next year.

Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours recently announced it would delay the debut of its first expedition ship, the Scenic Eclipse, from August to January 2019 to allow more time to perfect its features.

An agent I spoke with at Travel Weekly's Global Travel Marketplace trade show last week in Hollywood, Fl., said he was all set to lead a group on the Scenic Eclipse when he got the news and had to tell his clients the cruise was off.

Some have rebooked, but others have asked for a refund, spooked by the possibility of further delays or the prospect of financial problems.

For the record, Scenic sited "construction issues within the shipyard" for the delay. "Despite the best efforts of our Scenic Eclipse Build Supervision Team to make up construction time, we are not prepared to compromise the quality of the vessel and potentially impact guest experiences to meet the original late August launch date," said Scenic founder and chairman Glen Moroney.

Scenic offered a 25% future cruise credit as an incentive to rebook. The ship is being built at the Uljanik Shipyard, in Pula, Croatia.

Curiosity about the 228-passenger ship remains high. Another agent told me that of three cruise line presentations that she heard at GTM, Scenic was the most interesting.

Although it is established in the tour and river cruise business, the Eclipse is Scenic's first try at building an ocean vessel.  Hurtigruten, while it has plenty of ocean-going ships, is building a large size for the segment (530 passengers) and a novel hybrid propulsion design.

Cruise clients and their agents are lucky to have a number of cruise lines to choose from in the rapidly expanding expedition niche. They should weigh all the factors before deciding which ones are most likely to deliver on time.

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