Looking back 10 years at the two biggest cruise companies is one way to gauge how far the industry has progressed and gain some perspective on the problems of the day.
In 2003, the problems included terrorism, war, flu and the SARS respiratory virus. “A perfect storm,” Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman Richard Fain called it in his annual letter to shareholders that year.
On the shipbuilding front, RCCL made its first new order in 3½ years, for an “Ultra Voyager” class ship that would evolve into the Freedom of the Seas. The letter mentioned short cruises from Los Angeles had been restored, and a brand-new terminal in New Jersey called Cape Liberty was inaugurated.
Celebrity Cruises had launched a marketing campaign with the theme of ordinary people being treated like celebrities, the Serenade and Mariner of the Seas were added to the fleet and RCCL’s joint venture with First Choice Holidays, Island Cruises, had just turned profitable.
RCCL was hoping to regain the investment ratings on its debt that it had lost after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Flash-forward to 2013. Terrorism, war, flu and SARS, while not vanquished, were not hot-button issues. In his letter to shareholders, Fain says RCCL ordered no new ships for 2017 to keep capacity growth modest.
Royal isn’t sailing from Los Angeles anymore, but its Cape Liberty terminal in New York Harbor is more important than ever. Royal built six ships after Serenade and Mariner, with a seventh, Quantum of the Seas, due in November.
RCCL’s stake in Island Cruises was sold to Germany’s TUI, which is a 50-50 partner with RCCL in TUI Cruises. And the company is still trying to earn back its investment grade rating.
For Carnival Corp., 2003 was the year it finalized its landmark merger with P&O Princess Cruises. It was preparing to take delivery of seven ships in a nine-month stretch, including Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2.
“I have never, in my 35 years in this business, been more excited and enthusiastic about the future of our company,” Carnival Corp. Chairman and CEO Micky Arison wrote.
Ten years later, the mood is less ebullient. Arison’s letter in the annual report is a bit retrospective; it notes his retirement as CEO of the company he has steered for three decades and salutes Carnival veterans Howard Frank and Pier Luigi Foschi, who also stepped down from executive roles in 2013, leaving the company’s day-to-day direction in the hands of a relative newcomer, Arnold Donald.
Arison’s letter says Donald brought “a fresh perspective and a new energy to our company. … His skills are ideally suited to lead the next stage of Carnival Corp. and PLC.”