Strong close-in bookings and lower fuel consumption and operating costs pushed Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to a nearly 55% increase in its third-quarter earnings.

RCCL said net income for the quarter was $356.8 million, compared with $230.4 million one year earlier.

"We are producing these results despite, rather than because of, the economy," RCCL Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said during a conference call with investors.

He pointed to the company's new ships and the traction RCCL's brands are gaining.

Fain also said the company's international strategy is working.

RCCL's revenue increased to $2.06 billion during the quarter, compared with $1.76 billion in the third quarter of 2009. RCCL attributed the revenue jump to capacity increases and yield improvements.

RCCL said that net yields for the quarter increased 5.2%, thanks to a 2.3% decrease in cruise costs and fuel conservation efforts.

Looking ahead, RCCL said net yields are expected to increase approximately 4% to 5% in the fourth quarter and are also on a positive trend for 2011.

The company reported that the current revenue environment has remained stable and continues to slowly improve.

Celebrity Cruises CEO Dan Hanrahan said that Europe and Alaska cruises performed particularly well during the quarter. He noted that for the first time, a higher percentage of Celebrity passengers in Europe were from outside the U.S.

"We continue to focus efforts on demand outside the U.S. market," he said.

Royal Caribbean International President Adam Goldstein echoed that sentiment.

"Our overall mix is trending more in the direction of guests from outside the U.S.," he said. "Royal Caribbean went from eight ships in Europe to 11, and that will propel that trend forward."

No ship orders on horizon

Fain would not comment on questions from analysts about Norwegian Cruise Line's two-ship order, which was announced the same day, but reiterated RCCL's prior statements that it had no plans to place another order of its own.

"We've said previously that we don't expect to do any more Oasis-class ships," Fain said. "We've also made it clear that we don't expect to stagnate and not have future growth. We look at these things opportunistically.

"We don't feel [rushed] to do something."

Fain said that for the foreseeable future, RCCL's growth would come from "internal capacity growth that we've already got on order and improvements in our margins."

He added that it was unlikely the company would order a ship with a delivery date any earlier than 2013, "but at this point, it's getting more likely that would be something more like 2014."

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