ST. NAZAIRE, France -- Following its successful debut of
48,000-ton, 1,200-passenger Mistral in late 1999, Festival Cruises
is introducing a series of even larger vessels.
The Pireaus, Greece-based operator that markets in the U.S. as
First European Cruises will begin with the 58,600-ton,
1,506-passenger European Vision, which debuts in June.
Vision will be followed in March 2002 by a sister vessel,
Additionally, Festival will issue a $200 million European bond
funded by European banks later this year for the construction of
two more megaships, said George Poulides, Festival's chief
executive officer, during a recent keel-laying ceremony at the
Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard here for European Dream.
The new ships are designed to court North American passengers
while offering the company's core European audience innovations
previously seen only on U.S. ships.
"Our main market
is Europe supplemented by sales from elsewhere," said Poulides, who
estimated Festival's U.S. passenger base at about 20% of the
Vision, for example, will include features that simply don't
exist on other ships serving a primarily European passenger
The ship's 12th deck will include a two-deck high rock-climbing
wall, while the 13th deck will include a nine-hole miniature golf
"It is the only climbing wall on a ship sailing the
Mediterranean," according to Festival officials.
European Vision also will feature a virtual reality golf
simulator and an instructor for more serious duffers.
In addition, Vision will boast 132 suites equipped with private
A massive pool deck area will offer two large pools, a children's
splash pool and several whirlpools. Vision's fifth deck also will
include an Internet cafe.
"Europeans are no different from Americans," said Poulides. "We
climb walls, play golf and use the Internet. Up until now, we have
not had the opportunity to do these things on European ships."
Vision will have the additional distinction of hosting this year's
G8 economic summit in Genoa, Italy.
Although European passengers represent Festival's core passenger
base, "Festival was not planned exclusively for Europeans," said
Poulides. "Everyone receives the same welcome although we have a
very diverse passenger base."
He called First European's strategy "a reversal of the formula
whereby other cruise lines market mainly at [U.S. travelers] and
then top up bookings from Europe and other markets. Our main market
is and will continue to be Europe, supplemented by our sales and
marketing activities elsewhere. No one country can fill a ship
First European Cruises represents an opportunity for U.S.
cruisers to indulge in European culture through the company's
growing fleet of new, feature-filled ships, said Poulides.
Festival is paring its older tonnage (the line's 900-passenger
Bolero, formerly NCL's Starward, will move to the Spanish Cruise
Line, a three-way joint venture among Festival, Spanish tour
operator Iberojet and ferry operator Transmediterranea, beginning
April 23) to make way for the new fleet.
"One-half of our capacity will be in new ships with the
completion of Vision and Dream," he said.
Poulides said Europe's emerging strength as a source of cruise
passengers is a result of new-ship construction, the same
phenomenon that is currently driving U.S. passenger growth.
"What has created the market in America is the ships. The ships
created the clientele. Today there are only six ships of the entire
international cruise fleet that are dedicated to 300 million
Europeans," [in the vacation market] he added.