RCCL's jitters ease, fleet doubled on Continent


MIAMI -- Anticipating a higher-than-expected demand for Europe voyages this year, Celebrity Cruises and sister brand Royal Caribbean International are rising to meet the call for increased capacity in 2003 by stationing five vessels in Europe.

Celebrity's Millennium will join the Constellation, and Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas and Splendour of the Seas will join the Brilliance of the Seas, more than doubling the brands' total capacity there.

Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said the company had acted "cautiously" when repositioning its ships away from Europe for the 2002 season. Planning for 2003 required the company to hit a balance, Fain said.

"My guess is that if nothing happens in Iraq we will wish we had six [ships] instead of five, and if something big happens, we'll wish we had four," he said.

Celebrity had pulled back on its 2003 Europe capacity earlier this year: The Century, which was slated for a series of Europe cruises, a few months ago had its 2003 season shifted to summer Caribbean cruising. Officials said the move was made to increase capacity in the Caribbean.

Right now, it's still too early to tell if the Europe season will be as big a success as Celebrity and Royal Caribbean International hope, although Jack Williams, president of both brands, told financial analysts "early indications are for satisfactory demand."

RCCL executives said their passengers continue to book closer to the sail date, so the real picture for summer 2003 may not be clear for several months. Travel agents like Pat Tinney, who sailed on the Constellation in September with a group of 20 clients, agreed that the majority of her bookings are still made at the last minute.

Tinney, owner of Creative Tours by Pat in Mary Esther, Fla., said there was "definitely a trend back" toward Europe.

"But it depends on the world situation," she added. "If the Mideast crisis dies down, there will be no problems."

The Constellation is the final ship in Celebrity's building spree -- the line doubled its capacity in two years. It is the fourth in the line's Millennium-class series, and past Millennium guests and agents will have no trouble finding their way around the Constellation.

Of course, a few things will be changing on the Celebrity ships. The line launched an onboard improvement program in September that is intended to maneuver the line into an "upper premium" category.

Celebrity is running a "pilot program" of some of the initiatives on board the Millennium.

So far, Millennium guests have been treated to, among other new offerings, expanded spa hours and menu, sorbet and cold towels offered poolside, sushi options in the casual restaurant, sunset yoga classes and a complimentary welcome glass of champagne.

Steven Hancock, senior vice president, Celebrity marketing, said it was likely the successful upgrades would be rolled out fleetwide in the first quarter.

The Constellation will sail a series of northern Europe itineraries from London to Scandinavia and Russia, and then reposition to the Mediterranean for cruises from Barcelona. To get from the Baltics region to the Med, the Constellation sails an itinerary called the Best of Europe.

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