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Cruise ship refurbishment

Today, a growing number of cruise operators are upgrading and refurbishing their ships, instead of building new ships. In its annual “Cruise Lines Outlook,” UBS Group Aktiengesellschaft  (AG) estimates that by 2020, at least 12 percent of global capacity will be 25 years old or older, and about 5 percent will be pushing 30 years old[i] They are doing it for several reasons including that it can be quicker and cheaper than building a new vessel. For example, it can take up to 30 days to refurbish a cruise ship, but at least three years to order and complete a new vessel.

The cruise ship refurbishment market

The current cruise [ii]ships dry-dock and refit market is a $3 billion annual business, according to estimates in the 2018 Cruise Industry News Dry-docking and Refurbishment Report. At present there are some 335 vessels operating on the world’s oceans, also Cruise Industry News estimates there are 1,500 dry-docking days annually, with an average spend of $2 million per day a vessel is in a dry-dock. Amongst the leading cruise ship lines investing in refurbishment include Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), Princess, Carnival and Norwegian.[iii] But the three most profitable cruise lines in 2019 were Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. Together, they accounted for nearly $6 billion in profits and over 70% of the cruise market in 2018.[iv]

In addition, current safety rules dictate that vessels should be sent for dry-dock, at least once every five years. Most ships have an operating lifespan of some 30 years or more, each one could get at least six refurbishments. Some cruise lines are also slowing down the pace of new construction.[v]

Building new cruise vessels costs money, according to muster station.com a 500 passenger vessel could cost some $400 million, while a 5000+ passenger vessel could cost around $1.3 billion.[vi]

While new ships are built mostly in Europe, refurbishments are done there and in Canada, the U.S., Singapore and the Bahamas. This year, the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport is by far the busiest yard; with 19 cruise ship dry-docks on its schedule.[vii]

Cost of refurbishment

Usually refurbishment of a vessel will include standard maintenance and overhauls, redecorating, engineering updates, hull cleaning, painting, new furniture and decoration, new carpets, interactive entertainment and TV systems, ship wide Wi-Fi, replacing handrails and glass, upgrades of venues, new amenities and services, et cetera.

Also, we are seeing efforts by vessel owners to cut a ship’s carbon footprint, including installing exhaust scrubbers and converting the engines to work on LNG. [viii]Such work can cost between $10 million and $50 million depending on the size of the vessel and the ambition of the refurbishment.

For example, Silversea’s Silver Wind is set for an extensive refurbishment in August 2020, which will see the ship pick up ice class certification and several expedition cruising additions. The dry-docking of the vessel will last two months and prepare the ship for cruises in the polar and other remote regions. They will add a fleet of 16 Zodiacs and several kayaks and an upgraded theatre. The hull will be upgraded to meet an ice class rating of 1C. Also, the passenger capacity will be cut from 294 to 254, with all the suites receiving a full upgrade. Most of the public areas will see improvements, while the spa will be completely refurbished.[ix]

What can refurbishment mean?

Cruise ship refurbishments can mean adding a new section to the hull, to make the ship longer in order to carry more passengers. It could also mean refurbishing existing cabins and other facilities or even adding new facilities such as a new spa complex.

For example, during 2019, the operator Silversea Cruises is cutting an existing cruise ship in half and adding a new section in the middle to their Silver Spirit luxury vessel at the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo, Sicily. Once the pre-built 15 metre midsection has been inserted, the new block will make the liner a total length of over 210 feet.[x]

Other refurbishments may mean, including adding a new external coat of paint to protect vessel’s hull from corrosion, improving the propulsion system and updating the technology for managing the ship and meeting the needs of the passengers.

Also, investing in new passenger technology, for example, the Carnival Lines Sky Princess vessel is equipped with ocean medallion technology, which enables passengers to wear an electronic pass that can give them access to various services and rooms on the vessel, they can wear it as a bracelet or pendant. It also means that guests can pay for meals and extra services, without carrying cash about and enables passengers to keep track of friends.[xi]

Unscheduled repairs

When a vessel needs unscheduled repairs, not matching what has been planned, there are teams of global specialists who can either visit the ship at its current location or offer fast response repairs at their bases worldwide.

For example, one such provider is Trident BV (a global provider of commercial diving services) owned by Finish ship technology company Wartsila. Trident offers a wide range of services for cruise ships including underwater repairs, propulsion systems overhaul, regular maintenance works such as hull cleaning, propeller polishing, welding, scrubber-cleaning and retrofitting, even major underwater overhauls. The company has bases with fully equipped workshops and certified personnel in Italy, Holland, Spain and Canary Islands which serve customers in any location around the globe.

Top destinations for cruise ship vessels

According to CNN Travel website, the top destinations for cruise ships are Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, Arles, France, Quebec City, Canada, Budapest, Hungary and Wurzburg, Germany.[xii]


[i] https://skift.com/2018/06/02/old-cruise-ships-get-new-life-as-costs-soar-for-new-builds/

[ii] https://www.cruiseindustrynews.com/store/product/digital-reports/2018-drydocking-and-refurbishment-report/

[iii] https://themusterstation.com/cruise-ship-cost-to-build/

[iv] https://www.businessinsider.com/carnival-cruise-vs-royal-caribbean-vs-norwegian-cruise-line-ranked-2019-6?r=US&IR=T

[v] https://www.travelweekly.com/Cruise-Travel/As-fleets-grow-cruise-lines-opt-to-update-ships

[vi] https://themusterstation.com/cruise-ship-cost-to-build/

[vii] https://www.travelweekly.com/Cruise-Travel/As-fleets-grow-cruise-lines-opt-to-update-ships

[viii] https://www.cruiseindustrynews.com/flip/drydock2019/mobile/index.html#p=8

[ix] https://www.cruiseindustrynews.com/cruise-news/22138-the-top-drydocks-of-2020.html

[x] https://www.cruisehive.com/cruise-ship-cut-in-half-and-lengthened-with-new-section/23333

[xi] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/24/travel/tech-cruises.html

[xii] https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/popular-cruise-ship-destinations-2018/index.html

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