Royal Caribbean International’s enormous new next-generation cruise ship Oasis of the Seas made its maiden voyage on a special trip to Haiti this week before starting a regular cruise schedule on 12 December.
Grand Cayman, however, will not be on the ship’s schedule even though it will make stops in other Western Caribbean ports in Jamaica and Mexico.
The massive new ship has a capacity of 5,400 people and it is simply too big to be successfully tendered at Cayman, which does not have berthing facilities.
MLA Cline Glidden Jr. said that the launch of the brand new megaship presents an opportunity for the Islands to develop the cruise facility infrastructure.
‘Royal Caribbean has made it clear that this ship will replace two of their bigger ships in the Caribbean,’ he said. ‘The effect will be significant and what we’re seeing is that this is a long-term policy decision in strategic planning by them.’
The Enchantment of the Seas, a regular visitor to Grand Cayman, made its last voyage here on 16 November. The ship is being redeployed to a home port in Baltimore, Maryland, from where it will offer New England cruises.
Royal Caribbean is also awaiting delivery for Oasis’ sister ship, Allure Of The Seas, in 2010. That behemoth will carry 5,600 people. It, too, will make calls on ports in Jamaica and Mexico, but not Cayman.
Mr. Glidden said that Royal Caribbean International is the second-biggest cruise partner for Cayman and when Allure is also brought online, the impact on the Caribbean could be significant.
‘In two years we could see a reduction of four 3,200 capacity ships from the Caribbean and specifically from Cayman,’ he said.
‘So the government has decided that we need to have berthing facilities and we need them as quickly as possible. We have a commitment from Royal Caribbean International that they are still committed to the Cayman Islands as long as we get our infrastructure [correct].’
Mr. Glidden admitted that in the short term, Cayman would see a decline in cruise visitors from Royal Caribbean, because it cannot accommodate the ships with berthing facilities. But he says the fact that Royal Caribbean built the Oasis of the Seas and is building the Allure of the Season proves it is committed to the Caribbean region.
‘Even during these down times to have companies spending between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion on a ship means they’re obviously going to be in it for a while,’ he said. ‘This presents great opportunities for the Cayman Islands so we have to ensure we take advantage of those opportunities, which as a government we’re committed to doing.’
Mr. Glidden explained that although the new ships are a feature of the cruise industry, Oasis is a brand new concept in cruising that is likely to attract higher-spending customers.
‘It is important to note that of all the possible regions, Royal Caribbean has made investment in a ship that is destined for the Caribbean, so it is obvious they see it as an important part of the business to have it as part of the cruise itinerary, and it’s important for us to place ourselves strategically to take advantage of that.’
It is technically possible to service and tender the 5,400 capacity, 16-deck vessel at Cayman, but it would have to be the only ship in port and it is likely that moving passengers off and on the ship would be prohibitively time-consuming.
Oasis of The Seas was built in Finland and weighs 225,282 gross tons. When it exited the Baltic Sea on its voyage to the Caribbean, it cleared the huge Great Belt Fixed Link bridge in Denmark by less than two feet. There are seven themed neighbourhoods on the vessel including Central Park, which is a boulevard that features shops, restaurants and bars plus 12,000 living plants and 56 trees.
There are also beach pools, surf simulators, spas, fitness centres, science labs and entertainment centres.
Joseph Woods, cruise and security manager at the Port Authority, said that Royal Caribbean’s calls at Cayman have declined recently.
‘In 2006 Royal Caribbean had 262 calls here bringing 765,000 passengers. In 2007 that was down to 210 calls and 617,454 passengers. Last year Royal Caribbean went down to 138 calls with 458,424 passengers. And this year Royal Caribbean dropped to 104 calls and 366,174 passengers,’ he said.
Rhapsody of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas were two ships that used to call regularly on Grand Cayman, but no longer do. Rhapsody now has a home port in Sydney, Australia. Radiance now calls primarily on several Mexican ports.
‘There’s no question that berthing facilities make it easier for passengers,’ he said. ‘…The mere fact that Royal Caribbean have redeployed ships tells you something.’
Royal Caribbean International did not respond to an interview request for this article.