Coronavirus outbreak brings major cruise ship overhauls to a halt

Apr 13, 2020

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Bad news, cruisers: You’ll have to wait longer for some of your favorite ships to get a makeover.

The coronavirus outbreak has forced cruise lines to push back several upcoming overhauls of vessels that were notable for their size and cost.

Among the projects that are on hold for now is a massive, eight-week-long “amplification” of Royal Caribbean‘s Allure of the Seas — one of the world’s biggest cruise ships. At $165 million, it was to have been one of the most expensive overhauls of a ship ever.

A nearly-as-big, $110 million refit of Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas also is on hold for now, as are major rebuildings of vessels operated by Carnival Cruise Line and Windstar Cruises.

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The delays to the ship makeovers come as shipyards around the world shut down or reduce work activity due to the coronavirus outbreak. Cruise lines also are putting capital projects on hold as they try to preserve cash on their balance sheets.

The worldwide shutdown of cruising since mid-March has resulted in a massive drop in revenue at cruise lines and negative cash flow. In a regulatory filing earlier this month, cruise giant Carnival Corp. said it was burning through about $1 billion a month.

Carnival Corp. is the parent company of nine cruise brands including Carnival, Princess Cruises, Holland America and Seabourn.

Most of the lines that are pushing back ship overhauls are being vague about when — or if — they eventually will take place.

“With global developments rapidly evolving, we are reviewing all options to bring Explorer and Allure into dry dock this year and determining the extent of the enhancements we can implement,” Royal Caribbean said recently in a statement.

The most notable ships with big transformations on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak:

  • Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. Scheduled to take place at a shipyard in Spain between March and May, the overhaul of the 5,484-passenger vessel was designed to add several blockbuster features already found on sister vessel Symphony of the Seas. Among them: A trio of giant waterslides called the Perfect Storm, and a swirling, nine-deck-high dry slide called Ultimate Abyss. The ship also was getting a new water play area for kids, a revamped pool deck, new kiddie play zones, an interior music hall and more. Royal Caribbean hasn’t set a new date for the project.
  • Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. Scheduled to take place in April and May at a shipyard in France, this 3,286-passenger vessel’s overhaul was to bring new waterslides, a revamped pool deck and the addition of a pop-up glow-in-the-dark laser tag course. Also planned was the addition of new Asian and Italian eateries, one of Royal Caribbean’s signature Chops Grille steakhouses, a sports bar and arcade, and a standalone Starbucks. Royal Caribbean hasn’t set a new date for the project.
  • Carnival Victory. This 20-year-old, 2,764-passenger Carnival ship already is at a shipyard in Spain awaiting what’s billed as one of the biggest and most expensive ship makeovers ever (so big the line plans to rechristen the vessel with a new name, Carnival Radiance). The work that is scheduled includes the addition of 100 new cabins (boosting the ship’s capacity to 3,984 passengers) and the revamp of existing cabins. Nearly a dozen new food and drink outlets were set to be added, too, along with a new waterpark area and other new deck-top amusements. While the $200 million project was supposed to begin in March and end in April, it’s now on indefinite hold due to a suspension of work at the shipyard.
  • Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze. A months’ long rebuilding of this 212-passenger vessel was supposed to be done in time for the summer season. But it now won’t be finished until at least late July, according to the line. Like Carnival Victory, Star Breeze already is at the shipyard that was supposed to do the work, a Fincantieri shipyard in Sicily. But work is on hold. The unusual overhaul revolves around the addition of a new midsection to the ship (to be inserted after cutting the ship in half!) that will allow for an all-new pool area, fitness center, spa and extra cabins. The ship also is getting new and revamped restaurants. Its capacity will rise to 312 passengers when the work is complete.

The work delays have forced the lines operating the ships to cancel months’ worth of sailings.

In the case of Carnival Radiance, Carnival already has canceled all voyages on the vessel through Nov. 1. In the case of Star Breeze, Windstar has canceled a summer-long series of cruises the ship was scheduled to operate in Alaska. Given its new projection that work on Star Breeze will finish in late July, Windstar has scheduled a few last-minute Mediterranean sailings for the vessel in August instead of the scheduled Alaska sailings.

The cancellations include departure dates far beyond the period where cruise lines already have canceled sailings across their fleets due to the coronavirus outbreak. Most cruise lines only have canceled sailings into May. A few lines, such as Viking, have canceled voyages through June.

Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, one of the world's biggest cruise ships, was scheduled to undergo a major makeover this year. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean).
Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, one of the world’s biggest cruise ships, was scheduled to undergo a major makeover this year. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean).

On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an extended “no-sail” order for cruise ships that visit U.S. ports that could remain in effect into July. It’s likely to result in waves of additional cruise cancellations.

Other ships scheduled for significant overhauls in 2020 include Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Constellation and Celebrity Infinity, and Oceania Cruises’ Nautica. Celebrity and Oceania have yet to announce delays for the work. Quite a few other cruise vessels are scheduled for more routine maintenance and refurbishment work in dry dock.

Cruise ships typically enter dry dock for maintenance and refurbishment work every few years.

Wall Street analysts in recent weeks have said they expect cruise lines to cut back even more sharply on ship overhauls in the coming months as they attempt to preserve cash.

Related: Big cruise companies can survive a shutdown lasting many months, analyst says 

“Most (capital expenditures) other than basic maintenance can be deferred, at least for three to six months,” leisure analyst Harry Curtis of Instinet said Tuesday in a research note.

Curtis said basic maintenance work cannot be ignored.

“Iron ships floating on salt water decay quickly,” he said. “Through 2020, we assume that basic maintenance continues, but renovation and most dry docks are deferred.”

Additional resources for traveling during the coronavirus outbreak:

Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

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