So you’ve decided that cruising might be on the horizon for your next trip away from it all? Well that was the easy part – now you have to decide what style, which exotic part of the world to choose to visit and which cruise line to select. There are so many cruise options to choose from – boutique specialist operators, river cruises, destination oriented, port intensive, big or small, you name it, there’s an operator with a vacation to suit you.
However for the majority of passengers, the first time they venture on board a cruise ship, it will belong to one of the big commercial lines that can be seen plying their trade in most major ports around the globe. Each line may have some element defining its distinctive character and style and a marketing campaign to match, but the unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of the big commercial cruise operations out there are controlled by one of the three mega corporations. In the red corner, we have Carnival Corporation and in the blue corner, we have Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The minnow hanging around with the big boys is Norwegian Cruise Lines Corporation. So the names may or may not mean a great deal to you, but the lines they control certainly will. An astonishing 81.6% of all cruises in 2016 were taken on board a cruise line owned by these three.
So who are they? Carnival Corporation is the biggest operator by far. Not just the owner of “fun ship” brand Carnival, the corporations’s octopus-like tentacles are spread over at least 7 major brands which cover a huge segment of the cruise market. RCCL, the parent company of Royal Caribbean cruises come in second, controlling another 23.1%. They are followed in a distant third by NCL Corporation. Just in case you are wondering who owns which brand, have a look:
The competing independents which make up the remaining market sector have backing from some companies with very deep pockets, and they certainly need it – the rapidly expanding MSC for instance is part of Mediterranean Shipping Corp., the second largest cargo shipping line in the world. Thomson cruises is being rebranded to TUI cruises, to reflect the actual ownership – TUI is the world’s largest travel company and the cruising arm is a joint venture with Royal Caribbean. Disney? let’s just say it’s one of the most identifiable brands on the planet with an enormous reach.
Carnival Corp. Carnival has a brand and a cruise offering to suit all tastes, from the fun brand of Carnival through mid-range cruise lines such as Holland America and Princess, up to the higher-end Cunard and premium operator Seabourn. Carnival seems to be going through a period of calm consolidation in comparison to other operators – a smaller number of new orders for larger ships across their companies, while maintaining their brand and fleet mix of styles and vessel sizes. We’ll have a look at the individual cruise lines within Carnival and what they offer later.
RCCL. The parent company is of course most well known for its ownership of Royal Caribbean International; it also owns Celebrity and Azamara cruise lines outright, giving RCCL a foothold in the popular, upmarket and semi-premium markets. Beyond that, it’s difficult to keep up with the revolving door through which other assets move backwards and forwards. 51% of Pullmantur was recently sold off, CDF is being folded up in 2017 and who knows what RCCL’s game plan for the future is.
NCL. Norwegian dates back to 1966 when it was known as Norwegian Caribbean Line and has seen some highs and lows in its time. Norwegian made headlines with the acquisition of the France in 1979, then promptly undertook an unheard of $100 million refit and conversion with it sailing under the name of Norway. Things didn’t go according to plan, when in 2003 a boiler explosion forced Norwegian to withdraw the Norway from service. NCL also had an interest and part ownership of Orient Lines for a number of years. In 2014 NCL purchased the parent company of upmarket operators Regent Seven Seas and Oceania.