In a sign of the growing importance of Asia to the cruise industry, Royal Caribbean today announced plans to base its newest, hottest ship in China next year instead of Europe or the Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean says the 4,180-passenger Quantum of the Seas -- its first new vessel in four years -- will permanently reposition to Shanghai in May 2015 following a previously announced inaugural winter season sailing to the Bahamas and the Caribbean out of the New York area. The ship will sail three- to eight-night voyages to Japan and Korea that primarily are aimed at the Chinese market.
"We have been very clear about our intentions to compete on a high level in China," Royal Caribbean Cruises president and COO Adam Goldstein tells USA TODAY in an exclusive interview about the move. "We feel like we have an asset here with Quantum of the Seas that is not really possible for our competitors to match."
Royal Caribbean Cruises is the parent company of the Royal Caribbean brand and also owns Celebrity Cruises and several smaller lines.
Goldstein says the Chinese market places a high value on new, top-quality products, and Royal Caribbean believes it has a chance to achieve a long-term competitive advantage by taking the "bold step" of dedicating its newest, most-advanced ship to the region. The company has been expanding into China for several years, starting with some of its smallest and oldest vessels but moving recently to newer, larger vessels. The success of the effort is such that "we have decided to use (a ship like Quantum of the Seas) in China maybe a little bit quicker than had been our timetable."
Quantum of the Seas will join two other Royal Caribbean ships currently dedicated at least part of the year to the Chinese market, the 3,114-passenger Mariner of the Seas and 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas. The addition of Quantum of the Seas will boost the company's capacity in the region by 66%.
The deployment comes as the world's biggest cruise companies increasingly look to Asia for growth. Among other lines shifting capacity to the region are Princess Cruises, which is expanding rapidly in Japan, and Costa Cruises.
"We have been step-by-step building up our presence in Asia in general and the China market in particular ... and it has been (going) very well for us," Goldstein says.
Still, Goldstein makes clear that the Miami-based company, which currently has 21 ships, isn't turning its back on its fans in North America. Quantum is just one of four new Royal Caribbean ship that will debut over the next two years, which will leave plenty of new capacity available for deployments closer to home.
Goldstein said Quantum of the Seas will be replaced in the New York area for the summer of 2015 by the smaller Liberty of the Seas. The 3,634-passenger ship will cruise to Bermuda, the Caribbean and Canada/New England from the New York-area port of Bayonne, N.J. through the fall. But come November 2015, the 4,180-passenger Anthem of the Seas -- a sister ship to Quantum of the Seas that debuts in April 2015 -- will take Liberty's place in the New York area, sailing to the Bahamas and Caribbean for the winter of 2015-16.
While Royal Caribbean expects most passengers sailing on Quantum of the Seas out of Shanghai will be from China, the cruises also can be a draw for North Americans, Europeans and other global travelers looking to explore Asia by ship, Goldstein says. While the line will make some minor tweaks to the vessel to cater specifically to the Chinese market, it'll essentially be the same Royal Caribbean product found elsewhere in the world.
Perhaps the biggest difference with Quantum of the Seas' sailings out of Shanghai as compared to Royal Caribbean sailings elsewhere around the globe is that they will be shorter, to appeal to local preferences, Goldstein says.
"We are very happy to have people from around the world traveling to cruise on Quantum of the Seas (out of Shanghai) just as we are happy to have people from around the world cruise on Oasis of the Seas out of Florida," he says.
Currently under construction at a shipyard in Germany, Quantum of the Seas is scheduled to debut in November. By far the most anticipated new ship of the year, it will boast such innovative new features as the first skydiving simulator at sea and a glass capsule on a mechanical arm that will rise high above the ship for bird's-eye views.
Also new on Quantum of the Seas will be Two70, an unusual, multilevel entertainment space with floor-to-ceiling windows that will feature live aerial performances as well as digital performances projected on moving screens.
The first of a new class of vessel at Royal Caribbean, Quantum of the Seas won't be quite as big as the line's much-ballyhooed Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas— the world's largest cruise ships. But it still will rank among the 10 largest passenger vessels in the world and feature all of the signature amenities Royal Caribbean fans have come to love, from a 30-foot-high rock climbing wall to a FlowRider surf simulator to an H20 Zone kids water park. Look inside Oasis of the Seas.
Contributed by Gene Sloan, USA Today.