It was not a particularly auspicious debut for Island Cruises, the joint venture between Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and U.K. tour operator First Choice that launched the 40,132-ton, 1,512-passenger Island Escape (ex-Viking Serenade) on March 26.
Even RCI admitted it was a difficult startup, made all the more challenging by full occupancies during the initial cruises.
According to one British press report, the ship “was hit by a passenger mutiny over conditions during its maiden voyage.” The statement from Island: “Following the initial problems experienced by the Island Escape on its mini and inaugural cruises, we have taken immediate and direct action to rectify these problems.” Soon there-after, the resignations of Managing Director Steve Garley and Technical Director David Carter were reported.
Yet the following month, problems persisted: the ship had to abandon a cruise and set 1,500 passengers ashore when a toilet waste pipe burst.
On May 23, the company announced the appointment of Michael Bayley as its new managing director, apparently signaling increased involvement by RCI in the joint venture. A 21-year veteran of the business, Bayley previously served as RCI’s vice president of total guest satisfaction-fleet services.
Since its inception, the new Island brand has been geared toward a specific niche of the U.K. travel market: young, active travelers who traditionally opt for low-priced informal resort vacations on land. Such first-time cruisers have been targeted with low-priced seven-day itineraries sailing out of Palma in the Western Mediterranean.
The transformation of RCI’s Viking Serenade into the Island Escape earlier this year required a $10 million refit, conducted both en route during the transatlantic crossing, and in the drydock at Lisnave, Portugal. Work included the addition of a 45-ton steel “sponson,” fixed to the back of the ship for reserve buoyancy in order to conform with SOLAS damage-collision rules. Four tenders were also added to the ship (which previously had none), and 100 tons of old paint was removed, allowing the ship to reach 19.2 knots in sea trials, compared to the previous maximum speed of 17.8 knots. Interior work included refurbishment of some public areas and cabins, while the most extensive project was the addition of a sprinkler system to meet SOLAS 2004 requirements.