2023 Year in Review: The 10 Top Cruise Stories

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Back on the growth track, the cruise industry had  big year in 2023; the Cruise Industry News editorial team selected some of the industry’s key headlines and developments over the past 12 months.

(Another) Year of Startups

Several new cruise lines launched service in 2023, including Explora Journeys. Marking the debut of the MSC Cruises Group in the luxury market, the new brand welcomed its first guests in August.

Other cruise lines that debuted over the past 12 months include CFC, Adora Cruises, Tianjin Orient International, Exploris, and the new Crystal. New operations were also announced during the year, including Aroya Cruises, Mitsui Ocean Cruises, Orient Express, Project Sama, and more.

Over 20 New Ships in Service

In yet another big year for the shipbuilding business, a total of 21 new cruise ships were delivered.

The lineup includes ships of different sizes and niches – from the world’s largest cruise ship to small coastal vessels. Highlights of the class of 2023 include Royal Caribbean’s new Icon of the Seas, MSC Cruises’ Euribia, Silversea’s Silver Nova, and Carnival’s Jubilee.

The year also saw the delivery of the first China-built large cruise ship, the 5,000-guest Adora Magic City.

Return to Profit

The world’s largest cruise corporations also improved their financial positions in 2023. With operations back to normality and strong demand, the companies either returned to profit or paved the way for future gains.

Carnival Corporation saw an all-time high full-year revenue of $21.6 billion, making debt payments of $6 billion and reducing its debt balance by $4.6 billion from its peak.

The Royal Caribbean Group is expecting a full year adjusted EPS of $6.59 to $6.30 for 2023 and “at least $9” for 2024, according to its CEO Jason Liberty.

Despite the impact of global events including the wildfires in Maui and the armed conflict in Israel, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings expects a full year 2023 adjusted EBITDA of approximately $1.86 billion.

Changing Structures

Two of the world’s largest cruise corporations saw significant changes in 2023. While Carnival Corporation introduced a new operating structure, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings welcomed new leadership.

After almost ten years leading the corporation and its three brands as President and CEO, Frank J. Del Rio retired in June and was replaced by Harry Sommer.

Carnival Corporation out its group organization in favor of a new unit structure. The former Costa Group was turned into two stand-alone units – Costa Cruises and AIDA Cruises.

China is Back

After years closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese market finally reopened for cruise ships in mid-2023.

While major international players – including Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises – plan to return to the country in early 2024, local brands such as Adora Cruises, Blue Dream Cruises, Resorts World Cruises and Tianjin Orient International are among the operators currently serving the Chinese domestic public.

Moreover, the Chinese government also greenlighted the resumption of outbound travel, allowing local residents to make trips to different parts of the world.

Zero Cruise Ships Scrapped

Following a record year in 2022, the cruise ship recycling business came to a total halt this year. While some vessels continue laid up in different parts of the world, not a single ship was sold to the breaking yards in the past 12 months.

Continuing a trend that started in the early days of the pandemic, 2022 had seen a total of 18 cruise ships dismantled in facilities in Europe and Asia.

World’s New Largest Ship

Delivered to Royal Caribbean International by the Meyer Turku shipyard in November, the Icon of the Seas became the world’s largest cruise ship.

Introducing a new class to the company’s fleet, the 250,000-ton vessel is considerably bigger than the former title holder, the 227,000-ton Wonder of the Seas.

Greener Operations

Continuing on its path to sustainability, cruise lines and ports introduced new projects and technologies in 2023.

In addition to building up the infrastructure for LNG-powered operations, the industry also invested in shore power, with new ships and ports adding the capabilities to use the service. Holland America Line now has all of its ships ready to use shore power connections.

The year also saw the debut of the Silver Nova, which uses a hybrid technology that relies on fuel cells, batteries, and dual-fuel engines that run on liquefied natural gas. Other highlights include the industry’s first net zero greenhouse emission cruise, which was performed by the MSC Euribia in June.

 Strong Secondhand Market

The secondhand market for cruise ships saw a strong year in 2023.

Among the vessels that found new owners were the Costa Magica, the Seabourn Odyssey, the AIDAaura, the former Pacific Aria, the Braemar, the Explorer Dream, the Pacific Venus, the Birka Stockholm, and more.

One of the highlights of the year was the sale of the former Costa Atlantica. After several years out of service, the 2000-built vessel was acquired by Margaritaville at Sea and is set to offer a series of short cruises out of Tampa starting in June 2024.

Residential Ship Frenzy

Continuing a trend that evolved significantly in recent years, the market saw the introduction of several residential ship projects and companies. While some – including Miray’s Life at Sea project – have surfaced and failed in 2023, others continue to be developed across the world.

Villa Vie Residences recently announced plans to buy Fred. Olsen’s Braemar for its three-and-a-half year of world cruise.

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