Windstar Cruises is carrying out a first for the cruise industry with its Star Cruise-class retrofit – and I believe we will see others following in its lead.
Windstar Cruises is carrying out a ‘stretch’ and re-engining of its trio of Star Cruise-class ships. The US$250M Star Plus initiative will see Fincantieri insert a 25.6-m mid-ship block into Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride, with work starting on Star Breeze in October 2019 and ending with the departure of Star Pride from the yard in November 2020. Each ship will also have four fuel-efficient Wärtsilä engines retrofitted.
This is a huge project which Windstar Cruises president John Delaney told delegates at Seatrade Cruise Global was “the most complex refit ever imagined”.
While cruise operators have carried out stretches before, according to Mr Delaney, never before have they carried out a stretch and a retrofit of the engines at the same time.
Despite the complexity, this project will reap many benefits and open the way for other cruise operators to follow. In one fell swoop, Windstar is not only increasing the capacity on each ship by 50 suites, a large commercial benefit, but is also increasing the efficiency and lifetime of the vessel by refitting the engines.
This type of retrofit offers operators an alternative to building a new ship, saving time and requiring less of an investment than a newbuild. Mr Delaney said the 24% capacity increase that Windstar Cruises as a brand will enjoy comes in at a “very cost efficient” US$250,000 per berth, and the four months each ship will take to be retrofitted is a fraction of the time it takes to build a new vessel.
While combining a stretch with an engine refit might be new to the cruise sector, a similar type of project is taking place within the ferry sector. Fincantieri is lengthening Grimaldi Group’s Cruise Roma and Cruise Barcelona, to create more cabins, public and cargo space and creating a battery room to install a bank of mega-lithium batteries to power the ships in port, leading to zero emissions.
Again, the project creates similar benefits to Windstar’s Star Plus initiative and provides a further advantage which will make both cruise and ferry operators sit up and take notice: battery installation is gaining momentum due to environmental legislation but they are hard to retrofit due to their size and space needed. The Grimaldi project overcomes these challenges with new mid-sections, creating the space needed without sacrificing current interior space.
Improving a vessel in terms of energy efficiency, extending its life and adding cabins will make the Windstar and Grimaldi retrofits viable options for other cruise and ferry operators.