When do two halves make more than a whole? When you cut a cruise ship in half and put it back together again with a whole new ‘middle bit.’
It’s nothing actually new in the technological world of shipyards and marine construction, but it’s firmly back in the headlines again this month with the news that Windstar Cruises are about to embark on an ambitious $250million plan to ‘elongate’ no less than three of their fleet.
And you can count us among the gob-smacked admirers who will be eagerly awaiting the results of this enlargement process, which is scheduled to take from October 2019 to November 2020 at the Fincantieri Shipyard in Palermo, Sicily.
In technical terms, the idea of splitting a vessel in two and then rebuilding it with a new mid-section has been around since 1978 when Royal Caribbean had their Song of Norway lengthened by fully 85ft as the cruise business began to boom, following up that little piece of construction alchemy in 1980 with a similar ‘stretch’ for sister ship Nordic Prince.
In simple terms, the enlargement was much cheaper than building a new ship but added substantially to both the passenger capacity and the public space on offer, and Royal Caribbean’s example has proved the industry standard ever since.
They were copied in 1981 by Royal Viking Line, who sent all three of their vessels to Bremerhaven over the course of two years, adding fully 200 extra berths to each ship, as well as a new lounge and a huge expansion of the main dining room, and Holland America followed suit six years later with a 130ft enlargement of their newly-acquired Westerdam, the former Homeric of Home Line
The practice continued in the early 1990s when Italian line Costa sent their newly-acquired Costa Allegra to be lengthened at the Mariotti shipyard in Genoa as part of a major conversion from a container ship, while, in 1998 and ’99, Norwegian Cruise Line also undertook a three-ship expansion project, including the largest ‘insert’ yet attempted by any company with a new 131ft mid-section for their Norwegian Drea.
Since then, each of Fred. Olsen, MSC Cruises and Silversea have joined the ‘super-sized’ club, while both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have sent subsequent ships back to the builders’ yards for the same enlargement process.
And now comes Windstar, taking a leaf out of the Silversea playbook by looking to add to their luxury lustre with a major stretching as well as a complete refurbishment for their trio of sleek Star-class vessels that were formerly the threesome that comprised the original Seabourn fleet.
In what they are calling their Star Plus programme, Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride will each be lengthened by 84ft in Fincantieri’s specialist conversion shipyard, which recently undertook the ‘stretch’ of the Silver Spirit, adding two new restaurants and 34 more suites within that ship’s extra 50ft of length.
Windstar Cruises president John Delaney issued the project statement on November 15, insisting: “We are thrilled to announce the $250million Star Plus Initiative, a significant investment in the future of Windstar Cruises. This exciting initiative is our 180-degree-from-ordinary solution to add new capacity and major enhancements to the guest experience in a very time efficient manner.
“This will be a true game-changer for Windstar and our small-ship cruise experience. The Initiative not only creates beautiful new suites and public spaces, but we will also take the opportunity to re-engine the ships with a more fuel-efficient and environmentally responsible propulsion system.”
Currently, the trio are 443ft long and carry 212 guests in 106 suites with a 47.05 space ratio (extremely generous for their time in the early 1990s, but only average by today’s standards). When they emerge from the Sicilian yard, they will be 527ft in length, accommodate 312 passengers in 156 suites and boast a space ratio of more than 50.
The full internal reconfiguration once the ships have been split in half and put back together will be as follows:
• 50 additional suites, featuring new suite categories and open-floor plan configurations.
• Creation of two brand new, larger Owner’s Suites, which combine existing suites to create up to a three-bedroom, two-balcony suite, the first of its kind in the cruise industry.
• Two new dining experiences, including an intimate alternative restaurant, and a casual barbecue space adjacent to the top deck Star Bar, perfect for outdoor grilling during Windstar’s Signature Onboard Barbecue celebration.
• Expanded Veranda Restaurant to offer significantly more ocean-view seating and an upgraded dining area.
• For existing suites, all-new bathrooms and installation of new sliding doors for the Balcony Suites.
• A larger pool and hot tub that will be reconfigured and elevated, offering outstanding views, along with a more enhanced outdoor deck area for relaxing and sun-bathing.
• A completely re-imagined and enlarged spa and a fitness centre.
• A new elevator mid-ship, making access to all decks easy from anywhere on board.
• A comfortable, new tender loading area located mid-ship, and two new 90-passenger tenders that will ferry guests to port when ships are at anchor.
In addition, the ships’ staff and crew areas will be expanded and upgraded, and additional crew will be hired to maintain the line’s impressive 1.5:1 guest to hotel staff ratio.
The initiative also includes a comprehensive re-engine project for each vessel, involving the removal of seven current engines and the installation of four new ones that are more environmentally friendly and will run on cleaner fuel to reduce their emissions impact at sea.
It all adds up to one of the most comprehensive refurbishment projects in recent years and should ensure the Windstar threesome remain the smart, head-turning but also meticulously ultra-luxe vessels they were originally designed to be.
It is a huge investment on the part of Windstar and owners Xanterra Travel Collection, but it promises to ensure one of our favourite cruise experiences continues to live up to its 180 Degrees From The Ordinary tagline. Roll on 2020!
What are your thoughts on this high-tech process? Are you ready to sail on a ship that’s been cut in half? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.