Continuing our popular series ‘The Rise & Fall of’ we are looking at Royal Olympic Cruises, whose collapse is a prime example of the dangers in the cruise industry. If you used to work for Royal Olympic Cruises or had been on a Royal Olympic Cruise please comment below, send us an email (Liam@Crociere.co.uk) or contact us on Twitter & Facebook.Royal Olympic was founded in 1995 when Sun Lines and Epirotiki Line’s passenger operations merged, However it was not until 1997, when a listing on the NASDAQ was announced the two lines united under the Royal Olympic Cruises branding. The main point of operation was the East Mediterranean with an interesting fleet of vessels. Royal Olympic was a destination intensive cruise line, targeting older guests where the main reason to cruise was to see the sights rather than the ‘wow’ factor of the ship.
The fleet was made up of Stella Solaris, Stella Oceanis, Stella Maris, Apollon, Triton, Odysseus, Olympic/Topaz, Olympia Countess, Triton, World Renaissance, later joined by Olympic/Olympia Explorer & Olympic/Olympia Voyager. A real mixture of ships which is represented in the lack of ‘corporate naming’ so popular now.
Royal Olympic listed on the NASDAQ in 1998, raising $91 Million, The founding families however retained a controlling interest in the business. Following the capital raising Royal Olympic announced that it was to build two new cruise ships, which will travel at high speeds, capable of 33 knots. Designed for a ‘three continents’ cruise where high-speed is required. These two ships would carry around 800 passengers.
However in 1999 Royal Olympic was in trouble, political instability in the region was causing problems and booking fell significantly. The share price of the company dropped from $15 to $2. By the end of the year Louis Cruise Lines, the Cyprus based tourism company, has agreed to buy a stake in the company and invested significantly in turning around its fortunes.
Taking delivery of its first new build, Olympic Voyager, in 2000, Royal Olympic now had a four star ship in the Med. However the sister ship Olympic Explorer was due for delivery in 2001, was delayed due to objections by Royal Olympic about the build quality and vibration problems, finally delivered almost a year later the ship. The ships appeared to successfully operate a summer season in the Eastern med and a Winter season in the Caribbean and West Coast of America. These new ships had a significant lack of balconies, which can only have played a part in the demise of the line.
The International Olympic Committee forced Royal Olympic Cruises to change its name to Royal Olympia Cruises in 2003, and the prefix of the Olympic vessels was changed to Olympia.
Following September 11th Royal Olympic was hit significantly by the global tourism downturn, like all cruise lines. However during the war on Iraq; the business suffered as customers saw the area as a risky destination. With a 55% market share in the eastern Med, and a 9% overall in the Mediterranean, Royal Olympic tried to bolster its fortunes by a rapid change of itineraries but the changing brochures just confused passengers further and at the end of 2003 its two flagships were seized by the creditors.
The line struggled on for a few months, before finally collapsing in March 2004. Attempts to restart also failed and the line disappeared, with Louis moving into the region with Louis Hellenic Cruises. Most of the fleet was scrapped following the collapse, however Olympic Voyager is currently operating as Costa Voyager and Olympic Explorer is operating as Explorer, a floating university, of which Maritime Matters covers in a great article: http://maritimematters.com/2011/04/explorer-cruise-shipfloating-university/
Olympia Countess, the former Cunard Countess, was sold on for further service and now operates as Ocean Countess operating a variety of cruises out of the UK, including Liverpool. Triton continued service as Coral for Louis Cruises Lines but is currently out of service.
It was an overextension of funds, poor planning, as well as outside factors which lead to the collapse of the line. With a larger more stable partner, perhaps P&O Princess or Royal Caribbean, I think Olympic Voyager & Explorer could have had an interesting future on the routes they were designed for.
Poor decisions such as the lack of balconies on cruise ships built in the 21st century, as well as the reluctance to move from the Eastern Med when it was clear that the region was struggling, was two of the core reasons, the inability to finance the debt on these new ships was the straw which broke the camels back.