The Scenic route to shipbuilding has its advantages

People sailing on a river cruise ship or a luxury expedition yacht likely aren’t giving a whole lot of thought to the months and years of production that went into bringing that vessel onto the water.

And that’s understandable; it is a vacation, after all. But over the course of my first year covering the river cruise market, I’ve sometimes wondered about the choices that have gone into building a river cruise ship.

Why did they put the lounge bar near the lobby entrance instead of at the opposite end, near the deck entrance? What needed to be sacrificed in order for this bathroom or bedroom to be as spacious as it is — or did anything need to be sacrificed at all? Whose great idea was it to not only install a heated swimming pool onboard but to build one indoors? 

The short answer? Teamwork makes the shipbuilding dream work, at least when it comes to the ships built by the luxury river and yacht cruise line Scenic Group.

The company, which owns Scenic Luxury Cruises and Emerald Cruises, recently began building its own ships through its in-house shipbuilding company, MKM Yachts, based in Croatia. 

It is currently building its first two ships at its yards in Croatia and Vietnam. Both are scheduled to debut next year.

Scenic employs a number of skilled engineers and designers to handle the actual construction of its ships, but the company says it has its guests to thank for steering innovation. 

“Our focus in the design and building of our ships is on the guest experience, and we rely on them to give us the best ideas and insight into what works and what is desired,” said Maggie Carbonell, vice president of marketing at Scenic Group USA. “We have found that gives us the unique position of often being first in the industry to offer our guests an array of new possibilities.” 

The ability to take feedback from guests and incorporate it directly into the design and construction of its fleet over time is what the Australian cruise company says is one of the advantages of integrating the shipbuilding process into its business model.

Emerald Cruises ships on the Danube seen from Liberty Bridge in Budapest during the first ASTA Global River Cruise Expo.

New to the game

Scenic Group’s shipbuilding division launched in 2020.

Before that, when the company was having its first Scenic ship built in the early 2000s, the company’s owners, Glen and Karen Moroney, faced limitations when it came to pushing the envelope for ship designs that weren’t as common at the time.

“It was easier for the shipyards to just keep building the same ship design they had always built,” said Robert Castro, senior director of marketing for Scenic Group USA.

Features that Scenic Group had in mind for new ships were repeatedly rejected by shipyards they approached, Castro said. Even after finding shipyards willing to build its ships, the company saw the advantage of controlling the production process outright. 

The Lotus Lounge on the Emerald Harmony.

Advantages to going DIY

Building your own ships, let alone owning your own shipyard, is not a common thing in the river cruise market. River cruise industry professionals say that most lines outsource the actual building of ships and work together with those companies on what’s possible design-wise. 

And while it’s usually a lot more expensive to undertake the shipbuilding process, outsourcing production can be pricey, as well, Castro said. 

“The typical shipyard will complete the hull and then float it; that is one of the payment schedule milestones,” he said. “Then a lot of the equipment is installed while the ship is in the water, at a much higher cost, and requires the cutting of the steel in places and then patching.” 

Instead, Scenic Group said it is able to install much of the equipment before the hull is completed and while the ship is still in dry dock, which Castro said negates those higher costs and reduces production time and worker hours.

“We are also able to hire the best workers and expect the best of them,” Carbonell said. “The quality of the workmanship is able to be controlled by us versus relying on a contracted builder. If there are any issues, we can remedy them quickly.”

The Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II in a rendering. The Eclipse II is scheduled to make its maiden voyage in April.

In the works

The company currently has two ships under construction. The Scenic Eclipse II is being built in Croatia and is scheduled to make its maiden voyage in April, an 11-day voyage from Lisbon to Barcelona. The ship will sport a few new features not seen on its predecessor, including a steam room area expanded to include aromatherapy, an ice fountain and experience showers as well as a salt-therapy lounge with heated beds. The Eclipse II will also introduce an oval-shaped pool and a bar with indoor and outdoor seating.

The line is also hard at work at its Vietnam yard on the Emerald Sakara, the second of Emerald’s ocean yachts. The ship, identical to the 100-passenger Emerald Azzurra, will sail the Seychelles on its maiden voyage in early August.

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