New cruise line offers low prices, casual comforts
By Samantha Joseph
Low startup costs allow the newest Miami-based cruise line to offer trips at about half the price of similar products, according to company executives.
Oceania Cruises' flagship vessel, Regatta, is making its inaugural voyage from Port of Miami to Central America including Mexico and the Panama Canal. The 684-passenger ship sailed from Miami on Nov. 25 for a 14-day cruise.
An acquisition deal - in which Oceania purchased two ships, each worth about $180 million, for less than half-price - is at the heart of the line's success, according to spokesman Tim Rubacky. The deal gives Oceania the option to acquire a third ship.
The low-cost purchase from Renaissance Cruises, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001, helped Oceania become profitable in its second month of cruise operations, Mr. Rubacky said.
"I don't think anyone will ever see another deal like this again," he said. "I dare say we're the most successful startup the cruise industry has ever seen."
The 11-month-old company expects to introduce a second ship next year and a third in 2005. Next year, it estimates, its two operating ships will carry 36,000 passengers. Its third ship should add 16,000 passengers, according to company projections.
"We're not serving an underserved market. We're serving a market that did not exist before," Mr. Rubacky said, referring to the company's introduction of a luxury product at prices significantly below market value.
Jay Caulk, group manager at Peter Berlin Travel in Pompano Beach, said that by offering luxury service on smaller ships, Oceania is able to offer lower prices, more personalized service and "exceptional value." The ship's size allows calls into smaller ports that cannot accommodate luxury liners.
"You could pull into different, unusual ports of call every day for weeks and never have to repeat a port," said Oceania spokesman Seth Gordon.
Mr. Caulk, who has worked in the cruise industry since 1969, called Oceania "the surprise of the decade."
"There really isn't competition for this line at the moment. They've carved a niche for themselves which they've gone after and have been eminently successful," he said.
He said he initially was skeptical of the startup's plan to offer a unique service that creates a more casual atmosphere without such traditional restrictions such as dining seating arrangements and dress codes.
"We're gun shy about new operations. That's a normal, standard operating procedure. I am far from that now. I am convinced that they did what they said they were going to do. They do what the passenger wants," he said.
Peter Berlin Travel has booked 15 cabins on the Regatta, which sailed in Europe before its inaugural cruise from Miami.
The company's chief executives and investors, mostly Miami residents, were handpicked from other liners and are key to the company's performance, Mr. Rubacky said.
Oceania President and CEO Frank Del Rio headed Renaissance Cruises until May 2001. Another principal, Joseph Watters, was president of Crystal Cruises, a Tokyo-based luxury line with more than 900 ships, until July 2001. Another primary investor, Miami City Manager Joe Arriola, founded and operated Avanti, a printing and graphics-design firm, from 1965 to 2001.
"The one thing that makes a big difference is that we attracted the best of the best." Mr. Rubacky said. "Everybody on our management was handpicked. It's not just people collecting a paycheck. We set out to do something new."
Headquartered at 8120 NW 53rd St., Oceania employs 75 people in Miami.