The question is: Will all these new passengers mean a noticeable difference in public room crowding?
Take NCL's Norwegian Dawn. As part of a May dry dock, the ship will gain 58 new cabins and suites, upping its double-occupancy count by 116 to 2,332. To make way for the new accommodations, the ship's movie theater has been excised and its Spinnaker Lounge moved to a new location.
So what about the crowds? NCL spokeswoman Courtney Recht insists that it won't be an issue. "The changes will be very similar to the enhancements done on Norwegian Star last February, and we're finding the guest flow has been working very well." Recht adds that the line will likely add 10 crewmembers into the mix.
Also getting a berth boost is Celebrity Infinity, which will be sliced and diced in November. During a $50-million-plus upgrade, workers will add 60 new cabins (plus a slew of new restaurants, none marshmallow themed), which will raise the 91,000-ton ship's double occupancy from 1,950 to 2,070. Two-thirds of the cabins will be inserted into space currently occupied by the kids' club, which will be moved to a part of what's now the observation lounge.
When the line announced details of the refurb last November, many were quick to bring up the per-passenger space reduction. At the time, Celebrity President and CEO Dan Hanrahan said the company felt its four Millennium-class ships (Infinity has three sisters) were "under-stateroomed" and could handle more passengers than they currently carry. According to Hanrahan, the additional 60 cabins should not create excess crowding onboard.
On a smaller scale, Grand Princess' April refurbishment will include the addition of 10 new suites, most of which will be replacing existing space on the casino's starboard side. The line similarly shrugged off the question of crowds. "We added similar staterooms aboard Caribbean Princess and Golden Princess during recent dry docks and there have been no issues," said Julie Benson, the line's vice president of public relations.
Upping the berth quotient on older ships isn't exactly a new trend. In 2009, Holland America added 44 cabins to previously 1,316-passenger Rotterdam and 46 to 1,258-passenger Veendam. (In the case of Veendam, however, the ship was actually enlarged by stretching one of the decks.) At the end of 2008, British line P&O Cruises added 34 cabins to the stern of Arcadia.
Whether all this added foot traffic trips up cruisers will be revealed in time, but one thing is clear: Adding berths is all about the balance sheet. A look at Carnival Corp.'s financials for the fourth quarter of 2010 tells the story: $2.67 billion of the company's $3.5 billion in revenue came from cabin sales. That's about 75 percent.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor