(7:20 EDT) -- Just as Royal Caribbean abandons year-round cruising from the U.K., as reported on Cruise Critic last week, P&O Cruises has issued a bullish statement reminding us that it has doubled its own capacity out of Southampton for the winter of 2012/13.
Royal Caribbean is pulling the 154,407-ton, 3,634-passenger Independence of the Seas out of Southampton next winter and putting the ship in the Caribbean instead, where the line believes it can make more money. The long trek south across the Bay of Biscay in winter weather to the ship's Canary Islands cruising area is one of the factors cited by Royal Caribbean International's associate vice president and general manager, Jo Rzymowska, for the change in plans. Brits will, of course, still be able to sail on Independence on fly-cruises from Florida.
Rival P&O, however, is doing the opposite: It's gradually reducing its fly-cruise operation in the Caribbean as air fares and Air Passenger Duty continue to rise and steadily increasing its programme out of Southampton in winter. Having started with just one ship sailing from its homeport in winter, P&O is now at the stage where both the 2,016-passenger Oceana and the adults-only, 1,800-passenger Oriana will sail from October 2012 to April 2013 offer a mishmash of Christmas markets voyages, mini-cruises, Caribbean, Mediterranean and Canaries cruises.
Ventura will continue to offer a limited fly-cruise programme in the Caribbean in 2012/13, while Arcadia, Adonia, Aurora and Azura will all do world cruises or extended voyages from January to April.
So that's 3,634 berths gone from Southampton – but 1,800 added. But why does the idea of more winter cruises from Southampton work for P&O but not for Royal Caribbean?
"We mix our itineraries up, with longer Caribbean cruises alongside the Mediterranean and the Canaries, which has proved popular," managing director Carol Marlow told Cruise Critic.
"We don't just go to the same place over and over again. And our market does like to sail from the U.K. We haven't seen any drop-off in interest in the Canaries. The winter 2012/13 programme went on sale earlier this year and has done very well so far."
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor