October 14, 2002
Renaissance Cruises' devotees listen up: A Columbus Day gift awaits. In an announcement issued this morning, former Renaissance honcho Frank Del Rio has teamed up with retired Crystal head Joe Watters to create Oceana Cruises -- and the duo is now in Marseilles signing an agreement for a long-time charter (with options to buy) for three R-class ships. Renaissance has leased the ships from Cruiseinvest -- the New York-based firm that purchased all eight of the R-class ships earlier this year -- and has been busy finding lessors and/or buyers ever since. In a statement, Morten Arntzen, CEO of American Marine Advisors and advisor to Cruiseinvest, confirms that the Del Rio/Watters lease is a done deal. "Oceana Cruises is just what the cruise industry needs and is a perfect fit for the R-vessels. We are very impressed by Oceana Cruises' management team, business plan, and the quality of the investor group." At this point confirmed details are relatively minuscule about the line but we know this: Ocean Cruises will charter the R1, R2 and R6 and will focus on more offbeat-than-mass-market itineraries, i.e. Europe and South America. The R1, which will receive a new (and infinitely more colorful) name, will be called Regatta, and will be the first to sail -- with an inaugural planned for July 5. The ship will sail a Barcelona-Dover itinerary. Del Rio, who, while at Renaissance, operated under a direct-to-traveler marketing approach and who, as a result, had stormy relationships with travel agents, says the new company will make every effort to encourage its customers to book trips through agencies. Other Renaissance ships afloat (or at least spoken for) these days include the R3 and R4, which have been optioned by P&O Princess Cruises and will sail Pacific and Alaska itineraries, and R8, which has been snapped up by P&O's Swan Hellenic and which debuts next spring. Then there's R5, which is under charter by Spanish tour operator Pullmantur; that company's existing lease expires this month but it has indicated interest in re-upping its lease for voyages beginning in either May or June of next year. R7 is operated by the Australia-based Capricorn line. We'll keep you posted as additional details emerge.