The 18,800-ton, 320-passenger ship was never owned by RSSC, only leased (and managed), and has been acquired by two travel operators -- Grand Circle Corporation and Vantage Deluxe World Travel. Those companies announced the acquisition today, saying that the ship will continue to operate under RSSC management through the 2006 New Year's cruise. At that time, the ship (which presumably will be renamed) will be operated via a joint Grand Circle/Vantage team, and will offer itineraries in a range of regions, from South America to the Baltic Sea.
On RSSC's part, Andrew Poulton, director of strategic marketing, emphasizes that passengers will notice no differences onboard throughout 2005. "There will be no changes onboard," he says. "That's the agreement we have with the owners. And the schedule will not change."
Poulton says the ship sale was not a huge surprise to Radisson Seven Seas' executives. "It's been common knowledge that the owner [an insurance company that had no real interest in establishing a foothold in the cruise industry] was actively seeking a buyer."
The logical question, then, would be: Why didn't RSSC buy the ship, which it has operated since 1997? Poulton explains "as we go forward as a fleet, the Paul Gauguin doesn't really have the luxury amenities -- such as a very high percentage of balconies and suites, walk-in closets, large bathrooms -- that are all hallmarks of our new generation of ships. Going forward, we felt that this ship, as wonderful as it is, wouldn't be a perfect fit."
RSSC may or may not continue to offer French Polynesian itineraries, year-round or otherwise, following Paul Gauguin's handover; the decision hasn't been made. "It's a possibility as this [the sale] is something that's happened fairly recently. We'd love to keep a ship in Tahiti if it makes sense -- we've spent eight years building the franchise."