Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has acquired Pullmantur S.A., a Madrid-based cruise operator, according to a Cruise Critic correspondent in Europe. A move to further expand its European and Latin American operations, Royal Caribbean announced that it expects the acquisition to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2006, subject to regulatory approvals.

Royal Caribbean has signed an agreement with the shareholders of Pullmantur to buy all of the capital stock of the company for 430 million euros, plus Pullmantur's net debt of approximately 270 million euros. Royal Caribbean has obtained a committed bridge facility to support the purchase. As part of the transaction, Pullmantur, which offers trips to Cuba, will be withdrawing from all Cuba- related activities prior to closing.

This acquisition is a move to counter Carnival Corporation's growing dominance in southern Europe via its Italy-based Costa.

Pullmantur, formed in 1971, is the largest cruise operator in Spain. It has two primary business interests: cruises and tour operations. Its cruise division consists of five ships operating in Europe and Latin America. The fleet includes, among others, two former Renaissance R-series ships and the former Pacific Princess, which can be remembered from TV series "The Love Boat." What makes this deal significant, Pullmantur will be Royal Caribbean's first wholly owned European brand.

Royal Caribbean has of course already ventured across the Atlantic via a joint venture in the U.K.-based Island Cruises. That two-ship fleet sails with Island Star (Celebrity's former Horizon) and Island Escape (previously known as Viking Serenade).

Ironically, the acquistion will result in a first-time-ever operation by Royal Caribbean of a Carnival Corp. vessel -- Pullmantur last year bought the former Pacific Sky from P&O Cruises Australia and renamed it Sky Wonder.