British Cruise Operator All Leisure Group Snags New Ship

November 16, 2009
Alexander von Humboldt  Cruise Ship (2:32 p.m. EST) -- British-owned All Leisure Group plc (ALG), which operates Swan Hellenic, Voyages of Discovery and Hebridean Island Cruises, is back on the acquisition trail.

The company -- which saved the Swan Hellenic name from extinction in 2008 and bought Hebridean Princess earlier this year from the ailing Hebridean International -- has just snapped up a fourth vessel, the 15,271-tonne mv Alexander von Humboldt. Until recently, the 250-cabin ship had been sailing for the German cruise line Phoenix Reisen, chartered from a Dutch company, Club Cruise, which folded this year.

Alexander von Humboldt was built in 1990 for Crown Cruise Line as Crown Monarch, moving in 1994 to Asia, where it was operated until 2006 as a gambling ship, first called Nautican and sailing from Singapore and later, bearing the unfortunate name of Walrus, offering a similar service in Hong Kong. Sea Containers, the then owner, sold the ship to Club Cruise in 2006, where it was chartered out to operate expedition cruises for Phoenix Reisen.

What's really confusing, though, is that there was another Alexander von Humboldt, chartered by Phoenix Reisen in 2005 but returned to ALG's Swan Hellenic in 2008 -- for whom it now sails as Minerva. So ALG will now have two ships that have both sailed under the same name.

Curiously, ALG has not yet decided how to brand its new vessel and a spokesman was unable to confirm whether the Alexander von Humboldt would sail for Voyages of Discovery, Swan Hellenic or Hebridean -- or under which name.

With 250 cabins, 90 percent of which are outside, it could sit nicely alongside Voyages of Discovery's mv Discovery (which has 708 lower berths) or Swan Hellenic's mv Minerva (which has 394).

Expanding the Hebridean brand might be a bigger challenge. Hebridean Princess only takes 49 passengers and when Hebridean International was still trading, it struggled to fill even a slightly bigger ship, Hebridean Spirit, which only had 80 berths and was sold in April this year.

Keeping his cards close to his chest, ALG chairman Roger Allard commented in a press statement: “We are always looking to expand our specialist small ship cruise fleet and our latest acquisition fits perfectly with both the profile of our fleet and our destination-led product offering, especially given the high number of outside cabins. This acquisition underpins the confidence that we have in the potential of our destination-led small ship niche cruise offering.”

What we do know is that there will be an extensive upgrade and refurbishment to the ship, bringing the total investment to approximately $20 million, and that it will enter service in summer 2011.

Exactly what will be changed is yet to be announced. We'll keep you posted.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor

Photo courtesy of Phoenix Reisen