The Disney Fantasy, the second of two new ships added to the Walt Disney Co.'s cruise fleet, has been busy since it began sailing from Brevard County's main seaport in March.
But the crowds have not been as big as they were aboard its predecessor, the year-old Disney Dream.
Passenger data from Port Canaveral, where the two new Disney ships are based, show that occupancy aboard the 1,250-room Fantasy has averaged 132.7 percent during its first three months of operation. Two people per room is considered 100 percent occupancy, but some rooms can sleep as many as five.
Burbank, Calif.-based Disney needs the Fantasy and the Dream to be hits with vacationers. The cruise-fleet expansion, which cost Disney more than $1.8 billion, is the largest project in a $6 billion wave of capital spending now coming to an end across the company's global theme-park and resort division.
Company executives are expecting those investments to drive Disney's profit growth for years to come.
Disney would not discuss the Fantasy's performance in detail. But spokeswoman Rena Langley said: "We are very pleased with the launch of the Disney Fantasy and are seeing stellar guest-satisfaction ratings for our new ship."
Occupancy has been progressively building aboard the Fantasy, which began its maiden voyage out of Port Canaveral on March 31 with just under 3,300 passengers. The ship has a capacity of about 4,000.
Since then, according to the port's data, the ship has carried approximately 43,100 people on 13 voyages through the end of June, the most recent month for which figures are available. Occupancy on the Fantasy was 118.5 percent in April, 131.4 percent in May and 145.2 percent in June.
Experts say the slower start for the Fantasy compared with the Dream stems in part from the exceptionally high demand that greeted the first ship. Disney also sails two smaller ships built in the late 1990s, the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, each of which can carry about 2,700 passengers.
The Dream's occupancy has declined slightly so far in its second year: The ship averaged 150.1 percent between February and June, compared with 152.6 percent during the same period a year ago.
"The Dream was the first in that class of ship. And everybody wants to see the first," said Chuck Maida, president of All Seasons Travel, a Jacksonville-based agency that sells Disney cruises.
Disney also appears to have deliberately limited crowds during the Fantasy's early sailings for strategic reasons.
Typically, when a cruise is not fully booked a month or two out from a sailing date, it will use "topping off" strategies — such as offering last-minute discounts to Florida residents or to company employees, which is particularly effective in Disney's case because it employs more than 60,000 people in Central Florida.
But Maida said Disney hasn't offered any Florida resident discounts yet for the Fantasy. Disney says it hasn't done any significant discounting for either the Fantasy or the Dream.
Disney is still trying to rebuild the profit margins at its theme parks and hotels after discounting during the global recession, and so company executives may be wary of doing anything on their pricey new ships that could undermine rates.
Holding back inventory also gives the company more flexibility to make adjustments on the fly — if, for instance, it needs to send employees aboard to make repairs or tweak programming. "When Disney launched the Dream last year, it was the first new ship that Disney had launched in 12 years," Maida said. "They saw that it was rough, or rougher than they wanted it to be."
Another factor: The Fantasy sails seven-night Caribbean cruises, which are longer — and thus pricier — than the Dream's three-, four- and five-night voyages. That can make it less attractive to families who must pay for children and may have to pull them out of school.
"You're getting more couples sailing," said Stewart Chiron, owner of CruiseGuy.com, a cruise-marketing website. "The rooms are sold, it's just fewer third, fourth and fifth berths are being utilized."
Disney's shorter cruises out of Port Canaveral have historically been more full than its longer cruises, though the disparity is usually smaller than it has been so far with the Fantasy and Dream, according to cruise statistics compiled by the federal government.
Occupancy aboard the Disney Wonder, which the Dream replaced last year on shorter voyages out of Port Canaveral, averaged 149.2 percent for all Canaveral sailings between 2004 and 2011. By comparison, occupancy aboard the Disney Magic, which sailed longer voyages out of Brevard County until it was replaced by the Fantasy this year, averaged 146.7 percent during its Canaveral sailings.
Of course, occupancy is only half of the financial equation for cruise ships. Rates and passenger spending are just as important. And experts say Disney, which has historically commanded a higher premium than other cruise lines because it has such limited capacity, has continued to do so with the addition of the Fantasy.
Chiron said berths on the Fantasy are selling for more than $1,500 right now, compared with as little as $500 aboard the Carnival Dream and $600 on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, which also sail week-long itineraries from Port Canaveral.
"There are dates in the summer when they're over $2,000 to get on," he added.
Yep, Disney's prices are much higher than what you can get on many other comparable cruise lines. For some of the Disney rates you can cruise on true luxury liners with service that outshines all the other cruise lines. :shrug:
Welcome to the "new" economy, Disney. Not everyone has as much disposable income as they once had. Some are now being very careful with what they have, and spending it in a way that will give them the "most" for the dollar.
I think Disney has the market beat for families cruising, given all they do for families. But other cruisers have many viable options and that is what Disney doesn't look at very well.
For myself, I cannot imagine being on a ship with children for 7 days. Whew. I'd much rather holiday with children in a venue where there are loads of other options for entertaining them, like wide open spaces for them to run! :lol: AND, private sleeping quarters which are not economically feasible on a cruise ship. A 3-4 day with children, fine. Anything more than that and I'll be looking at a different type of holiday.