The Walt Disney Co.'s newest cruise ship is sailing with big crowds aboard so far this year.
Passenger data from Port Canaveral shows that the Disney Dream, the 1,250-room cruise ship that arrived in Brevard County in January, has averaged nearly 3,800 passengers per voyage during its first five months of sailing. That's just a shade under the ship's maximum capacity of approximately 4,000 people.
Occupancy aboard the ship, which has been sailing, three-, four- and five-night itineraries to the Bahamas, averaged 150.7 percent, far higher than on ships operated by industry giants Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which do not carry nearly as many families with children. Two people per cabin is considered 100 percent occupancy, and the Disney Dream is averaging just more than three people per cabin.
The Dream is sailing as full as the Disney Wonder was last year when the older ship was sailing similar short-term Bahamian cruises — and the Dream is more than 40 percent larger than the Wonder, which has since been moved to the U.S. West Coast.
The occupancy figures don't shed any light on the prices that Disney is charging Dream passengers, which is the other pivotal element to a ship's financial performance. But they are a promising sign for the Dream, the first of two new cruise ships Disney is building at a combined cost of more than $1.8 billion.
The Dream is also a needed bright light within Disney's broader theme-park division, which had a weaker-than-expected spring due in part to a sluggish economic recovery and a temporary shutdown of the Tokyo Disney resort following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
"This year, we have expanded our fleet and broadened our destinations, and our guests have responded enthusiastically," Disney Cruise Line President Karl Holz said. "The guest feedback we've received since the launch of the Disney Dream has been very positive across the board."
The Disney Dream made 42 trips out of Port Canaveral between its maiden voyage on Jan. 26 and the end of June, according to statistics from the Brevard County seaport. The ship carried more than 158,000 passengers on those trips, which took it between Port Canaveral, Nassau in the Bahamas, and the private Disney island called Castaway Cay.
During its two busiest months — March and June — the Dream averaged approximately 3,900 passengers per voyage and 155.1 percent occupancy.
Significantly, consumer demand for the Dream appears to have spilled over to Disney's second ship at Port Canaveral, the Disney Magic. Analysts have said the possibility that Disney's newer cruise ships could siphon business away from its existing ships is one of the most significant threats facing the company's cruise-fleet expansion.
According to Port Canaveral data, occupancy aboard the Disney Magic, which sails seven-night Caribbean itineraries, was 142.8 percent from January to April. That's up significantly from the same period last year, when the ship was sailing opposite the Wonder and its occupancy was 132.6 percent. (Disney in May temporarily shifted the Magic to Europe.)
The passenger growth is good news for the port, which earns more than $13 for every passenger Disney carries. Port Canaveral cruise revenue is up 19 percent so far in 2011.
"Not to put pressure on Disney, but I anticipate the Fantasy will do exactly the same thing next year," said Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer Stan Payne, referring to the second of Disney's two new ships, which will launch next spring.
Occupancy is typically far higher at Disney Cruise Line than at other cruise operators. That's in large part because Disney targets families with children — which adds third and fourth passengers to many cabins — but also because Disney's fleet is so small that demand continues to outweigh supply.
Ships operated by industry giant Carnival averaged 104.8 percent occupancy during the first six months of 2011, according to that Miami-based company.
Of course, occupancy is only part of the financial equation for a cruise ship, alongside the rates it commands from passengers. Because cruise ships have high fixed operating expenses — the cost of sailing a ship is nearly the same whether there are 40 passengers aboard or 4,000 — companies routinely lower prices as needed to ensure sailings are nearly full.
Disney declined to provide any details about the rates it is charging for the Dream. But travel agents say prices are steep.
Disney has historically commanded a big premium over other cruise lines, thanks to a strong brand and extremely limited capacity. And that premium has climbed even further with the arrival of the new ship, said John Bishop, an agent with All Seasons Travel in Jacksonville.
"With the demand on the Dream being so high, the premium is continuing to increase," Bishop said. "We have waitlists, and lots of people that are interested in being on the ship but can't get there because there's no space."
In fact, Disney said in May that the Dream was already more than 95 percent booked for its April-through-June quarter, 86 percent booked from July through September, and nearly 60 percent booked from October to December.
"If you can get a stateroom this summer, it will be a miracle," Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo told Wall Street analysts during a conference earlier this year. "I couldn't."
As full as the Dream has been, the more than $900 million ship is only just now starting to generate a profit for Disney. That's because the company had to absorb heavy promotional launch costs — which Disney says were between $15 million and $20 million — which offset the ship's early earnings.
But Disney has said it expects the ship to begin contributing to profit during the third quarter of its fiscal year, the results of which it will report in early August. And analysts expect the ship to quickly become a key earnings driver: Goldman Sachs projects that the Dream could ultimately contribute approximately $100 million in revenue — and $25 million in operating profit — every quarter.
source: Orlando Sentinel