The ‘where’ and ‘when’ of sailings

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There is a draft that has nothing to do with sports, beer, writing, the military or even the measure of a ship that determines the shallowest water on which it can sail.

This draft is also nautical, and one of seemingly countless details that go into deciding Royal Caribbean’s homeports and destinations.

An “air draft” requires those deploying the ships to figuratively look up for bridges en route that are lower than the ships are high.

“Normally, it’s one of two points that would be the highest – the top of the funnel or the radar/electronics mast at the front of the ship,” says Chris Allen, vice president of deployment and itinerary planning for Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. “Some ships have funnels that can retract and masts that are hinged.”

Those that don’t and are too tall for a port have to go someplace else, and while RCL now sails to some 500 destinations on all five continents, the choice is neither simple nor obvious.

With a primary goal of maximizing the overall profitability of the fleet, RCL deployment happens several years ahead in a process that’s never done, one that matches ships to the regions where they can perform best.

“If we know for Royal Caribbean we’re going to have seven or eight ships in Europe,” Allen explains, “which is the right ship to be in the Mediterranean, for example, versus Southampton? Or Amsterdam or Copenhagen? You take the hardware and you look at the different characteristics of the different ships and you try to optimize the overall fleet.”

This optimization is driven by both income and expenses, such as onboard revenue and fuel costs from region to region. There are also more obvious considerations like the vessel’s size – length, width, draft and air draft, among others – and the physical characteristics of the world’s ports.

“There are minimal requirements as far as how long the pier is versus how big the turning circles are,” says Marc Miller, RCL director of deployment and itinerary planning. “Basic size limitations for each port can help us determine off the bat if the ship can even get in or not. And we work very closely with the Marine Operations Team, who are the experts on the ship’s maneuverability and so forth.”

When the deployment choices are made, itinerary planning begins, including choosing the length of each cruise, its ports of call and the amount of time spent at each one.

“During the two stages – deployment and itinerary planning – dozens of other requirements and preferences have to be considered and settled. It’s far more complicated than anyone outside the industry might imagine, says Adam M. Goldstein, RCL president and COO, and deployment discussions in particular can become “surprisingly impassioned.”

Writing once about the process, Goldstein said, “I like to tell people that if I were emotional about deployment decisions, I would put several of our ships in my hometown of Philadelphia.

“Unfortunately that would not be in the best interest of our shareholders.”