Princess Cruises Enters Tahiti

Los Angeles-based company to operate two former Renaissance vessels

By: Theresa Norton Masek

It’s official: Princess Cruises will operate two former Renaissance vessels in Tahiti and French Polynesia starting in December.

Parent company P&O Princess is taking over the ships from their French owners in a lease-purchase deal valued at $150 million.

The two identical vessels, the R3 and R4, weigh 30,227 tons each and accommodate 688 passengers. They were built in 1999.

The R4 will be renamed the Tahitian Princess and will operate year-round, 10-day cruises from Papeete, Tahiti, starting Dec. 24.

Three itineraries will be offered. All include calls at Bora Bora, Moorea and Raiatea and are rounded out by additional visits in the Cook Islands, the Marquesas or Samoa.

The R3 will become the Pacific Princess, after the original Love Boat, when that name leaves the fleet in November.

The newer Pacific Princess will begin sailing for Princess in spring 2003. It will operate half the year for Princess and half for sister company P&O Cruises Australia, based in Sydney.

Itineraries aren’t set yet, but they will include French Polynesia and “the wider Pacific region,” according to company literature.

“We’re looking at all the options, but there will be more of a mixture of itineraries than you will see on the Tahitian Princess,” said Princess Executive Vice President Dean Brown.

The vessels will be renovated to add Princess signature features but otherwise don’t require much renovation, Brown said.

“The first thing we’ll have to do is paint them white,” he said. “And we’ll have Sabatini’s, our signature Italian trattoria, and the Sterling Steakhouse, so they’ll look very familiar. But the ships are essentially brand-new and have been extremely well maintained since they stopped operating.”

The vessels stopped sailing Sept. 25 when Renaissance Cruises declared bankruptcy. P&O Princess also is chartering the R8, which will be renamed the Minerva II under the Swan Hellenic brand.

Promotional prices for the Tahitian Princess start at $799, double, for a 10-day cruise.

“There will be some very good pricing, along the lines of Princess,” Brown said. “You will not see Radisson or Windstar pricing on this.”

Radisson Seven Seas operates the Paul Gauguin year-round in Tahiti. Windstar Cruises’ Wind Song re-entered that market in May.

Brown said promotional pieces will be mailed to agents in a week or so. The first piece details the group program, and the brochures will follow.

Brown said the smaller vessels will blend well with the existing Princess fleet, which is growing with ships of the 77,000- and 100,000-plus-ton sizes.

“Small ships have always been part of our fleet,” he said. “We feel [the former Renaissance ships] complement the fleet and suit us very well. They have an extremely high percentage of balconies, and we’ve been the leader in balconies.”

He pointed out that the Pacific Princess, now cruising to Bermuda, weighs 20,000 tons and accommodates 640 passengers less than the R3 and R4. Brown noted that Southern California is the single largest tourism market for Tahiti.

“From the West Coast, you can get to Tahiti in less time than it takes to get to San Juan, Puerto Rico,” Brown said. “Here’s the choice: Do you want to go to the Southern Caribbean for your tropical experience or would you rather go to Tahiti, with its unparalleled beauty?”