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Behind the Scenes on the High Seas: Cruise Ship Logistics

This year alone, 24 million passengers will take to the open seas and rivers aboard cruise ships around the world—up from 19 million cruisers in 2010, according to Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) most recent Cruise Industry Outlook. Most of these cruises (34%) will take place on the powder blue waters of the Caribbean, followed by the Mediterranean (19%) and Europe (12%, without the Mediterranean).

Between 2008 and 2014, cruise travel outpaced general leisure travel in the U.S. by 22%, according to CLIA, which reports that demand for cruising has grown by 68% over the last 10 years. To accommodate the millions of fun-seeking passengers who clamor aboard to not only experience interesting ports of call—but also the onboard amenities, entertainment, and food—cruise operators are expected to invest $6.5 billion in new ocean vessels this year alone (for a total of 27 new ships across all operators, according to CLIA).

The investment in new ships is warranted in an era where passengers have come to expect unprecedented onboard experiences and amenities—from Broadway productions and designer shops to zip lining, golf, and bumper cars. As thousands of cruisers make their way onto their favorite cruise lines every day around the world, they’re coming for the robotic bartenders, sinfully delicious food selections, indoor skating rinks and bowling alleys, and elaborate pools and waterslides.

What most of these seagoing families, couples, and individuals don’t see is the amount of money, time, effort, and energy that goes into creating these once-in-a-lifetime experiences for each and every passenger. Before heading out of a port on a 7-day cruise, for example, the typical cruise ship needs to be stocked like a small city, filled with fuel, and equipped with the right certificates of compliance for multiple destinations.

The latter can be especially tricky for cruise lines, which usually dock at multiple destinations within a very short period of time. A Baltic cruise from Denmark, for example, must be in complete compliance with the countries of Germany, Estonia, Russia, Sweden, and Finland—or run the risk of creating major delays upon entering and exiting port.

Working with a reliable, global logistics partner, cruise lines can effectively cross these compliance-related tasks off their to-do lists, knowing that they’re being handled in a responsible and timely manner:

  • Certificates of compliance for complicated destinations

What It Really Takes to Prep a Cruise Ship

For every voyage, the “behind the scenes” cruise logistics extend beyond compliance and literally reach into every corner of these enormous vessels…and out into the regions where they operate, and to the people they employ and the customers that they serve. Everything from inbound and outbound supply management to the distribution of finished goods to the landing process has to be meticulously orchestrated and managed in the most seamless manner possible.

Here’s a snapshot of the major functions that have to take place before, after, and during every cruise—tasks that are often best handled by experienced third-party cruise logistics providers:

  • Global sea freight
  • Global air freight
  • Inbound and outbound supply management
  • Complete supply chain visibility for both dry and temperature-controlled cargo
  • Food and beverage, hotel, and technical supplier management
  • Warehousing and distribution of all food and supplies (including dry, temperature-controlled, and high value)
  • Purchase order management
  • Complete inventory visibility
  • Shipside and pier-side deliveries
  • Pier coordination
  • Crew mail collection and distribution
  • Vessel offloading/reverse logistics
  • Passenger gift bag procurement and coordination
  • Moving and staging equipment for onboard entertainers
  • Coordination of goods for turnaround days
  • Emergency resupplies
  • Logistics management for ship overhauls in dry dock and getting new ships into the water

A Flawless, End-to-End Supply Chain

Properly supplying a modern cruise ship is literally a moving target. A cruise ship is limited as to where it can receive orders, restricted to the size, weight, and shape of the cargo, and it requires precision in timing unlike any other, all with few options to forward on to new destinations. Everything must be exact and on time or it will have a dramatic effect on the cruise experience for guests and the profitability of the cruise line.

“We don’t just move our customers’ goods; we support their turnaround,” said Nick Kashiparekh, Head of Niche Markets, DB Schenker. “Our Cruise Line Logistics team understands the rigors of turnaround day, and all the things that must happen for all cruise logistics to run flawlessly. We support our customers’ supply chains with a broad range of customized, scalable, and flexible solutions that we can integrate seamlessly into their business model, no matter how complex.”

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