January 15, 2020 – More under-reported Croatian excellence on the global stage, as Croatian shipbuilders produce the world’s best new luxury cruise ship of 2019, as Scenic Eclipse enjoys the patronage of Helen Mirren.
One thing I have come to learn after many years of living in Croatia is that things are rarely as they seem on the surface, and that few scratch beneath that surface to see what lies below. The perceived picture of the Croatian economy is one of doom and gloom – lots of unemployment, lack of skilled workers, few opportunities, lack of competitiveness.
And while all this is certainly true on one level, taking a closer look at the realities on the ground show that there are many young seeds being sown in various industries which are already bearing fruit, and with the potential to bear a lot more. And one of the things that these seeds have in common is excellence. And not just five-star excellence but something higher, competing with the very best in the world.
The best example of this, of course, is Mate Rimac and his phenomenal Rimac Automobili. In a country with no car industry whatsoever, a young man in his 20s started a business to realise his dream of building an electric supercar. So successful has Rimac been that not only has he now produced the world’s fastest electric supercar, but he has also built a cutting edge technology business employing more than 600 people, with A-lister investors such as Porsche and Hyundai.
But away from the bright lights and column inches that the Rimac success demands these days, there are other many other Croatian success stories occurring under the radar. I had absolutely no idea, for example, that the German Minister of Economy had visited a warehouse in eastern Zagreb to learn about innovation in the workplace. Or that that same warehouse, operated by a small family business, Tokic car parts, had been listed in the top 50 most innovative companies in Europe by the London Stock Exchange. Read their incredible story here. Similarly, it was a pleasure to be in Berlin recently to see Bagatin Clinic collect the award for best international cosmetic surgery clinic at the International Medical Travel Journal 2019 awards, the latest endorsement of Croatia’s emerging medical tourism industry.
But the last place I expected to find Croatian global excellence, having read recent news reports, was from the troubled Uljanik shipyard in Pula.
Don’t get me wrong, Croatia has a fantastic shipbuilding heritage, and one which has provided much employment and built world-class vessels over the years. But the glory days seem to be over due to new economic realities, and the plight of the Uljanik shipyard was one of the main economic stories of 2019, a shipyard where orders had dried up and debts accrued.
But if you look a little deeper, you will find one of the most fantastic stories of Croatian success of last year, and one which has been little reported.
Not having paid more than cursory attention to the situation in the shipyard, I was somewhat surprised last July to see TCN reporting on a luxury 200-million-euro yacht called Scenic Eclipse being launched from Pula, destination Rejkavik, where it would pick up its first passengers for a new life of luxury Arctic and Antarctic cruises. Check out the gracious departure of Scenic Eclipse in the video below.
And there the story might have ended, except that I recently came across a list of awards for the cruise ship industry by leading industry website, Cruise Critic, in which Scenic Eclipse featured rather well – Best New Luxury Ship 2019.
Cruisers might book Scenic Eclipse because it offers two state-of-the-art helicopters and a six-person sub, but they’ll come back because of the 200-passenger ship’s chic, modern design, generously-sized suites and incredible dining offerings. Scenic pulled out all the stops with its first ocean ship, which seamlessly combines luxury and soft-adventure travel to exotic destinations, including the Arctic and Antarctica.
And the more I looked into this wondrous little ship, the more surprises I found along the way. The ship was christened in New York by none other than Dame Helen Mirren in New York in September.
So enthralled was Dame Helen that she has agreed to be the Godmother of the Scenic Eclipse, expressing her admiration both for the luxury on board and the attention paid to the environment in its construction, “a ship that has minimal environmental impact on sensitive marine areas and the eco-systems it sails.”
And then when I decided to take a closer look at the ship itself, I made a rather interesting discovery. It seemed like the Scenic owners and the Pula shipyard had managed to produce the first of an entirely new category of ship – the discovery yacht, a polar cruiser that could explore parts of the planet no competition could visit. A little like Rimac, was Croatia contributing something unique and world-class yet again?
The ship is owned by the phenomenally successful cruise ship company, Scenic, whose company profile is summarised as:
Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours has more than three decades of experience creating unforgettable handcrafted journeys for our guests with itineraries to more than 60 countries around the world. Scenic and its sister company, Evergreen Cruises and Tours are recognised as leaders in the industry.
Having seen a luxury private yacht in Sydney harbour one day, Scenic’s Australian owners Glen and Karen Moroney apparently came up with the idea of offering all the luxury of a private yacht for cruise-paying passengers. A discovery yacht, smaller and more flexible than the normal cruise ship, allowing more personal guest attention and better flexibility and agility in routes and reaching destinations that the bigger ships simply could not go. And not just a discovery yacht, but a polar discovery yacht, capable of taking guests to parts of the Arctic and Antarctic that other ships simply cannot.
And toys. Lots of toys.
Where else would you find a cruise ship with its very own submarine, available to guests for excursions? A sophisticated sub with all the latest features that can take guests down to depths of 330 metres, including in some of the remotest parts of the planet during the Scenic Eclipse signature tours of the Arctic and Antarctic. As you can see in the US media story in the video below, the submarine skipper talks of some of the magical things he has seen, including jellyfish in the Arctic with tentacles about 15 metres long.
You can also check out an extended video interview with the submarine skipper, including some great footage.
Toys in the air – two helicopters available for sightseeing tours. Toys on the water – zodiac boats and kayaks, allowing guests to get up close. Rare sightings of leopard seals, and the chance to kayak in the Antarctic. How else would you get to experience a penguin flying out of the water and landing on your boat, observing the situation for a few minutes and then flipping back into the water? Experiences explained by the expert Scenic Eclipse guide in the video below.
One of the ironies I have always found with the cruise ship industry is that people travel to get away from it all to go and explore faraway places, then find themselves on a boat with several thousand people for at least a week. The Scenic Eclipse discovery yacht is an altogether different experience. As one would expect, the number of guests on board is considerably less (maximum 228) and the number of staff ratio much higher.
(Glen and Karen Moroney together with Dame Helen Mirren at the christening of Scenic Eclipse)
Glen and Karen Moroney were very much involved in the Scenic Eclipse project, having had that initial vision in Sydney Harbour. Glen was in charge of the overall design of the ship, while Karen – working with just two assistants – took care of the spectacular interior design.
Each suite comes with its own butler, and their spacious feel (the Owner’s Suite is an impressive 195 m2) and luxury design gives a feel more of a presidential 5-star hotel suite than that of a yacht. There are ten venues on board, ranging from French to Japanese, with flavours and ingredients from all four corners of the planet, with an undoubted highlight being an invitation to Chef’s Table, an exquisite dinner for a maximum of ten diners. No menu, diners are at the mercy of the creativity of the chef’s kitchen. Early feedback suggests that the Chef’s Table experience is not only the culinary highlight of the cruise, but among the top things on the entire cruise. An example of the range of quality on the wine, Champagne and spirits on offer can be gauged by the whiskey selection – sample one, or all, of the world’s top 100 whiskeys while on your voyage.
A variety of beauty and health services are available to guests, such as the 600-square-foot Senses Spa Center featuring Scandinavian-style baths, a gym and Pilates studio and a hair salon.
Construction of Scenic Eclipse was far from straightforward. What was already a groundbreaking project was complicated by the bankruptcy problems at the Uljanik factory, which went bankrupt halfway through the ship’s construction. Despite this, the Moroneys decided to continue to invest and – together with willing and skilled Croatian engineers and shipbuilders – Scenic Eclipse was completed in 2019. So happy are the owners with the ship that they have announced plans to build five more, all of them in Croatia.
A great opportunity, perhaps, for Croatia to develop a new sector of excellence serving the global market, in the same way that Rimac Automobili does. Rimac has only actually built a handful of cars, but they are the very best on the market, with an appropriate price tag attached. Why can Croatia not repeat that success in the luxury discovery cruiser market, a market which was born in its shipyards?
“Despite the long tradition and the well-known skill of quality shipbuilding in Croatia, building this type of ship has been an incredible challenge for all of us involved in the construction. Scenic Eclipse proudly bears the label of a unique Croatian product in the world and offers its guests a special and cinematic “bonding” adventure experience. My wife and I are really proud that we had the opportunity to participate in the construction process ourselves, because for us this ship is much more than a business project. Scenic Eclipse is really a family project that we are very passionate about and we really care about, “said Scenic Group owner Glen Moroney.
Built for both Arctic and tropical waters, and with a flexibility due to its size that other cruise ships cannot offer, the Scenic Eclipse itinerary offers voyages like no other ship. Choose from Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands; Europe & the Mediterranean; Norwegian Fjords & Baltic States; the Caribbean; the Arctic; and the Americas. Scenic Eclipse even visits the country of its birth, with Croatian stops in Rovinj, Hvar, Split and Dubrovnik.
The most popular tour on the Scenic Eclipse is the one from the Norwegian Svalbard Archipelago along the Greenland iceberg to Reykjavik. It is a 14-day trip that costs about $ 23,945 or HRK 160,000. The price includes plane tickets for arrival and return and nine meals on board, and 16 polar research experts who lead the tours and hold educational programmes with the guests. Longer Antarctic tours are much more expensive, so for example, a 19-day trip from Buenos Aires, around the Falkland Islands and the South Georgia Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula, where guests can enjoy views of whales and penguins, costs around $ 30,695 (HRK 200,000) for ordinary accommodation and almost half a million kuna for the Owner’s Suite ($ 77,000).
A Mediterranean tour with Scenic Eclipse, from Barcelona, via Monte Carlo, sailing along the Italian coast to Santorini and all the way to Athens, guests will pay a minimum of $ 8,695 per person, or about HRK 57,000 for nine days. But it is actually the lowest price for off-season sailing with accommodation in the 32 m2 Verandah Suite cabin. Only the wealthiest who choose the Owner’s Suite cabin, located on the sixth deck, will experience true exclusive accommodation. For a Mediterranean 9-day trip, the price of this cabin is $ 30,695 per person (HRK 200 thousand or HRK 22 thousand per day).
A luxury experience out of the budget of this correspondent, but how refreshing to once again scratch under the surface of Croatia and discover yet one example where it leads the world. And with the potential to deliver so much more to the Croatian economy, as well as luxury tourism worldwide.
Learn more about Scenic Eclipse on the official website.