P&O Cruises announced back in June last year that it was selling its oldest and smallest ship, the 1995-built Oriana, out of the fleet, but the buyer was never revealed, until now.
It turns out that Oriana was sold to Star Travel Ocean Cruise, a cruise brand fully owned by the Chinese state.
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The company held a press conference in Xiamen on Thursday to officially launch its cruise product, during which it was revealed that Oriana has been renamed Piano Land.
She will begin cruising roundtrip from Xiamen later this year following a refit and refurbishment to kit her out for Chinese tastes.
Star Ocean Cruises will now begin a series of road shows to educate travel partners about the new brand, with a cruise schedule set to start shortly.
Company officials called the new cruise brand the first truly state-owned international cruise company in China.
It joins other semi-state-owned domestic cruise brands such as CSSC Carnival Cruise Shipping, a joint venture between Carnival Corporation, China Investment Corporation, and Chinese shipbuilder China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC).
Star Travel Ocean Cruise, for its part, is a joint venture between China Travel Group and COSCO Shipping.
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The 70,000-ton Piano Land is part of an effort to build a strong national cruise brand, presenting the fast-growing domestic market with a high-quality, resort-like experience at sea.
The 1,822-guest ship will compete against brand new cruise ships from Costa and Royal Caribbean, such as Costa Venezia and Spectrum of the Seas, both of which were launched this year and immediately repositioned to Shanghai.
As a P&O cruise ship, Oriana represented a low-key, traditional cruise experience, with no bells and whistles or highly active on-board activities. She was very much a floating country house hotel, and was loved for it within the fleet.
The ship has 11 bars and cafes and six restaurants while in service with P&O, but it is unclear how many she will offer as Piano Land, or whether some public spaces might be given over to offering the ‘resort’ experience touted by Star Travel Ocean Cruise.
China joins India in seeking to develop its homegrown cruise tourism market. Two new cruise lines have been launched in India in the last year (Angriya Cruises and Jalesh Cruises).
While Angriya has used a second-hand converted ferry, Jalesh bought and thoroughly refurbished P&O Australia’s Pacific Jewel, and will send it to the UAE for a series of roundtrip cruises later this year.
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