'We're happy,' Kulovaara said about Anthem of the Seas' delivery from Meyer Werft.
He noted how safety has taken a 'quantum leap' thanks to tens of initiatives including the Safe Return to Port design and calculations, the safety center on the bridge, firefighting equipment and awareness, and life-saving arrangements.
Bridge layout is a critical factor. For more than a decade, Royal Caribbean ships have had a safety center in the wheelhouse that separates crisis management from the navigation function.
Aboard the Quantum-class ships that has gone 'another notch up,' Kulovaara said, crediting Royal Caribbean chairman and ceo Richard Fain's push for continuous improvement.
Kulovaara assembled a team of naval architects, smart young mariners and systems suppliers who worked 1.5 years to come up with what he called a 'pretty phenomenal' safety center.
Since the mid-1990s, Royal Caribbean has designed ships with redundancies. The 1999-built Voyager of the Seas had two engine rooms. Over time, this has become a requirement, and Royal Caribbean, in fact, helped drive the Safe Return to Port regulation.
Kulovaara added that Royal Caribbean aims not just for the 'safe' part, but for passenger comfort as well. While the regulation requires a functioning toilet for hundreds of people in the event of a power loss, his company's goal is that all stateroom toilets function.
Anthem of the Seas also has a prototype advisory and decision-support system that covers hundreds of thousands of areas. If there's a fire, for example, it identifies every element that may be impacted, specifies exact locations for the work and even prints work orders.
'This is a leap,' Kulovaara said, adding these types of advances require tremendous teamwork and innovation.
Royal Caribbean also is using NAPA Safety Solution's new tool that supports better decision-making in a flooding emergency.
On the environmental front, there are 200 improvements, from micro-bubble technology to LED lighting. As Kulovaara put it: 'It's a process, not a silver bullet.'
And Royal Caribbean is ready with drawings to go forward on an LNG ship design—when the company feels assured that's the right course to take.
'We would love to have LNG but unfortunately there are many obstacles,' Kulovaara said. Though LNG ferries sail successfully in the Baltic, their operations are very different from those of a cruise ship. Plus, the regulatory side is not decided. It could turn out, for example, that bunkering is not allowed when passengers are on board. The gas loading takes a long time, and the availability of LNG is another issue.
Meanwhile, another ship delivery looms.
TUI Cruises' Mein Schiff 4 is to be handed over by Meyer Turku on May 8. Some time ago, an early delivery was agreed with the yard. The crew are on board and Kulovaara is feeling 'very comfortable' about the completion of Mein Schiff 3's twin.
Operations in Turku are stable, he said, adding that the Meyer yards in Finland and Germany are sharing 'a lot of best practices from both sides.'
Turku under the new Meyer ownership is 'a very focused team, [with] very quality-oriented operations and a clear customer focus.'
According to Kulovaara, Meyer—which has the most advanced flow line—is looking to optimize efficiencies and will invest to improve the building technology, adapted to the scale and nature of the ships. Meyer managing partner Jan Meyer is leading this effort, with Aloys Meemann as chief operating officer.
Next year Kulovaara's group will be overseeing the delivery of three ships in a rapid-fire three-month period: Ovation of the Seas from Meyer Werft in April, Harmony of the Seas from STX France in May and Mein Schiff 5 from Meyer Turku in June. This will be a first, up from the two ship deliveries in two months that the group completed in the past.
At Saint-Nazaire, Harmony of the Seas is 55% done, exactly on schedule. The float-out is scheduled for mid-June.
'We are very happy with the relationship,' Kulovaara said. '[It is] very strong. Their tracking of the timeline is extraordinary. The quality and cleanliness of the workplace is extraordinary.'
He noted Harmony of the Seas will have a 'just amazing' 23% fuel efficiency gain per available passenger day over 2010's Allure of the Seas, thanks to efforts in a multitude of areas.
Micro-bubble technology is one of those. The air lubrication concept honed by Royal Caribbean with its partners Foreship, ProcessFlo and Meyer Werft, first applied on Celebrity Reflection and subsequently on the Quantum-class ships, will be put on all newbuilds going forward and will be retrofitted on existing ships when possible.
Quantum of the Seas has posted a net 5% to 7.5% gain in fuel efficiency, depending on the ship's speed. Plus, the micro-bubbles reduce stern vibration.
While STX announced the intent to sell its stake in the French yard, nothing has been firmed. 'The situation is very stable. We are comfortable that a good amicable solution can be reached,' Kulovaara said, noting that STX France has operated smoothly through this period of uncertainty for a couple years now.
'We're very encouraged for Edge,' he added. Work on the master plan for Celebrity Cruises' next-generation ship, to be built at Saint-Nazaire, has just begun. The team is creating the personality for the vessel, its features and the general arrangement.
'I've never built four different ship types at the same time,' Kulovaara told Seatrade Insider, adding he's comfortable with that. The company scaled up its team, creating stronger dedicated project leadership for each newbuild plus a team that circulates from project to project. There's a lot of communication so they can learn and support each other.
Royal Caribbean's orderbook now goes out to 2020, and Carnival Corp. & plc recently announced plans for a nine-ship order at two yards for deliveries out to 2022.
The shipyard capacity for large vessels has been very well-utilized, Kulovaara said. Now there's a lot of focus on cruising in Asia, which will spur big growth.
That could be why the major players are securing building spots further out.
Kulovaara noted shipbuilding in the Far East has followed industrial principles, while cruise ships are highly customized. It's not easy for newcomers to start in the cruise area, he said.