"My intention is not to become rich carrying passengers," said Ship owner Erik Holter-Sorensen of Ivaran Lines. "But to create a shipping service for the 1990s independent of weather and port congestion."
Ivaran Lines operates a fleet of eight freighters between the U.S. East Coast and the Gulf and South America.
Holter-Sorensen was interviewed as his new 108-passenger, freighter/passenger vessel, Americana, is on its way from Hyundai shipyards in South Korea to New York for christening festivities, March 3 and 4, and maiden voyage to Rio de Janeiro.
The 19,000-ton ship combines "luxurious accommodations and amenities never before incorporated in a freighter's design, an in-depth cultural immersion program for passengers, and efficient cargo distribution."
According to Holter-Sorensen, he hired the same interior architects that did Sea Goddess and asked them to design the Americana to the same level of quality.
The ship has an outdoor swimming pool, a health club and whirlpool, a library, a lounge/bar and a small casino. The dining room offers one-seating dining, and the menu is changed daily - even on the 46- to 48-day sailings, which is the average length of an Ivaran cruise.
In the cabins, there are individually controlled air conditioning, televisions, and telephones for worldwide satellite dialing. There are private bathrooms (of course), some with a shower and a tub, and some with a bidet.
Besides promising a luxurious cruise experience, the Americana will give passengers an opportunity to learn about the cultures of South America, and experience firsthand its sights and attractions.
"We will bring on board lecturers from Argentina and Brazil; we will teach samba; and we will arrange shore excursions to museums, theaters and even stock exchanges," said Holter-Sorensen.
"If our passengers take advantage of all we have to offer, they will truly get to know a great deal about a fascinating continent."
Ivaran has sailed to South America from the U.S. East Coast since 1925 and claims to know every nook and cranny of their ports of call.
15% Break Even
The Americana will carry 108 passengers as well as up to 1,120 containers, but according to Holter-Sorensen, she needs to fill only 15 percent of passenger capacity to break even.
"With more than 50 passengers, we will have docking priority wherever we go," he explained, "and we can guarantee a sailing schedule and delivery time for our cargo customers. We will be able to schedule our port arrivals down to the hour, and even cut the roundtrip by 10 days or so.
"Thus, our cruise passengers will in effect help our cargo customers and overall will help generate more interest in our company and our ships, giving us a more visible image," Holter-Sorensen said.
The Americana has a service speed of 21 knots, but can sail at 24 knots if necessary, and with three vessels of this type, Ivaran can provide full South American service now accomplished with four vessels. Ivaran has an option on two more ships of the same type.
Presently, two of Ivaran's ships carry eight passengers each, which is the normal freighter passenger capacity. It means that Ivaran has increased its passenger capacity sixfold overnight.
From sitting relatively passively and accepting bookings, the company's passenger manager has become increasingly active, participating in travel agent functions and cruise seminars. Advertising and PR have also been added to the marketing function.
Other signs that the line is moving towards a cruise product become evident in its research of different options, enabling passengers to cruise only north or southbound, in addition to roundtrip, or to leave the ship in Rio and fly to rejoin her in Argentina. Ivaran is also considering breaking up the long stretch at sea from Miami to Rio, but says that depends mainly on the cargo.
A new brochure was released last December. It is, however, more of a ship buff's brochure than a cruise line brochure, reminding the reader that even luxurious freighter cruises are different from traditional cruises.
Cruise rates on the Americana start at $7,200 for an inside single cabin; $9,000 per person for double occupancy outside cabins; to $16,800 per person, double occupancy, for the owner's suite.