Besides being Spain's largest cruise line, Pullmantur Cruises is also one of the most rapidly growing lines in the world. Yet this hugely successful firm was virtually unknown outside its native country until late 2006 when Royal Caribbean made the stunning announcement that it had purchased the company.
Cruises from Malaga, Barcelona and Valencia are available with this cruiseline on an all inclusive basis.
The expansion of the fleet signals a new era for Pullmantur in particular and for the Spanish cruise market as a whole.
Pullmantur's hold on the Spanish cruise market began when the Madrid travel agency and tour operator of the same name, founded in 1971, chartered Premier Cruises' Seawind Crown in the late 1990's. The company experienced moderate success, and when Premier went bankrupt in 2000, Pullmantur bought that line's largest and most modern ship, Oceanic, and founded its own cruise line. Pullmantur began operating cruises from Spain in 2001. At the time, few could have imagined the impact the new company would have on cruising in Spain and the cruise industry as a whole.
In 2001, Spain was just beginning to discover cruising, mostly on foreign cruise ships, with many leaving from foreign ports. The formation of Pullmantur Cruises, with Oceanic's weekly departures from Barcelona, jolted Spanish cruising into overdrive. With low, all-inclusive fares, smart marketing and a quality product, Pullmantur had an effect in Spain that can be compared to that of Carnival in the United States: Suddenly, a company were making cruises from Spain affordable and popular to the masses.
Expansion came quickly. In 2002 the company bought the one-time Pacific Princess, the famed "Love Boat", from Princess Cruises. 2003 brought yet another new ship: Holiday Dream, formerly Star Cruises' SuperStar Aries and originally Hapag-Lloyd's uber-luxury Europa. (It was replaced in 1999 with the current ship of that name.) After buying three ships of its own, and still desperate for more capacity, Pullmantur chartered the R Five in 2004 from the creditors of the bankrupt Renaissance Cruises, marketing the ship as Blue Dream. In 2005, R Six, marketed as Blue Star, joined the fleet.
Later that year, R Five left Pullmantur to become Oceania Cruises' Nautica, and Pullmantur bought R Six outright and named her Blue Dream (confusingly, the marketing name previously assigned to R Five). Meanwhile, the charterer of R Seven, Delphin Seereisen, had gone bankrupt, so in 2006 that ship too was bought by Pullmantur and renamed Blue Moon. That same year, in its final acquisition before being taken over, Pullmantur bought P&O Cruises Australia's Pacific Sky, formerly Princess' Sky Princess and before that Sitmar's Fairsky. The ship was renamed Sky Wonder. Then, a few months later, came the announcement that Pullmantur -- including its tour operator and airline sister companies -- had been scooped up by Royal Caribbean, the world's second largest cruise line. It now had the backing of a much larger, wealthier company to help continue its expansion. The deal gave Royal Caribbean a strong presence in the European market.
While Pullmantur's management remains intact, Royal Caribbean quickly began leaving its mark on Pullmantur's fleet. A "ship swap" was announced whereby Pullmantur would send Blue Dream and Blue Moon to Royal Caribbean subsidiary Celebrity, while Celebrity's aging Zenith -- whose name remained unchanged -- became the latest member of the Pullmantur fleet. (Blue Moon entered service with Celebrity's newly created upper-premium brand Azamara Cruises as Azamara Journey in May 2007; Blue Moon will follow in October as Azamara Quest.) The former Mona Lisa (before that Victoria, Sea Princess and Kungsholm), a classic liner built in the 1960's, was chartered by Royal Caribbean for its new university ship initiative, The Scholar Ship, and has been renamed Oceanic II. It will be operated by Pullmantur during the summer season when it is not in use as a floating university.
Pullmantur cruises will get its largest ship yet as Royal Caribbean transfers its smallest ship, Empress of the Seas, to the Pullmantur fleet.
Despite all that, Pullmantur's cruises appetite for new tonnage is so voracious that even Royal Caribbean and Celebrity can't spare enough older ships to fulfill it. In perhaps the most surprising move yet, Pullmantur recently announced that it bought P&O Cruises Australia's Pacific Sun, formerly Costa's Costa Tropicale and originally Carnival's Tropicale. This marked the first time -- albeit indirectly -- that Carnival or Royal Caribbean had sold a ship to the other, and the deal was a huge surprise to those who expected Pullmantur's fleet to consist only of former Royal Caribbean and Celebrity ships.
With its huge popularity in its home market and its equally enormous potential for expansion, Pullmantur is certainly a company to watch closely in the future. But just what the future will bring isn't clear. It might be the addition of more former Royal Caribbean or Celebrity ships; perhaps the introduction of new-builds; or even expansion outside Spain to other European markets to compete with Carnival's Costa. But whatever it is, it certainly promises to be interesting.
In the meantime, Pullmantur offers cruises from Malaga, Barcelona and beyond featuring high-quality cruising with a spicy Spanish-Mediterranean flair. And while it markets mainly in Spain, the company welcomes international passengers -- the onboard product is largely bilingual with printed materials and the like in English. It's an intriguing option for those looking for a change from the usual English-speaking mass-market cruise lines.
It simply doesn't get more diverse than the Pullmantur fleet, offering ships from five decades and in an unbelievable range of styles. Like snowflakes, no two Pullmantur ships are the same.
Built in 1981, the 37,012-ton and 752-passenger Holiday Dream sports decor that is decidedly less elegant than that of its original incarnation as Hapag-Lloyd's Europa, one of the highest-rated ships of the 1980's and 1990's. Nevertheless, it still offers bigger cabins and more space per passenger than almost any other mid-priced ship, and the Club Belvedere observation lounge is still one of the nicest at sea.
The 46,087-ton, 1,184-passenger Sky Wonder was built in 1984 as Sitmar Cruises' Fairsky, and will be well known to Americans as Sky Princess and Australians as Pacific Sky. Although its interior decor is a bit dated in places, this is another very spacious ship with large cabins and some unusually high ceilings in public areas, as well as some of the best open deck space you'll find on a ship this size. Ship buffs will note that it was the last large steam-powered passenger ship built, and today it's the largest one remaining. (Its older, slightly smaller fleetmate Oceanic comes in at number two). For passengers this means an especially smooth ride, as steam turbines cause less noise and vibration than modern diesels.
Pullmantur's also has Zenith, built for Celebrity Cruises in 1992. At 47,255 tons and 1,440 passengers, it's the largest ship yet to join the Pullmantur fleet, and like many of its fleetmates, offers larger-than-average cabins. The decor is more modern than most of the company's other ships; it went through a major refurbishment before entering service with Pullmantur. On the other hand, the ship isn't quite as spacious as Holiday Dream or Pacific Sky.
Pacific Dream, Pullmantur Cruises' new flagship, went into service in 2009. The 46,811-ton, 1,875-passenger ship previously sailed for Island as the Island Star.
Following a major refurbishment that added a variety of facilities, highlights include the addition of two new bars, Steak House, an alternative restaurant, and two decks that were completely redesigned.
And at night, the two-story Ocean Theatre is home to West End-style shows, and visiting guest comedians. The Bounty Club doubles as a cabaret lounge and nightclub at the end of the evening. There are seven bars onboard to choose from including quieter spots like the Captain's Club or noisier ones, like the busy Pub, where live music keeps the pace high.
The Pullmantur ships offer all the trappings of a traditional cruise -- with a Spanish accent. This means two-seating dining: early seating dinner is at 8 p.m. and late seating at 10:15 p.m. (one example of the Spanish preference for evening meals), production shows, a spa and gym, casino, shops, youth programs and pretty much everything else you'd expect of a typical mass-market cruise experience.
Needless to say, the main onboard language is Spanish, but since the ships are also marketed in Northern Europe, printed materials and such do come in English, and international passengers are welcome. That said, non-Spanish speakers are certainly in the minority, so this is a cruise line best for those who speak Spanish or don't mind being around a lot of people with whom they don't share a common language. (The crew, however, speaks English.)
While Pullmantur is certainly not a luxury cruise line, most passengers seem happy with the product and appreciate the good value it represents. This is especially true of all the ships that offer the line's "all-inclusive" product. This doesn't include shore excursions or gratuities, but it does include extras that are usually costly -- notably, alcohol.
Pullmantur operates cruises from Spain not only to the Mediterranean, but also offers some cruises in the Baltic and the Caribbean.
Like most mass-market lines, Pullmantur attracts a wide cross-section of passengers, though naturally on these cruises they're mainly looking for the option of a Spanish Cruise.There may also be some non-Spanish-speaking passengers from Northern Europe or Canada, where some tour operators market Pullmantur's cruises.