NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE LOOKS TO THE FUTURE

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Norwegian Cruise Line is Australia bound, and in a big way, too.

The recent delivery of Norwegian Escape from Germany’s Meyer Werft shipyard marked something of a watershed for Norwegian Cruise Line; she was nothing less than the fourth, 150,000 ton plus mega ship delivered to the company since 2010- an event that few would have foreseen even ten years earlier.

First off came the one of a kind Norwegian Epic, delivered from STX France in 2010, and only recently just refurbished in Southampton. Then came a trio of vessels from Germany; the Breakaway class sisters, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. And, finally, as noted above, the line took delivery of the ‘improved’ Breakaway class vessel, Norwegian Escape, as recently as October.

A second ship in that series has now been allocated to the burgeoning Chinese market. Another projected ship will be given the name of Norwegian Bliss, but she will not see the light of day for a few years.

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Singapore beckons for the Norwegian Star

Thus, 2016 will mark a hiatus in the delivery of new ships to Norwegian Cruise Line. But that should not imply any loss of momentum for the line- now under the guiding hand of industry veteran, Frank Del Rio. Quite the contrary, in fact.

2016 will see the line expand its global offerings on a scale never seen before. Following on from her usual season in Northern Europe, the Norwegian Star will make her away down to Australia, offering some first ever Mediterranean cruises en route. Sailing via Singapore, the 2001 built ship will operate a full season of voyages in and around the Antipodes.

Next winter, Norwegian Sun will showcase a series of cruises down and along the east coast of South America. Always a trailblazer within the Norwegian fleet, the popular ship- another 2001 veteran- will offer a series of voyages between Rio De Janeiro and Buenos Aires, ranging from seven to ten days’ duration. There will also be some longer trips in the same region.

Like Kevin Sheehan before him, Frank Del Rio has thus far made no commitment to supply the home based UK market with a year round, dedicated ship. But he has reversed one of his predecessor’s prime deployments in the year round Mediterranean market.

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Norwegian is going global for 2016

Last year, many people were surprised by the news that the company’s two dedicated, year round Europe ships- Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Spirit- would be replaced by the giant Norwegian Epic, which was to be based year round in Barcelona. The two smaller ships would be sent back to the more benign, year round waters of the Caribbean.

Now we learn that, after just this one current season sailing year round, the Norwegian Epic will return to the Caribbean- to be replaced by Norwegian Spirit once again. And, in another twist, Norwegian Jade will also return to Europe for seasonal summer sailings, mainly around Italy and the Greek Islands.

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Atrium lobby on the Norwegian Spirit

Personally, I’m delighted to welcome the beautiful, hugely under promoted Norwegian Spirit back to our shores. Her raffish oriental decor and beautiful stepped terrace decks make her one of the most distinctive and appealing ships sailing these waters year round.

As for Bermuda and Alaska, Norwegian retains a strong, seasonal, multi ship deployment. There are also year round sailings to the Caribbean. And, for 2016, the Norwegian Sky is going to all inclusive pricing on her short, three and four day round trip sailings from Miami to the Bahamas.

I just wish that Norwegian would create some more upbeat, short haul routes for the Norwegian Sky. While her short cruises make for great little breakaways, they have become pretty much pedestrian, and far too predictable for a lot of people.

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Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Frankly, many people are sick and tired of Nassau, a place that has a very brittle charm at best. Ditto Freeport. Sure, Great Stirrup Cay has been massively enhanced recently, but is that one call alluring enough to book for alone?

A few years back, Norwegian were offering some great, five night cruises from Miami that took in both Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Now might be a good time to consider reviving this route, using the Norwegian Sky. 

At the very least, why not vary the current, four night itinerary to include Key West every second week, and maybe even Cozumel as well? My feeling is that Norwegian really are missing the boat on this one- pun wholly intentional.

Perhaps such ideas are already under consideration, who knows?

But one thing that is for sure; it really is nice to see Norwegian making real, palpable headway again after playing second fiddle to the likes of Carnival and Royal Caribbean for such a long time. The future of the innovators of Caribbean fly cruising is one that I will follow with interest.

As ever, stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

KEVIN SHEEHAN STEPS DOWN AS NORWEGIAN CEO

Changes are afoot at Norwegian

Changes are afoot at Norwegian

News is just breaking that Kevin Sheehan has stood down as the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Reports state that he has been succeeded in that role by Frank Del Rio, the president and CEO of Prestige, the company that controls both Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises, now partnered with Norwegian.

Sheehan joined Norwegian in October, 2008, replacing Colin Veitch as CEO, and promptly made the line profitable again by 2010, after years of losses. He radically reshaped the concept and design of the then under construction F3 project, cancelling one ship and ushering in the other as the first of the company’s new builds- Norwegian Epic- in 2010.

Under his aegis, Norwegian has grown to a thirteen ship fleet, with another four currently under construction.

Frank Del Rio was one of the co-founders of Oceania Cruises, along with former Crystal CEO, Joe Watters, in 2002.

TWO NEW SHIPS FOR OCEANIA?

Are new ships on the horizon for Oceania?

Are new ships on the horizon for Oceania?

Increasingly strong rumours are circulating that Oceania Cruises is about to announce an order for a pair of new builds. The two ships are expected to be built in the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy.

The two ships are said to be similar to the previous two Fincantieri new builds, the 66,000 ton sister ships, Marina and Riviera. With a capacity for around 1260 passengers each, these two vessels provided a significant upgrade for the line. Since their introduction in 2010 and 2011 respectively, the two sister ships have garnered rave reviews for their food, service and elegant, sophisticated ambiance. A continuation on the same theme thus seems infinitely sensible.

Oceania Cruises was formed in 2003. Under the stewardship of industry stalwarts Joe Watters, formerly of Crystal, and Frank Del Rio of Renaissance, the company began operations with a pair of 30,000 ton, ex-Renaissance ships, relaunched as the Regatta and Insignia respectively.

From the beginning, Oceania placed an emphasis on excellent service and stellar dining. At the time, the company had the highest per passenger spend on food in the entire cruise industry. In the early years, the ships were sent on longer, twelve nights plus cruises all over Europe and the Caribbean.

So popular did their intimate style prove that the company took on a third of the ex-Renaissance ships. Restyled as the  Nautica, they sent her on more extensive itineraries, centered around the Far East. Meanwhile, Insignia was chartered out to Hapag Lloyd Cruises for a two year term. That recently ended and the ship, after a substantial refurbishment, is once more back in the Oceania fold.

The debut of Marina and Riviera showcased a pair of sister ships more than twice the size of the original trio, without sacrificing the elegant largesse of the original concept. The new design allowed for the inclusion of several separate dining areas, such as the highly acclaimed Red Ginger, and permitted the inclusion of some truly spectacular, top drawer suites in excess of 2,000 square feet. These easily rank as some of the most sumptuous apartments anywhere at sea.

These two spectacular ships have been so successful that all three of the original trio have now been tweaked to incorporate design elements of the Marina/Riviera. Little wonder that the two new ships are expected to be a continuation on what has been a hugely popular theme, rather than an attempt at creating something radical.

Oceania is not really a line for those looking for extensive night life and top drawer entertainment.  Rather, it has carved out a solid niche for itself as an operator of highly styled, well fed and superbly served ships. And the addition of another two ships would take the company to seven, giving it quite an extensive deployment handle.

As always, stay tuned for any developments.

THE NEW LOOK SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER

New look Observation Lounge, Seven Seas Voyager

New look Observation Lounge, Seven Seas Voyager

Regent Seven Seas unveiled the exquisitely refurbished Seven Seas Voyager to media from several European countries on the opening leg of her first post dry dock cruise last week. Following an eight day, $25 million makeover in Marseille, the 42,000 ton Voyager dead headed overnight to Rome’s port of Civitavecchia to embark a capacity load of seven hundred passengers for a ten night cruise to Venice.

Prior to sailing, Regent/Oceania CEO Frank Del Rio invited a small group of UK media to an informal Q and A to discuss the refurbishment, as well as the forthcoming new build- Seven Seas Explorer- due to debut in 2016. While remaining deliberately coy about many of the features of the new ship, Del Rio did venture the information that the ship would have an additional restaurant compared to fleet mates Voyager and Mariner. The as yet nameless venue will be Asian themed and- like all Regent dining options- will be reservations only, but at no surcharge,

Elsewhere, the new ship will feature a single exclusive signature suite. the work of an as yet unannounced top designer. And Del Rio also noted that many of the new furnishings, decor and artwork showcased aboard Voyager will be a precursor for the new ship, as well as a blueprint for Mariner, due for an overhaul in March, 2014.

New outdoor terrace furniture

New outdoor terrace furniture

As for Voyager herself, a thousand workmen laboured for eight days and nights to totally transform the Observation and Horizon lounges with new lighting, much more commodious soft furnishings, fresh carpeting, and brand new bar installations. New carpeting was laid right throughout all the public areas on Seven Seas Voyager, and a whole new range of artwork is now showcased throughout.

Plush, new resort style furnishings were added to the outer deck terraces, and all teak decking- including that on all 350 suite balconies- was replaced. And all of those balconies received plush, funky new balcony furnishings that can safely be described as a real hazard to activity of any sort.

While the new work has revitalised and energised this beautiful ship no end, it was also reassuring to find that many much familiar, fondly remembered highlights remain intact. The eight storey atrium lobby, with its sweeping staircases accented in brass, glass and marble highlights, is still one of the most glorious public spaces of any ship afloat. And the aft terrace of La Veranda still remains of of the most exalted indoor and outdoor dining experiences afloat.

On board dining was well up to the Escoffier style levels of old. A ten ounce tranche of kobe beef I sampled in the Prime 7 Steakhouse was so tender that it literally crumbled on contact with the cutlery. And there are few other places where you can enjoy steak and champagne for an outdoor breakfast, with the stunning Monaco skyline as a backdrop.

Kobe beef table art in Prime 7

Kobe beef table art in Prime 7

Elsewhere, legendary producer and entertainment guru Jean Ann Ryan was on board to exclusively reveal the details of no less than eight new shows in production, exclusively for Regent. The obvious aim here is to give the already extensive entertainment roster across the fleet a whole new level of creative momentum and scope.

Sister ship, Seven Seas Mariner is due to receive the same upgrades next spring, following her South America season of cruises this coming winter. In an all too rare moment, Voyager and Mariner were both in Monte Carlo together on October 24th; Mariner was at the dock while Voyager tendered people back and forth to the same quay all day.

Overall impressions? This is elegance refreshed, excellence redefined. I’m still not sure about the new blue stripe along the hull, but there’s no questioning the imagination, care, quality and craftsmanship that has gone in to revitalising the Seven Seas Voyager for her tenth anniversary. Very highly recommended for sure.