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.


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.


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.


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.


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.







Pool deck on the Norwegian Epic

Pool deck on the Norwegian Epic

Fresh from a three week dry docking, the Norwegian Epic left Southampton for Barcelona on Monday to begin a one of a kind season of year round sailings to the Mediterranean and Canary Islands.

The one off ship- unique in the Norwegian fleet- will return to Port Canaveral in the fall of 2016 to operate Bahamas and Caribbean cruises.

On the entertainment front, Norwegian Epic now showcases a new Cavern Club, a homage to the legendary Liverpool venue of the same name, and a new, headlining show in the form of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

In addition, the ship’s Bliss ultra night club was refurbished, together with the Mandara Spa, the library, and the outdoor marketplace. The Epic Theatre, casino and exclusive, upper deck Haven complex also benefited from such additions as new lighting, freshening up of all furniture fabrics, and new artwork.

Dining venues on board such as the Manhattan Room, Moderno Churrascaria, Tastes, Cagney’s, Le Bistro and the Lido, have also been enhanced with new, soft furnishings, decor, and fresh carpeting in places.

On the technical side, Norwegian Epic has taken on board several significant upgrades, including a new pair of propellers and new rudder caps, a fresh coat of hull paint, and enhancements to the lifeboats release mechanisms, as well as some enhancements to the on board refrigeration and storage spaces.

Over the coming winter, Norwegian Epic will cruise from Barcelona to the Western Mediterranean, as well as offering a string of nine night fly cruises to the Canary islands, also sailing from the Catalan port.

Her abrupt return to the Caribbean next fall after just one season in year round Europe cruising came as something of a surprise in certain quarters. From fall of 2016, she will be replaced permanently in that role by Norwegian Spirit- the ship that she was originally brought over to supplant.

None the less, these are interesting times at Norwegian, especially with the looming debut of the Norwegian Escape coming up rapidly on the horizon.

As ever, stay tuned.


As part of a hugely comprehensive redeployment that will include a welcome return to Asia after a hiatus of more than a decade, Norwegian Cruise Line has decided to return its pioneering mega ship, Norwegian Epic, to cruising from Florida for the winter 2016-17 season.

Prior to this, it had been determined that the 154,000 ton Epic would be based in Europe year round, cruising to the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands, mainly from Barcelona, on a series of itineraries ranging from six to twelve nights’ duration.

Instead, the ship will now return to Florida, to be replaced once again by former year round Europe favourite, Norwegian Spirit.

Built in 2010, the Norwegian Epic will be home ported at Port Canaveral for the first time when she returns to Florida in the autumn of 2016. From there, she will operate a series of mainly seven night sailings to the highlights of the eastern and western Caribbean.

The seven night eastern Caribbean voyages will offer calls at Tortola, St. Thomas, and the company’s ‘private island’ of Great Stirrup Cay. Western Caribbean itineraries will feature calls at Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Great Stirrup Cay.

In addition, the Norwegian Epic will offer a short season of three and four night cruises to the Bahamas during January and March of 2017, with calls at Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay.

This redeployment of the Epic brings down the curtain on her European role after only one full season- the one she is currently sailing- in that role.

On the other hand, she will be a far more formidable competitor to the upgraded Royal Caribbean hardware sailing out of Port Canaveral. And many will also welcome the return to year round European sailings of the raffish, exotic Norwegian Spirit. In many respects, that latter ship is the most under rated in the entire Norwegian fleet. During her time in Europe, she attracted a loyal fan base that tended to sail on her year in, year out.

Interesting times. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

Jumbotron movie screen on the Norwegian Epic

Jumbotron movie screen on the Norwegian Epic


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.


Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

If a seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruise is on your cruising horizon in 2015, then you are going to be in line for a string of exciting mega ship options, and how. With the ‘big guns’ of Norwegian, MSC Cruises, Costa and Royal Caribbean all bringing in prime tonnage to augment their respective offerings, the choices have never been more extensive.

For the sake of argument, this blog is assuming that you are drawn to a certain kind of ship; the vast, family friendly floating resort vessels that come absolutely chock full with every leisure amenity that you could imagine, and then some. With a huge range of inclusive, across the board accommodations on offer, these vessels have proved enormously popular- and profitable- in recent years.

And they have grown bigger, too. From next spring, Norwegian will home port its ground breaking, 150,000 plus ton Norwegian Epic in Barcelona on a year round basis. The 2010 built Epic is the permanent replacement for the 78,000 ton Norwegian Spirit, which is returning to the Caribbean next October.

Costa will also have its new flagship, the 130,000 ton, state of the art Costa Diadema on the Mediterranean circuit. This fabulous new ship- built on the same platform as the hugely successful Carnival Dream class trio- will actually debut in November 2014, and is slated to be a year round presence in the region.

MSC Cruises meanwhile always retains at least one of it’s mega ships on the seven day circuit on the ‘Meddy-Go-Round’; for next year, this will be the very family friendly MSC Splendida.

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

But the real splash will, inevitably, be the arrival of the mighty, 220,000 Allure Of The Seas for a maiden, full season of seven night cruises out of Barcelona. With 6,200 berths to fill on a weekly basis and the most complete range of facilities of any resort ship in the region, the deployment of this monster ship to the region is a huge act of faith in the future from owners, Royal Caribbean.

Everyone is waiting with baited breath to see just how this massive ship fares next year. A current short, first season by twin sister ship, Oasis Of The Seas, will help as a marker to iron out any potential kinks in operating ships of such vast, unparalleled scale and capacity.

With Barcelona as their main embarkation port, these massive ships typically make landfall on the ‘greatest hits’ ports of Rome, Florence, Naples, Palma De Mallorca and Monte Carlo over the course of a week. Of course, their huge size precludes them entering the smaller ports, but that is not their raison d’etre.

These ships are all about resort life at sea; each one contains a mind boggling array of alternative restaurants, bars, and increasingly exotic entertainment. Sailing relatively short distances through the night, their revenue stream becomes more akin to a torrent when sales of shore excursions are factored in.

While the Mediterranean cruise market is said to be slowly recovering from the effects of the recession triggered in 2008/9, that recovery is still sluggish. And the unprecedented number of new berths arriving with these huge ships means that there will always be a line of potentially great bargains, especially if you can be a little flexible, time wise. That said, it is also possible- likely, even- that uncertainty in other regions might boost bookings as well.

Naples is a staple of the 'Meddy Go Round'

Naples is a staple of the ‘Meddy Go Round’

Whenever you go, or for whatever reason, the seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ has never offered so much potential diversity as you’re going to find in 2015. The only minor down side remains the seething, human train wreck that is Barcelona’s aptly named El Prat airport.  I would definitely advise anyone to spend at least one extra day in the city- no great hardship, that- both pre and post cruise, in order to avoid the worst of the airport crowds.

Why not- you’re worth it. Happy travelling!



Pool area on the MSC Magnifica

Pool area on the MSC Magnifica

As was widely expected, MSC Cruises has just announced a 2.1 billion euro order with the Italian Fincantieri shipyard for a pair of new ships, with an option for a third. The first of the new class- code named Project Seaside- is scheduled for delivery in November 2017, and the second in May, 2018.

The dimensions are quite staggering; with a length of 323 metres, the two ships will be 70 metres high, and have an extraordinarily wide draft of 41 metres each. At some 154,000 tons, these two ships will be the largest ever to be built in an Italian yard. Artist’s illustrations of the twin sisters reveal a silhouette that is substantially influenced by both the Oasis class juggernauts of Royal Caribbean, as well as the one off Norwegian Epic.

The two ships will be capable of accommodating 5,300 passengers across a total of 2,070 cabins, as well as a crew of some 1,413.

The extra wide beam will facilitate an extraordinary amount of interior public spaces, estimated at around 43,500 square metres. It is also claimed that the two ships will be able to dock in any port around the world, an incredible statement in light of their vast dimensions.

As far as general arrangements go, the ships will offer what is described as a ‘sea level promenade’ that will feature a string of outdoor bars, shops and restaurants. The line here has clearly been taking note of the phenomenal success of similar outdoor areas on the last two Norwegian new builds, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, as well as- to a lesser -extent- the three ships of the popular Carnival Dream series.

As things stand, MSC Cruises is entering a period of growth and enhancement that would make even Royal Caribbean look to its laurels. In addition to the new ships announced today, the line also has committed to a pair of 150,000 ton giant cruise ships from the STX shipyard in France.

In addition to that, Fincantieri will also begin a programme of chopping and stretching each of the four smallest ships in the MSC fleet- Lirica, Armonia, Sinfonia and Opera, over the coming winter through to spring, 2015. Each of the four extended, enhanced vessels will come in at around 65,000 tons. While big, this is still a long way smaller than the quartet of new behemoths that are in the pipeline.

The new builds will take MSC Cruises from a twelve ship fleet to sixteen within a timescale of only four years from now. By any standards you care to judge these new vessels, it is still a pretty staggering achievement for any line.

As always, stay tuned.

Update: MSC cruises has just announced that one of their massive, 133,000 ton Fantasia class ships will be coming to sail from the UK in eother 2016 or 2017.


It's 'Sayonara' to Europe for Norwegian Spirit in fall 2105

It’s ‘Sayonara’ to Europe for Norwegian Spirit in fall 2105

As predicted in this blog a few weeks ago, autumn 2015 will see the redeployment of the Norwegian Spirit from Europe to Port Canaveral. Next November the ship, based out of Barcelona for the past several years, will cross the Atlantic to operate seven night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries from the Florida port.

What I did not expect was that Norwegian Jade, based largely on Civitavecchia and Venice for several years, will also be leaving to redeploy to Houston. Once there, she will run weekly, seven night Western Caribbean itineraries to Cozumel, Roatan, and the new Norwegian complex at Harvest Caye.

Both of these moves follow the decision to relocate the monumental Norwegian Epic to Europe on a permanent basis. The enormous ship will remain the sole, year round presence in Europe, at least for the foreseeable future.

That, coupled with a deal between Norwegian and the Port Canaveral authorities to home port at least one large ship there, made the Norwegian Spirit seem the most likely candidate. She will leave Barcelona on November 5, 2015, on a sixteen night repositioning cruise to Florida, sailing via Madeira, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Maarten and St. Thomas.

Spirit is redeploying to the Caribbean

Spirit is redeploying to the Caribbean

Norwegian Spirit will then sail alternating seven night eastern and western itineraries. Eastern runs will showcase calls in Nassau, Tortola and St. Thomas. Western runs will take the ship to Ocho Rios, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and the private Bahamian island of Great Stirrup Cay.

Norwegian has thus far made no announcement of a ship for Scandinavia for 2016. This seasonal role is traditionally handled by Norwegian Star, which will be in the region for a full season of 2015 summer cruises to the Baltic.

In other Norwegian news, the sublime Norwegian Sun makes a welcome return to South America cruises next winter, operating a series of fourteen night, round trip sailings between Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile; a programme she last sailed back in 2010.

Prior to that, Norwegian Sun will offer a trio of eleven night round trips to the Mexican Riviera from San Diego. All three of these cruises will feature an overnight call at Cabo San Lucas as a highlight.

The line will also have an all winter presence on the Mexican Riviera out of Los Angeles, with the deployment of Norwegian Jewel to operate a series of some twenty- two, seven day round trip cruises. Beginning on October 5th, 2015, these will offer calls at Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.

Details can be tweaked, and even changed completely. My advice; stay tuned.


The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

Norwegian Cruise Line has just announced it’s first ever programme of year round Europe cruises for the 2010 built Norwegian Epic.

Hitherto, the French built ship has alternated between seven day summer sailings in Europe, and winter cruises to the Caribbean out of Miami.

In an announcement aboard the new Norwegian Getaway in January, CEO Kevin Sheehan confirmed that Norwegian Epic will be permanently deployed in Europe from early 2015. Today, the itineraries were officially posted.

Beginning on November 29th 2015, the ship will operate a series of nine night Canary Islands cruises, from her home port in Barcelona. This programme takes in Tangier, Madeira, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Malaga, Spain, and runs through to April 7th, 2016. This includes the seasonal Christmas sailing, which departs on December 19th.

Like the rest of the itineraries, these will go on sale from next month.

There will also be a series of ten, eleven and twelve day round trip sailings from Barcelona to the Western Mediterranean, as well as a special, six day New Year’s Eve cruise that sails on December 28th, 2015. Ports of call offered on the longer cruises include Cagliari, Palermo, Naples and Civitavecchia.

The Canary Islands itineraries are the ones previously run by all year round Barcelona stalwart, Norwegian Spirit. It would seem to confirm that the latter ship will be leaving Europe after several successful seasons, through which she has proved to be very popular.

Norwegian Epic features cutting edge entertainment from Blue Man Group on each sailing

Norwegian Epic features cutting edge entertainment from Blue Man Group on each sailing

Norwegian has recently entered into an agreement with authorities at Port Canaveral to base an as yet nameless big ship year round in the Florida port. Odds must be quite high that this ship will be the Norwegian Spirit.

While the Norwegian Epic brings many more dining and entertainment options to the Mediterranean- the most on any year round mega ship, in fact- she also brings twice as many berths. She has a capacity of 4200, as opposed to 2000 on Norwegian Spirit. That represents a lot of berths to fill.

Still, the ship also has a complex of more than a hundred studio cabins for singles, offered at solo prices, which make the Norwegian Epic a great buy for single travellers.

These cruises offer a big literal departure for Norwegian Epic, which has hitherto operated on a seven day round trip cycle, both in Europe and the Caribbean. Ten, eleven and twelve day voyages will allow for more sea days, as well as more opportunities to showcase the ship’s extensive range of more than twenty diverse eateries.


Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

Princess Cruises has announced that their new Royal Princess- launched just last year- will return to Europe for a full season of cruises over the summer. Her arrival- the latest in a slew of announcements from the major lines- points up just how much all the big players see Europe as seminal in filling- and for displaying- their prime movers and shakers. Just look at what else will be here next year.

Royal Caribbean’s new, second of class ship, Anthem Of The Seas will also be based in Southampton and, to no one’s great surprise, so will P&O’s new Britannia, a vessel being built on the same hull platform as Royal Princess.

The deployments by Princess and Royal Caribbean, in particular, represent a quite extraordinary statement of intent. Two of the world’s newest mega ships, with a capacity of well over 4,000 passengers each, will be based in the Hampshire port. It should be great news for the local business in Southampton for sure and, for the canny cruising purchaser, there should also be some great bargains available as well.

Nor is it simply Northern Europe that will be the recipient of state of the art mega ships. After four consecutive summer seasons in the Med, the game changing, 2010 built Norwegian Epic will be permanently home ported in Barcelona for 2015 onward. The one off mega ship significantly ups the ante for year round cruising from the Catalan port, though her itineraries will not be announced until next month, at the Seatrade Conference in Miami.

Larger still, Royal Caribbean took some people by surprise when it announced a full, summer season of 2015 Barcelona sailings on the jaw dropping Allure Of The Seas, one of the two largest cruise ships ever built. The gargantuan vessel will offer a series of seven night round trips from May through October. She will be by far the biggest ship to offer an extended cruise season in these waters and, with a passenger capacity in excess of 6,000, she will also offer roughly half as many berths again as her nearest rival. Should be interesting.

Pompeii's remains a staple of the Med cruise circuit. See them from Naples.

Pompeii’s remains a staple of the Med cruise circuit. See them from Naples.

Plus, next year will also mark the inaugural Med season for the new Costa flagship, the Costa Diadema. Due to debut this autumn, the ship is the biggest ever built by Carnival for the Italian franchise.

And, it has to be added, a few other players will stay their hands as regards dramatic new announcements until Seatrade. Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival, is on record as saying that the line might possibly return to Europe in 2015. Given that the newest Carnival ship- Carnival Vista- will not emerge from her Italian builders yard until 2016, the smart money would be on one of the Dream class trio coming back to the Mediterranean, though probably not the Baltic.

Though the numbers of ships being deployed are not really up on the 2012 figures, it is pretty obvious that nearly all of the major lines still see Europe as the prime arena for showcasing their new ships. Beside the big ticket, first time deployments in Southampton, Princess Cruises are also bringing over the huge Caribbean Princess and, for the first time ever, the line is offering an all inclusive drinks package in the fare.

So the European catwalk (cruisewalk?) season of 2015 looks like being quite a floor show, with each of the entrants bearing all the traits and positive selling points- both real and imagined- of their respective sponsors. One thing there will be no shortage of is choice.

Stay tuned.


Norwegian Getaway was the venue for Kevin Sheehan's press conference

Norwegian Getaway was the venue for Kevin Sheehan’s press conference

At a press conference on board the brand new Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian CEO, Kevin Sheehan, ruminated on the future direction of the company in general, and some of the things that might change. What he had to say was worth hearing.

After the early initial setbacks for the Hawaii operation, Sheehan confirmed that the Pride Of America- the sole remaining member of an envisaged inter-island quartet, is doing very well indeed. So much so, in fact, that she is now the single most profitable vessel across the entire Norwegian fleet. Recently refurbished, the Pride Of America also had a number of single studio cabins added.

That single studio idea has been so successful for Norwegian that Sheehan intends to extend it to every single ship in the fleet. Right now, single cabins can be found on the three ships that Sheehan has helmed for Norwegian from the start- Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway- and the Pride Of America.

In addition, he confirmed that the popular, 24/7 service O’Sheehans Bar And Grill outlet- already a focal point in the last three ships- will be extended across the rest of the fleet. To make the venue a potentially more appealing evening dinner option, nightly ‘specials’ such as Prime Rib will be introduced to the culinary roster. On the recent press trip of Norwegian Getaway, the venue was packed to the rafters even in the early morning hours.

Sheehan also confirmed that each ship will also be getting its own Moderno Churrascaria. The Brazilian meat restaurants have proved very popular on Epic and Breakaway. Insofar as possible, these will be installed in close proximity to the Cagney’s Steakhouses, with an adjacent bar provided for each pair of venues.

He also confirmed the news that broke earlier in the week; the year round deployment of the 4,200 passenger Norwegian Epic in Europe from April, 2015. Sheehan was bullish about being able to fill the vast ship- one he describes as the one ‘best suited’ to the European market- but would not be drawn on the itineraries that have been planned for her. These will be announced at the forthcoming Seatrade conference in Miami this coming March.

There was no mention- or questions, to be fair- about the future of current Barcelona year round ship, Norwegian Spirit.

Sheehan, however, did confirm that the next two ‘Breakaway Plus ships’- Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Escape- are on schedule for delivery in autumn 2015 and spring, 2017. And, although he again ruled out any imminent deployment of a Norwegian ship out of the United Kingdom, he made it plain that it might be something he would consider in the future.