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Breaking Travel News investigates: Norwegian Cruise Line plots course for growth
Wyland prepares to add the final brush strokes to the hull of Norwegian Bliss

Breaking Travel News investigates: Norwegian Cruise Line plots course for growth

The smallest of the three United States-based majors, Norwegian Cruise Line certainly does not lack in ambition.

Just weeks before its launch, the international media was invited to view its latest creation, Norwegian Bliss, as artist Wyland put the finishing touches to its whale-themed hull art at the Meyer Werft dock in north Germany.

Inside, the ship was rapidly approaching completion, as nearly 1,000 builders, welders, plumbers, and their colleagues assembled what resembled a gigantic Lego set.

Bliss will feature a top-deck race track, variety of exciting new dining options, luxurious accommodations, and the largest Haven – essentially an exclusive ship-within-a-ship – of any vessel in the fleet.

When she takes to the water, she will become the third Breakaway Plus-Class ship Norwegian has launched, able to carry 4,000 guests.

During her inaugural summer season, Norwegian Bliss will sail weekly seven-day Alaska cruises each Saturday from the recently expanded Pier 66 Cruise Terminal in Seattle.

Itineraries will feature calls in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia, along with scenic glacier cruising.

An expanded observation deck will allow passengers to fully experience the natural wonders around them as they cruise through the crystal-clear waters of the region.

Bliss will then head to Miami for her first winter season.

Beginning in November, the ship will sail seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruises each Saturday from PortMiami, featuring calls in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Tortola, British Virgin Islands; and Nassau, Bahamas.

Norwegian Bliss will launch in April this year

As the launch approaches, Norwegian has also revealed what, to British cruise fans at least, might seem an unusual choice for godfather of the ship, syndicated radio host Elvis Duran.

He will perform the ceremonial duties – including smashing a bottle of champagne on Bliss’ hull – when the ship officially debuts in Seattle in the spring.

As Nick Wilkinson, Norwegian Cruise Line vice president and managing director of UK & Ireland and Middle East and Africa, explains, the ambition was to appoint a godparent who would continue the relationship after the initial launch celebrations.

“What we are seeking to do with our godparents is build relationships, to secure people who will bring their following to the brand over the lifetime of the ship,” he explains.

“They stay involved after the excitant of the launch has died down.”

He adds: “As one of the most beloved radio hosts in history, Elvis’ commitment to entertainment and bringing laughter and joy to his listeners each day is exactly why we believe he is the perfect fit to represent Norwegian Bliss.”

Norwegian this week celebrated the steel-cutting for its next ship, Encore

This is an exciting time to be in the cruise sector – with all the major lines bringing a new ship to market virtually every year.

Demand outstrips supply in many markets, with the shipyards, and the slots they offer to build new ships, the main bottleneck slowing the pace of growth in the industry.

Indeed, occupancy onboard Norwegian vessels sits at over 100 per cent on many sailings.

With double occupancy for each cabin counted as ‘full’, a small family of three to a cabin can push up figures.

In response to this optimism, Norwegian also celebrated the first steel cutting for Encore this week.

She will be the seventeenth vessel in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet and the line’s fourth, and final, ship in the Breakaway Plus Class.

Known until this week as Ship 708 in the Meyer Werft nomenclature, she is set to sail from Miami in early 2019.

Norwegian Encore will feature amenities and interactive experiences that will excite and inspire, and more details on the ship’s design, accommodations, dining and onboard offerings will be shared in the coming months.

“Norwegian Encore will be the ultimate Breakaway Plus Class vessel and we are thrilled to celebrate the start of construction for this incredible new ship,” said Andy Stuart, president and chief executive officer for Norwegian Cruise Line.

“Over 50 years ago the Norwegian brand began creating unforgettable vacation moments with the first inter-island cruise in the Caribbean from Miami.

“We continue building on our legacy of innovation with this brand-new state-of-the-art vessel perfect for exploring the natural beauty of some of the most remarkable islands in the world.”

Norwegian will next turn its attention to the Leonardo class of ships

Norwegian Encore is, however, tinged with a touch of sadness, as she will be the last Norwegian ship to be built at Meyer Werft for the foreseeable future.

The next generation, the so-called Leonard class, will be built in Italy, at the Fincantieri yards.

Four ships are already on order – again illustrating the confidence Norwegian Cruise Lines has in the future of the market.

The first will be delivered in 2022, while the line holds the option of two further ships to be delivered in 2026 and 2027.

“We are looking forward to this exciting new generation of ships.

“The new, breath-taking design will offer our guests a flexible on-board experience with an incredible array of offerings and further integrates inside and outside spaces, so they feel more connected with the sea,” said Christian Böll, managing director Europe, Middle East, and Africa Norwegian Cruise Line.

The four 140,000 gross ton ships will each accommodate approximately 3,300 guests, a figure slightly smaller than the current Breakaway Plus class.

This will increase the number of ports with the facilities to host the ships - a vital attribute as an ever growing number of ships crowd the most popular destinations.

Securing crew has been identified as a possible constraint on the growth of the cruise sector

Of course, it is not all plain sailing in the industry.

With demand so high, rivals Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corporation are also looking to increase capacity in the sector, while a number of smaller operations continue to grow.

One area where this is beginning to cause problems is staffing, with around 800,000 new members of crew needed, sector-wide, but 2025, according to Mark Kansley, senior vice president, hotel operations, at Norwegian Cruise Line.

With traditional source markets in the Philippines close to exhaustion and American tightening visa restrictions for Indian crew, following a surge in the number who abscond while the US, a crunch is looming.

In response Norwegian is opening a training centre in Manila where it hoped to develop the next generation of staff for its fleet of ships.

But, in many ways, this is an illustration of the success of the sector, and particularly Norwegian, with no end to the recent run of exciting growth in sight.

More Information

Norwegian Cruise Line is the innovator in cruise travel with a half-century long history of breaking the boundaries of traditional cruising.

Most notably, Norwegian revolutionised the cruise industry by offering guests the freedom and flexibility to design their ideal cruise holiday on their schedule.

Today, Norwegian invites guests to Feel Free to explore the world on one of its purpose-built ships, providing guests the opportunity to enjoy a relaxed, resort style cruise holiday on some of the newest and most contemporary ships at sea.

Norwegian Cruise Line is also considered the World’s Leading Cruise Line by the World Travel Awards.

Find out more on the official website.

Chris O’Toole