Norwegian Cruise Line christens last Breakaway-Plus ship

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Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakaway-Plus class ship Norwegian Encore has been christened in Miami.

American singer, and godmother of the 3,998-passenger ship,  Kelly Clarkson performed a set in front of 3,500 guests in PortMiami.

The ceremony featured performances from the cast of Choir of Man and Kinky Boots, two productions guests can watch onboard Encore.

<> on November 21, 2019 in Miami, Florida.

Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said: “Norwegian Cruise Line has been sailing from Miami for over 50 years. We were the first to offer weekly cruises to the Caribbean.

“Five years ago, we launched our history-making Breakaway-Plus class and today we are proud to christen Norwegian Encore, the final ship of this class and a true representation of the evolution of the brand, right here in our hometown of Miami.”

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After the traditional blessings, Clarkson officially christened Norwegian Encore by breaking a bottle of champagne across the ship’s hull.

<> on November 21, 2019 in Miami, Florida.

Norwegian Encore’s sister ships are Bliss, Joy and Escape, the first Breakaway-Plus class vessel to launch in 2015.

Encore will offer seven-day voyages to the Eastern Caribbean from Miami, beginning from November 24.

Norwegian Encore draws applause for big views and thrills

The Observation Lounge on the Norwegian Encore offers ample seating and food and drink options.

The Observation Lounge on the Norwegian Encore offers ample seating and food and drink options. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin

ONBOARD THE NORWEGIAN ENCORE  — When Harry Sommer, the incoming president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, spoke to travel advisors aboard the line’s newest megaship, the Encore, he reeled off a list of its activities: 29 dining options, a collection of virtual reality games, laser tag and the 1,100-foot racetrack.

But surprisingly, it was the “huge, huge” observation lounge that elicited spontaneous applause from the travel advisors in the audience. 

“Prime waterfront property,” Sommer said. “I think some of our cruise line competition uses that to put cabins; we like all our guests to experience that type of view. The exact same view the captain gets from the bridge.”

He then deadpanned, “Though he hasn’t invited me yet.” 

Sommer wasn’t kidding when he said the observation lounge was huge. It takes up a generous chunk of Deck 15 and offers vistas both port and starboard plus two-deck-high, floor-to-ceiling windows over the bow. There are loungers galore for disappearing with a book plus couches grouped in conversational seatings.

The decor is done up in soothing shades of sea green, taupe and wood tones, and basket-style chandeliers are suspended from the very forward part of the room. Three buffet stations and a bar offer food and drink at various times of the day. 

Haven passengers get their own generously sized forward lounge on the deck above. 

The Encore is the billion-dollar finale in Norwegian’s Breakaway-Plus class, so many of the travel advisors who saw the ship in New York, like those who would later tour it in Miami, were familiar with the ship’s layout. Agents, media and Norwegian VIPs were able to tour and stay on the ship during a two-day visit to New York  —  a “cruise” in name only, as the Encore remained docked. 

The Encore is not too different from its sisters, although, of course, there are tweaks here and there. More than one travel advisor on the ship raved about the interior decor. More than one executive pointed to the design influence of Frank Del Rio, the CEO of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. 

A unique feature on the Encore that is destined to become a recurring feature on other ships is a new restaurant, Onda by Scarpetta, which specializes in upscale Italian cuisine. 

On the interior entrance, Onda is tucked behind Cellars, the wine bar runs in partnership with Michael Mondavi. But it’s also part of the wraparound Waterfront dining and drinking promenade and as such has tables for dining outdoors.

Also unique to the Encore is the slate of entertainment, and advisors I spoke with talked up the main-theatre productions of “Choir of Man,” which got two standing ovations during my viewing, and the Tony Award-winning musical “Kinky Boots.” 

In the category of super-active vacation, the Encore doesn’t disappoint. 

The Speedway go-kart racetrack is wider and longer than on other Breakaway-Plus ships, and each participant gets to drive for eight minutes, a suitable number of laps around the track. Passengers who aren’t into driving can watch the action from the observation platform.

Behind the go-karts is the laser tag zone, where teams of up to five players each are pitted against each other in the ruins of Atlantis. Adjacent is the gravity-defying Ocean Loops waterslide that twists and turns off the side of the ship. 

One deck below, passengers will find the Galaxy Pavilion, a collection of intense VR games, and yet another deck below that is the gym  —  and the spa, for when they’re ready to trade activity for a massage.

Another feature new to Norwegian, although not unique to the Encore, was the presence of water cartons instead of plastic bottles. In his remarks to agents (see a report, this page), Sommer talked about Norwegian’s investment in “doing the right thing,” which includes eliminating single-use plastic and plastic straws fleetwide.

“You can’t get a plastic straw on any of our ships,” he said. “Don’t ask.”

Cruise chiefs talk expansion, recession

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Norwegian Encore after float-out from Meyer Werft.

Another year, another non-recession.

How long can this go on?

It has been a decade since the so-called Great Recession bottomed out in June 2009. Since then the U.S. economy has experienced a remarkable 125 months of uninterrupted growth, breaking the 120-month record set by the 1991-2001 expansion.

Ten years of steady climbing has had a predictable effect on cruise sales. According to executives of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which recently reported third-quarter results, things couldn’t be better.

“I can’t stress enough the underlying strength of the business,” Frank Del Rio, CEO of NCLH said in a conference call with analysts.

Despite doing nothing strategically to extend the booking window, it expanded by 10% in the third quarter, Del Rio said, “underscoring consumers’ underlying appetite for cruising on our three brands.”

Cruise lines are at that happy point where, at least in North America, an abundance of bookings is creating scarcity, driving prices higher, and stampeding more consumers to book even earlier to lock-in early booking savings.

All good things come to an end, to be sure, but the chances of them coming to an end in 2020 aren’t that likely.

In its monthly survey of economists for November, the Wall Street Journal found that only 34.2% of economists expect the expansion to end in 2020, with another 29.3% saying it will end in 2021.

One of the main drivers of a classic recession, inflation, is expected to clock in at 1.9% in November, just below the Federal Reserve’s target. The unemployment rate next month is forecast at 3.6%, meaning most of the people who want a job have one, providing fuel for further consumer spending.

Economists used to talk about the Goldilocks economy – not too hot, not too cold – and without much fanfare, we may be in one. But one troubling footnote is that the growth in the current expansion – 25% since 2009 – has been only half as strong as the 42.6% growth in the 1991-2001 period.

“It’s been the slowest recovery in American history,” said RCCL chairman Richard Fain in a talk at Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld event last week.

Fain said that expansions don’t die of old age; there has to be a trigger, which right now isn’t blindingly obvious to most observers. He said that when the recession does come, the cruise industry will do okay.

He recalled that the Oasis of the Seas, then the biggest cruise ship in the world with a startling capacity for 5,400 guests, was delivered in 2009 when the economy was flat on its back.

“The truth is it did beautifully even in 2009. Oasis was gangbusters, and it was because it met a need,” Fain said.
He added that it was important that Royal Caribbean’s cost-cutting during the last recession didn’t cut from the guest-facing functions.

“Lots of businesses say ‘Oh business is bad, we’re not selling so many shoes, so we’ll cut costs and lay off some people.’ If we fill our ships, we can’t let one customer feel like we’ve cut back in order to make our earnings look better,” Fain said.

“We’re going to continue to function, continue to operate, continue to market because it’s the right thing to do to be in business five years from now,” Fain added. “And everybody in this room will remember what we do.”