Cruise cools to China

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By Tom Stieghorst
The cruise industry’s gold rush to China, if not over, has entered a new phase: For the first time in at least four years, cruise capacity in China will not grow in 2018.

That means that the focus and management attention that has been lavished on the world’s most populous country may now be turning elsewhere.

To hear evidence of that, listen to the list of places that Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio reeled off when asked if he’s ready to put the second ship in China.

“We have many other either unserved or underserved markets that we would also consider in the mix, should ships become available to us,” Del Rio said in response to a question from a Wells Fargo analyst. “We don’t have a presence in the mid-Atlantic states. We’re not in Baltimore. We’re not in Charleston. We don’t have a presence at all in the world’s second-largest port, which is Fort Lauderdale. We don’t have a presence in the Gulf States of Texas or Alabama. We don’t have a year-round presence in Tampa or New Orleans or in Los Angeles.”

Del Rio went on to say that the Norwegian Cruise Line brand will have three ships in Alaska this summer, where some competitors have as many as eight.

“So, given our fleet size today and the fact that we will only be taking one ship per year, it could be a couple of years before we consider adding more tonnage to China, if the conditions in the rest of the world remain as robust as they are today,” Del Rio said.

The Chinese boom really got going in 2014 when Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced it would devote its brand-new Quantum of the Seas, the first of a new class of ship, to the Chinese market.

In a world full of supposedly bold moves, that one really was. And it prompted other lines for the first time to put brand new ships in China, as everyone feared being left behind in the scramble to impress the Chinese.

Being the preferred brand in a market that was projected to be the biggest in the world in a decade or so was worth the gamble of putting brand new tonnage in an unproven and opaque market.

So when Princess Cruises sent the Majestic Princess to Shanghai last year and Norwegian sent the Norwegian Joy, in addition to the Quantum and ships from Costa Cruises and others, the result was a crowded field.

Throw into the mix the spat between China and South Korea that limited itineraries out of northern China, and China became a much weaker cruise market last year.

While cruise lines insist that they’re in it for the long haul, and even in the short term it has been profitable, the sense that China is going to deliver a big increase in global cruise revenues has been tempered.

Already Norwegian’s focus for 2018 has turned to introducing Norwegian Bliss to the North American market, and in particular the U.S. West Coast. Who knows where else in the U.S. Norwegian ships might be coming next?


Norwegian Cruise Line’s Bliss Will Draw West Coast Clients

Norwegian Cruise Line's Bliss Will Draw West Coast Clients
Norwegian Bliss, due in April 2018
The brand’s upcoming Norwegian Bliss ship, designed especially for Alaska sailings, is expected to appeal to West Coast-based clients

“It’s the first time we’ve had such a presence on the West Coast,” said Andy Stuart, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), during Virtuoso Travel Week, held at Bellagio Las Vegas.

The line’s upcoming Norwegian Bliss — what Stuart referred to as “our most incredible ship to date” — will launch operations on the West Coast in June 2018. It will bring new features to the American market, as well as employ highlights from two previous Breakaway Plus ships: Norwegian Escape and the Chinese market’s Norwegian Joy.

The 4,000-passenger Bliss will debut June 2, sailing a series of weeklong cruises to Alaska and departing Saturdays out of Seattle. Noting that it is the first time that a brand-new ship will launch Alaska cruises, Stuart pointed out that Bliss has been designed especially for Alaska, underlined by its hull art, titled “Cruising with the Whales.”

In addition to scenic glacier cruising, the vessel will make calls in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway in Alaska and Victoria, British Columbia, through September 2018. Starting Oct. 5, 2018, Bliss will initiate a month of weeklong Mexican Riviera cruises (roundtrip from Los Angeles), with visits to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. On Nov. 3, Bliss will set off on a 14-day Panama Canal cruise from Los Angeles to Miami, where the ship will spend its winter season offering Eastern Caribbean sailings.

According to Stuart, NCL’s Alaska cruises are quite popular, particularly because it is a bucket- list item for many travelers, and the line is also seeing more families booking the destination.

“As Alaska is very limited in berthing capabilities, the only way to increase capacity there is to bring a larger ship — and we think this is the right ship, offering compelling experiences for those new to cruising, plus those features that our loyal guests know and love,” he said.    Image result for norwegian bliss race track

Bliss will integrate the most popular features from previous ships, particularly on the top deck. There will be an expanded version of the electric car race track the debuted on Joy in China; it will be the longest race track at sea, at nearly 1,000 feet long, with four speed settings for the novice, intermediate and advanced drivers navigating its twists and turns. Another dramatic feature will be the open-air laser tag course, which will be designed as an abandoned space station in which guests can compete against one another while armed with state-of-the art laser guns.

In addition, Bliss’ top deck will have an Aqua Park with two multistory waterslides. The high-speed Ocean Loops will have one loop that extends out over the side of the ship and a second see-through loop down to the deck below. The tandem Aqua Racer slide will send guests racing side-by-side on inner tubes for more than 360 feet, with a translucent section that provides views of the sea.

Younger cruisers will have their own Kids’ Aqua Park, with splash pads, water cannons, tipping buckets and slides. And there will be segmented facilities for passengers ages 3 to 12, as well as for teenagers, who can enjoy their own space — dubbed Entourage — on deck 5. There will even be a Guppies playroom with sensory play activities for babies six months old to 3 years old.

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New dining will include Q, an a la carte Texas smokehouse restaurant where guests can choose from a selection of brisket, ribs, chicken, sausage and more that will be freshly smoked over hickory, oak and pecan woods. The eatery will also feature live contemporary pop country music. The new A-List Bar — named for Stuart — will serve cocktails, wine and premium spirits.

Signature beverages from Seattle and its surrounding region will be easy to find onboard Bliss: The ship will have the line’s first full-service Starbucks, and The District Brew House will serve 24 beers on tap and more than 50 bottled beers, along with bites from the adjacent Food Republic. Craft beer will come from Red Hook Brewery and Elysian Brewery in Seattle, as well as from Wynwood Brewery and M.I.A. Beer Company in Miami (a bow to later Caribbean itineraries). The Cellars, A Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar, will have a wine list that includes 35 grape varietals that encompass top selections from Washington-area vineyards; Tuscany, Italy; and Michael Mondavi’s own Napa Valley Estate.

The Local, a new complimentary, 24-hour dining concept, will offer guests pub fare in a relaxed atmosphere. Also new is Coco’s, where the scent of a chocolate fountain will summon passengers to its handmade pralines, truffles, crepes and other chocolatey pleasures paired with fine coffees and teas.

The indoor-outdoor Los Lobos, which made its debut in 2016 onboard Norwegian Dawn, will offer dishes from fresh guacamole prepared tableside to al pastor tacos and enchiladas de mole, along with margaritas featuring NCL’s own tequila blend.

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Bliss will also feature both smoking and non-smoking casinos to cater to all guest preferences, and the lineup of entertainment will include Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys.” The ship will have two observation lounges, including the exclusive Horizon Lounge (for guests of The Haven), which will have vantage points for whale watching in Alaska.

Stuart expects that the array of innovative features onboard Bliss will introduce the NCL brand to West Coast clients. A ship especially designed for Alaska was a big step, but Stuart notes that Alaska sailings are heavily North American-sourced.

“At the moment, we feel the North American market is very strong,” he said. “Consumer confidence is up, and our guests are planning their vacations further out than they have in past years. Alaska sailings are typically stronger sourced from the West Coast, where as a brand we have tended to be stronger in East coast sourcing. We felt that bringing Bliss to the West Coast would give us an opportunity to bring a strong, exciting product to an audience who may not be as familiar with our brand. New ships are a great opportunity to get those who are new to cruising or new to your brand interested in sailing with you — someone who is wowed by the idea of a race track on a cruise ship will be drawn in to learn more about the brand, and ultimately the destination will drive their purchasing decision.”

Agents enthused about Norwegian Bliss

The Haven is one of agents’ favorite features on Norwegian Cruise Line ships. Pictured, a rendering of The Haven’s restaurant on Norwegian Bliss.

LAS VEGAS — Agents praised Norwegian Cruise Line’s history of innovation after seeing the new features planned for the Norwegian Bliss, unveiled at Virtuoso Travel Week here.

Among the Bliss’ attractions are a go-cart course longer than the one that first debuted aboard the Norwegian Joy, an enclosed water slide that projects riders out over the side of the ship and an outdoor laser-tag course.

It will feature some new restaurants — like upscale barbecue eatery Q and a sweets emporium dedicated to chocolate called Coco — as well as some old favorites like Cagney’s.

Andy Stuart, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, said the mix of new and old is all about balance.

“We’re trying to bring a lot of new innovations, things our guests have never seen, and combine them with the things our guests absolutely love,” he said.

The agents in attendance for Norwegian’s announcement took notice of that, and said the cruise line has always been a leader in innovation.

“The Bliss just kind of ups the entertainment part. Norwegian Cruise Line has always been really excellent, and really the best, on their entertainment — that shines for them,” said Nancy K. Yale, president of Cruise and World Travel in Fairfield, Conn.

She said the go-carts in particular are a feature that will attract all ages, and called them an “interesting concept.”

John Maguire, CEO and president of Morristown, N.J.-based, also pointed to the innovative features on the Bliss as a highlight.

“They’re always first in innovation,” Maguire said of Norwegian. “They’re always out there doing things other people aren’t doing.”

Lea Nielsen,’s vice president of sales, said she was excited about the dining venues, especially the new additions.

According to Stuart, The Haven on the Bliss will be the largest ever built, something Virtuoso agents will find attractive. The Haven features the line’s largest and most well-appointed accommodations and exclusive venues for guests staying there.

Yale called The Haven “the thing I like most” about Norwegian Cruise Line ships.

“The Haven is an upscale, ship-within-a-ship, and the service and everything up there is as good as any of the luxury cruise lines. It is great for family vacations and multigenerational groups.”

In addition to showing agents renderings of the Bliss and its features, Norwegian also enabled them to experience it live using virtual reality. They could don headsets and virtually ride a go-cart or slide down the water slide, among other experiences.