Norwegian Bliss entering Southampton, photo by Dave Jones
Norwegian Cruise Line will deploy an additional ship in Europe next summer.
The 2,394-passenger Norwegian Pearl will offer ex-Amsterdam itineraries and sailings from Rome, Barcelona and Venice, having spent the 2018 summer season sailing out of the US.
Pearl will join five other NCL vessels in Europe: Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Star and Norwegian Jade.
The sailings will go on sale on July 31, while Norwegian Jade and Spirit’s new 2019 programme will become available to sell on August 6.
NCL will deploy Norwegian Spirit in China from the summer of 2020, but next year it will operate ex-Southampton itineraries.
Nick Wilkinson, NCL’s vice president and managing director of UK & Ireland, said the decision was made in response to customer demand from Europe.
He said: “If you look at the robust demand environment around the world which was demonstrated by Norwegian Bliss – the best selling ship in our history – customers were booking nine, 12 and 18 months in advance.
“The message to the trade is this is our commitment to Europe. There are some great itineraries in the programme which gives agents more choice to offer their clients. The new home port in Amsterdam or Rome, for example.”
The 2,000 passenger-capacity Norwegian Spirit vessel will undergo a bow-to-stern revamp as part of the Norwegian Edge fleet refurbishment.
Spirit’s journey from Europe to Asia will feature sailings which include maiden calls for the line in South Africa, Mauritius, Seychelles and the Maldives.
Jade will offer a season of sailings throughout south-east Asia, departing from Singapore and Hong Kong in winter 2019/20.
Ports of call include in-demand locations such as Phuket, Langkawi, Penang, Bangkok (Laem Chabang), Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Long Bay.
Frank Del Rio, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’s president and chief executive, said: “The booming demand environment in our core markets around the world, coupled with Norwegian Bliss’ record-breaking performance, continue to exceed our expectations.
“As a result, we are leveraging the strategic benefits of our growing fleet to quickly seize sizeable opportunities in overperforming, and unserved markets to meet the demands of our global customer base and drive higher returns for our shareholders.”
This year, the Norwegian Bliss will make a June debut in Seattle, the first time a new Norwegian Cruise Line ship has been stationed in the West since the Norwegian Star began sailing in Hawaii in 2001.
Next year, Carnival Cruise Line will launch its latest ship, the Carnival Panorama, in Long Beach, Calif., while Royal Caribbean International will move the Ovation of the Seas, just 2 years old, to Seattle.
Together, the three ships will add more than 12,000 new or nearly new lower berths, at least seasonally, to the West Coast market.
“It’s very exciting. There’s been a big need out here for a long time,” said Betsy Geiser, vice president at Uniglobe Travel in Irvine, Calif. “Historically, it’s been older ships and smaller ships. Carnival’s making a big improvement by bringing [the Panorama] here.”
With their proximity to the Caribbean, East Coast ports, particularly Miami and Fort Lauderdale, have long been the default homeports when a new vessel emerges from the shipyard.
In recent years, ports such as New York have also benefitted as fleets grew and lines cultivated new markets.
But in a sense, the West Coast is the cradle of the industry, said John Mast, vice president of marketing for Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Vancouver.
“It’s important to remember that Princess, with that run down to Mexico, sort of kicked off the U.S. cruise industry in many ways,” Mast said.
The California-Mexico itinerary, immortalized in “The Love Boat” television show, is still a mainstay of the market. Carnival plans to enrich Ensenada with new port activities in a bid to make Long Beach one of its biggest hubs.
“I think there’s been a renaissance going on for the West Coast, and I think that Carnival’s investment is a very strong indicator of that,” Mast said.
There are several reasons why the region is enjoying a rebirth, Mast said. One is the recent expansion of the Panama Canal. Before 2016, the cruise industry’s newest and largest ships couldn’t fit through the locks. Now that a wider channel has been opened, it is easier to move most large ships back and forth.
Also, after several years in which European cruise seasons were marred by terrorist activity, domestic ports have become more attractive long-term investments, especially in excursion-rich Alaska.
Mast said the new ships, with their go-kart tracks and Imax theatres, can help attract a younger demographic to Alaska.
“It seems kind of gimmicky to have a racetrack on the roof,” he said, “but the reality is that Alaska is a wonderful summer vacation for families. Families are a huge market. If I know kids, that will immediately get them excited, and we know that kids play a role in forming the vacation choice.”
For agents, the practical impact of having news ships on the West Coast is that they are easier and more profitable to sell.
Anita Pagliasso, president of Ticket to Travel in San Jose, Calif., said, “Cruisers are very excited about something new. It becomes lucrative because the pricing’s always higher when a brand new ship comes out, so the higher the pricing, the higher the commission. It goes hand in hand, I think.”
Pagliasso said the opportunities extended beyond West Coast agents.
“I think some of the feedback I got, even some of the agents in the Midwest, was that [clients] have gone to Florida enough, and they want something different,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for not only West Coast agents to promote these ships but other agents who have clients who have done all the cruising out of Florida and are looking for something new and exciting.”