To agents’ delight, new cruise ships steaming for the West Coast

The Norwegian Bliss, shown here in a rendering, will make a June debut in Seattle.LONG BEACH, Calif. — For years, agents on the West Coast have pleaded with suppliers to put new cruise ships in ports near their clients. Now they’re getting their wish.

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.”

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Venice Cruise Traffic Plateaus For Now

Ongoing vessel tonnage restrictions in Venice have capped cruise traffic for now, with a limit of 96,000 tons. In 2017 the classic Italian port is looking at a forecast of 473 calls and just over 1.4 million passengers, which is down from 2016. Next year looks set to be similar to 2017, according to a port spokesperson.

Meanwhile, government officials are still working to lock down an alternative route for larger ships to reach the port facilities.

New callers in 2017 include the AIDAblue, the Artemis, Norwegian Star, Silver Muse, Seabourn Encore, Arethusa, and both the Viking Sky and Sun.

The board of directors for VTP (the port authority) agreed earlier this year not to adjust berth fees in order to help foster growth.

Future growth will need to depend on the identification and availability of a new alternative route for ships to reach port facilities – thus allowing large ships to use Venice again. The port spokesperson also told Cruise Industry News that they want to increase their week-day call portfolio. VTP offers 10 terminal choices.

Norwegian Cruise Line Alters Norwegian Star Itinerary Due to Propulsion Issue

Norwegian Star Photo credit by Dave Jones

Weeks after repairs to Norwegian Star’s starboard-side azipod, a separate propulsion-related problem forced the line to alter the ship’s itineraries.

Problems arose in the 2,240-passenger ship’s port-side azipod midway through a 33-night Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand cruise that departed January 16 from Hong Kong. Azipods are engine components that help propel and maneuver ships.

Norwegian Star suffered a separate mechanical issue in December 2016 that affected its starboard-side azipod and forced the cruise line to alter itineraries. The cruise line fixed the starboard-side azipod and says the current azipod problem is unrelated.

To ensure the ship arrives in Sydney as scheduled February 6, the cruise line canceled calls at Komodo Island, Airlie Beach and Brisbane; it will instead call at Darwin and spend an additional three days at sea, according to Norwegian Cruise Line. The ship will leave Sydney as scheduled February 6 but will forego stops in Burnie, Milford Sound and Napier, adding a second day in Melbourne and two additional days at sea.

Itineraries for the February 18 and February 24 cruises are being finalized and will be shared with passengers in the coming days, according to a cruise line statement.

According to the statement, released Friday night: “The ship’s system experienced a technical malfunction on January 24, which resulted in the ship’s speed being restricted from full capacity. This is a very unusual situation and unrelated to the issue the ship experienced in December.

“Norwegian Cruise Line sincerely apologizes for this unexpected but necessary change in itinerary for our guests onboard this and the following cruises. We understand that our guests were looking forward to the original itinerary, and it is always our intention to sail that whenever possible.

“All guest activities, amenities and services onboard the ship are functioning normally. While the speed of the vessel has been affected, there has been no interruption to any guest services and there are no safety concerns. Safety and security is, and will always remain, our number one priority.”

Cruise Critic members onboard Norwegian Star reported passenger protests. Fieryme, who shared a video on the cruise’s Cruise Critic Roll Call, said: “The atrium on two floors were packed and everywhere I turn everyone is talking about it.”

Norwegian is sending members of its leadership team in Australia, including Senior Vice President and Managing Director Asia Pacific Steve Odell, to board the ship Sunday. They’ll hold a town hall meeting with passengers and answer questions.

The cruise line also is offering compensation to passengers as follows:

  • Passengers currently onboard will receive a total of $500 per person in onboard credit. The payment can be used onboard or refunded via mail at the conclusion of the cruise. They’ll also receive a 50 percent  future cruise credit of their cruise fare paid that can be used within the next three years.
  • Passengers scheduled to sail on the February 6 12-night cruise from Sydney will receive a $250 onboard credit per person, plus a 25 percent future cruise credit of their cruise fare paid, to be used within two years;
  • Passengers scheduled to sail on the February 18 19-night cruise from Auckland will receive a $500 onboard credit per person, plus a 50 percent future cruise credit of their cruise fare paid, to be used within two years;
  • Passengers scheduled to sail on the February 18 six-night cruise from Auckland will receive a $150 onboard credit per person, plus a 50 percent future cruise credit of their cruise fare paid, to be used within two years;
  • Passengers booked on the February 24 13-night cruise from Auckland will receive a $350 onboard credit per person, plus a 50 percent future cruise credit of their cruise fare paid, to be used within two years.

Norwegian says it will reach out to affected passengers with information as it becomes available; alternatively, passengers booked on any of the affected cruises can call the guest services team at 1-800-327-7030 for information.

Norwegian Star also altered itineraries in October 2015 because of an azipod problem.