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.

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Norwegian Star to sail Asia and Australia cruises

Norwegian Star in Cabo San Lucas, by Dave Jones

By Jerry Limone

Norwegian Cruise Line will sail to destinations in Asia and Australia for the first time since 2002, operating voyages from six ports in fall/winter 2016-17 on the Norwegian Star.

Itineraries will depart from Istanbul, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Auckland, New Zealand. Highlights include the line’s first visits to India and the Persian Gulf, a series of Southeast Asia cruises and two Australia/New Zealand voyages (one 12-day and one 19-day cruise). The Southeast Asia cruises feature overnight stays in Bangkok.

Also in winter 2016-17, the Norwegian Epic will return to Florida after more than a year in Europe, sailing eastern and western Caribbean itineraries from Port Canaveral. The Norwegian Jade will replace Norwegian Star in Tampa, mainly sailing an itinerary that visits the Mexican Caribbean; Roatan in Honduras’ Bay Islands; and Harvest Caye, Norwegian’s new private destination in Belize.

Starting next summer, the Norwegian Spirit will replace the Epic as the line’s year-round European ship, sailing Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona, Venice and Istanbul.

In addition to Norwegian’s previously scheduled Panama Canal cruises in February, the line has added two 14-day Panama Canal sailings from Los Angeles and Miami on the Norwegian Jewel, on Feb. 5, 2017, and Feb. 19, 2017. The Caribbean cruises go on sale Aug. 24.

Caribbean sailings for fall/winter 2016-17 will go on sale Aug. 19, and all other destinations go on sale Aug. 24.

 

Pandaw: Proven ships, new waters

It’s been 20 years since Scotsman Paul Strachan started taking people up and down the Irrawaddy River on a single chartered vessel in Myanmar. Since 1995, the founder of Singapore-based Pandaw River Expeditions has grown his enterprise in Southeast Asia into a fleet of 12 ships (and counting) and is now once again looking for that next unexplored stretch of river.

“In the last year, I thought, ‘We’d better do some more pioneering,'” said Strachan, who has in recent years been joined by a rapidly growing number of river cruise lines in Southeast Asia. “So, it’s exciting times. We’re opening up Laos, we’re building a ship there … and then we’ve got the Red River, up in the north of Vietnam … and we’re looking at possibly putting a couple Pandaw ships in India.”

As competition heats up in Southeast Asia with a flood of new river cruise vessels in Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, Pandaw is hoping to separate itself from the pack by introducing ever more remote and exotic river cruise destinations, while at the same time remaining true to its original vision.

“The ships we build today are much the same as the ships we built 20 years ago,” Strachan said. “They are the same style, which is something we believe in passionately. Something that is fundamental about Pandaw ships is that they are exactly how ships were 100 years ago on the Irrawaddy, and they were designed like that for a reason.”

Today's Pandaw vessels take their design cues from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Co. vessels of yesteryear.
Today’s Pandaw vessels take their design cues from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Co. vessels of yesteryear.

Pandaw emerged from the ashes of the Scottish-owned Irrawaddy Flotilla Co., which in its 1920s heyday consisted of a fleet of more than 600 passenger and cargo vessels. In 1998, Strachan acquired the Pandaw, a steamboat built in Scotland in 1947 that he renovated and operated for several years. That vessel is now operated by Myanmar-based Ayravata Cruises. Strachan’s company built its first ship in 2001 to be almost a replica of the original Pandaw.

The look and feel of those Irrawaddy Flotilla vessels — colonial-style, three-deck ships with wraparound balconies — remain the unifying design of Pandaw vessels today even as newcomers such as AmaWaterways, Sanctuary Retreats, Haimark Travel and Aqua Expeditions have emerged on the Southeast Asia river cruise scene with larger vessels, indoor hallways, sprawling suites, spas and swimming pools.

“I know we sound very old-fashioned,” Strachan said. “But really, our clients, who tend to be very adventurous, very seasoned travelers, they’re not coming for the pool or the Jacuzzi. They do not want these things. And I’m afraid we’re very stick-in-the-mud about this.”

Instead, Strachan is focused on building river cruise vessels that foster a more social atmosphere with ample public spaces. The wraparound balconies, for instance, encourage guests to mingle and also facilitate the movement of fresh air as the vessels sail, something Strachan says is both a comfort and safety issue, offering stability to vessels that have more shallow drafts.

The simplicity and practicality of the design as well as the smaller size of the vessels is what the Pandaw founder says enables the company to explore further along various rivers in Southeast Asia and ultimately bring clients to more off-the-beaten-track destinations.

Pandaw’s new cruises

While the design of the Pandaw vessels hasn’t changed much in 20 years, more recently the company is pushing the envelope with new river cruise routes. This November, Pandaw is introducing a Mekong River sailing through Laos on the newly constructed, 20-passenger Laos Pandaw.

Pandaw's new itinerary in Laos launches in November.
Pandaw’s new itinerary in Laos launches in November.

The vessel will sail an 11-day itinerary that will begin in the French colonial city of Vientiane and continue north to Ban Paklay, Pak Lai, Tha Deua and the Unesco World Heritage site of Luang Prabang. There will be a stop at the Pak Ou Caves, and the itinerary will end in Chiang Khong, Thailand.

The Laos Pandaw is being custom-built with a shallow draft to sail the Upper Mekong. The staterooms will measure 180 square feet each, and there will also be an open-air lounge; a bistro-style dining room with outside seating and air conditioning inside; and a bar that will be open around the clock. The cruise-only price starts at $3,250 per person, based on double occupancy. Pandaw pricing includes all excursions, crew gratuities, meals, nonpremium drinks and airport transfers.

Additionally, Pandaw has introduced an 11-day Halong Bay and the Red River itinerary that will initiate a new route along Vietnam’s Red River. The sailing will take place on the 32-passenger Angkor Pandaw, which will reposition from the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia at the end of June.

Vietnam's Lower Red River, part of a new Pandaw itinerary for 2015.
Vietnam’s Lower Red River, part of a new Pandaw itinerary for 2015.

The itinerary will begin in Halong Bay. From there, the river cruise will head up the Kinh Thay River and on to the Duong River. There will be two days of sightseeing in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, before continuing on to the Upper and Lower Red River.

The Angkor Pandaw was built in Ho Chi Minh City in 2012. It features 16 staterooms at 170 square feet each, and the public spaces consist of a main dining room, bar, lounge, shop and library. The cruise-only price starts at $2,340 per person, based on double occupancy.

Pandaw is testing the waters beyond Southeast Asia, as well. The company is chartering some vessels in India this year, with the hopes of perhaps introducing its own vessels there in the coming year. For 2015, Pandaw offered a single, 16-day departure on India’s Ganges and Hooghly rivers on the 40-passenger Rajmahal, which has already sold out.

Pandaw's new Ganges itinerary begins in the holy city of Varanasi.
Pandaw’s new Ganges itinerary begins in the holy city of Varanasi.

There is also a new eight-day cruise on the Brahmaputra River in northeastern India onboard the 46-passenger Mahabaahu, with departures starting next month.

The cruise will visit the largest river island in the world and will include an encounter with the Mishing people who inhabit India’s Assam region. Pandaw guests will also learn more about the aromatic tea the region is known for. Included will be an excursion to Kaziranga National Park and areas known for their single-horned rhinos, buffalos, Indian tigers and river dolphins. The snow-covered Himalayan Mountain range can be seen from the Brahmaputra River. The cruise-only price starts at $2,430 per person, based on double occupancy.

The company also added four departures of a new seven-day itinerary in southern India’s Kerala region starting in December, which includes a three-night land program in Cochin and a three-night cruise aboard the 18-passenger Vaikundam from Thottapally through Kanjipada and on to the Champakkulam village. The Backwaters of Kerala trip is priced from $1,530, based on double occupancy.

The Pak Ou Caves in Laos will be a stop on Pandaw's new Laos itinerary.
The Pak Ou Caves in Laos will be a stop on Pandaw’s new Laos itinerary.

“We’re constantly trying to go further and further up these rivers into remoter areas. That’s our ambition,” said Strachan, adding that Pandaw is hoping to ultimately introduce an itinerary that will include all six countries through which the Mekong River flows: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China.

Getting permission to sail across the border into China has proven the biggest challenge and is what the company is working toward in order to be able to eventually offer a complete Mekong sailing.

Strachan said that he also isn’t opposed to looking at opportunities beyond Asia in places like the Amazon, for instance, if he were to find the right partners.

Courting more Americans

Pandaw’s largest customer base consists of Australians, followed by Brits and then Americans. But that’s something the company is hoping to change.

“We’re trying to grow our direct-sales market in America,” Strachan said, referring to Pandaw’s desire to sell more of its product directly to agents and consumers in the U.S., rather than predominantly through partner river cruise lines and operators. “That’s very important to us. We’re working on that.”

Pandaw doesn’t currently have a U.S. office, but San Francisco-based Sayang Holidays is the company’s preferred agent in the U.S. for booking Pandaw vacations.

Pandaw's new seven-day itinerary in southern India's Kerala region includes a three-night cruise aboard the 18-passenger Vaikundam.
Pandaw’s new seven-day itinerary in southern India’s Kerala region includes a three-night cruise aboard the 18-passenger Vaikundam.

As U.S. river cruise lines have been expanding beyond Europe into Southeast Asia over the past five years, many of them have partnered with Pandaw on various charters on the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers, including Viking Cruises, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Avalon Waterways.

But as demand for Southeast Asia picked up, so has shipbuilding competition. Pandaw isn’t the only game in town anymore. Some companies, such as AmaWaterways, forged their own shipbuilding partnerships in the region to develop ships they partially own, while others, such as Haimark Travel, are working to build vessels and partner with U.S. companies on charters, similar to what Pandaw has done.

In fact, Haimark was formed in 2012 by a group of three former Pandaw employees who struck out on their own. The Breckenridge, Colo.-based company has come on very strong in the last two years, building luxury vessels in Southeast Asia and India, which many U.S. companies, including Uniworld and Abercrombie & Kent, are now chartering.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to them. It’s amazing how they’ve grown so quickly,” Strachan said of Haimark. “It’s a completely different style from us, it’s a different market they’re going for.”

As for Pandaw’s market, the company continues to operate charters for several U.S. operators.

Last year, Pandaw hired Hugh Clayson to serve in the newly created role of commercial director. Clayson oversaw the opening of a global sales and marketing office for Pandaw in West London.