Having announced its highly-anticipated decision to return to sail, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), the third largest cruise line in the world, has new itineraries sailing Europe and The Caribbean beginning July 25, 2021. Restarting operations at a reduced capacity with Norwegian Jade, Joy and Gem as the first of its 17-ship fleet to welcome guests back on board, the cruise line has been working closely with destination partners and other stakeholders to help provide not only a safe vacation but an exceptional experience for cruisers. Excerpts from an interview with Ben Angell, NCL’s Managing Director Asia Pacific on the cruise market in a post-Covid world.
ETTravelWorld (ETTW): How does NCL intend to position itself in the post-Covid cruise market?
Ben Angell (BA): We are a premium contemporary international cruise line. The recent launch of our new class of ships reinforces our position at the top of our segment. For the first time in nearly 10 years we are launching a new class of ships. The Prima Class will see a new ship launch every year from 2022 through 2027.
ETTW: Are you witnessing any new booking trends?
BA: We are seeing travellers investing in their holidays in a multitude of ways. For example, we’re seeing more guests invest in balconies and upgraded cabins, including The Haven by Norwegian. In addition, we see an uptake in extended family and group bookings, as guests look forward to socialising again and spending quality time with their loved ones. In 2022 and 2023, guests are also investing in trips further afield. Bookings for our European, Alaska or Hawaii itineraries, for example, are rising in popularity. This demonstrates holidaymakers’ desire to break free and tick off more destinations from their holiday bucket list.
ETTW: You chose Europe and the Caribbean for your July return, was the timeline too early for Asia?
BA: We have been working on a variety of sailing schedules to determine the best approach for our redeployment. The vessels announced so far are just the beginning and we continue to liaise with various governments and agencies worldwide to determine further opportunities for the roll-out of our fleet. While we might not be able to announce the redeployment of a ship in Asia just now, we are very excited to announce that Norwegian Sun will make her local debut in October this year. She will offer year-round sailings in the region, calling to several new port destinations including the likes of Muara in Brunei, along with Manila and Coron in the Philippines. In addition to that, the newly refurbished Norwegian Spirit will arrive in Asia in November this year to offer select voyages to some of Asia Pacific’s most stunning destinations, ranging from pristine vistas of New Zealand and the hidden gems of Japan to the cultural paradise of China as well as the bustling vibrancy of Thailand.
ETTW: How is the demand for cruises coming out of Asia?
BA: We see a great pent-up demand for cruising in many areas of the world, including Asia, despite the region’s travel restrictions. Among our most popular sailings in Asia are currently our Chinese New Year sailings out of Hong Kong in 2022 as well as the Japan voyages for next year’s cherry blossom season.
ETTW: What role will travel bubbles play in the return of the cruise sector?
BA: Varying national and regional travel guidelines are a challenge for us and the entire cruise industry when it comes to effectively planning itineraries; this is currently the greatest roadblock in our relaunch journey. On the guest side it also leads to confusion and uncertainty. We therefore welcome travel bubbles or travel clusters among multiple countries with similar guidelines as they provide guests with clarity and reassurance and allow us to plan our itineraries more safely and efficiently.
ETTW: What is your opinion on vaccine passports?
BA: Vaccine passports are an effective way to allow travel while at the same time ensuring public health.
ETTW: Any update for the India market?
BA: Our return to service announcement has been very well received by the Indian travel trade community and there is great enthusiasm amongst travel partners for more cruise business in the future. We are confident that once the situation improves in India, the business will grow from strength to strength due to the great pent-up demand we see in the country. Already now we are experiencing a gradual increase of passenger volume for the sail years 2022 and 2023. Our three top booked products from India include Norwegian Epic’s Western Mediterranean itinerary, Norwegian Jade’s Greek Isle voyages and Norwegian Bliss’ Alaska sailings. Our thoughts and best wishes are with our India based team and our partners and we hope the situation will improve soon.
ETTW: What can cruisers look forward to onboard the Norwegian Prima?
BA: As part of the Prima Class, Norwegian Prima, the first of the six ships, will accommodate 3,215 guests at double occupancy and will offer the highest staffing levels and space ratio of any new cruise ship in the contemporary and premium cruise category – something we know will resonate very well with our audience in Asia. Further highlights include a stunning Ocean Boulevard, a vast outdoor area located on deck that wraps around the entire ship, offering guests amazing ocean views while having the choice to partake in numerous exceptional outdoor activities, as well as our first-ever upscale food market, Indulge Food Hall. Created to elevate the guest-sensory experience, it offers visitors diverse menu items from a variety of 11 culinary venues as well as a mix of indoor and outdoor seating. Food choices range from American Southern comfort food and barbecue at Q Texas Smokehouse to Tamara, preparing classic Indian dishes and multiple vegetarian food options to Just Ice Cream serving all guest favourite ice cream flavors and over-the-top decadent creations. To provide guests with an unrivalled experience in luxury cruising, The Haven by Norwegian on Norwegian Prima has been elevated to offer our most exclusive and centralized suite complex. Spanning eight decks of suites and public areas, it provides guests with private amenities, dedicated services and the most luxurious accommodations on board. For the first time, we have relocated all 107 Haven suites to the aft (the rear of the ship) within close proximity of private elevators exclusively reserved for Haven guests. We have further evolved The Haven’s design to be more open to the sea than ever before. For the first time, every public area in The Haven offers stunning sea and destination views. The Haven Courtyard on Norwegian Prima has been transformed into an expansive Haven Sundeck, boasting a stunning new infinity pool overlooking the ship’s wake and a new outdoor spa with a glass-walled sauna and cold room.