Seatrade Cruise Global: NCL’s Project Leonardo, Destination News and More

Project Leonardo, Norwegian Cruise Line's next class of ships, features lots of deck space and a cutting edge design

Travel Agent “sailed along” at Seatrade Cruise Global conference in Port Everglades, FL, this week to interact with cruise executives, attend press briefings and uncover all the latest news for agents.

Agents can read about the opening session’s State of the Industry here, as well as the “reveals” about Celebrity Edge at PortMiami and Holland America’s pre-show unveiling of Explorations Central.

Here's an update of additional cruise news, feature items, tidbits and statistics from around the show. Look for another update later today. 

Project Leonardo: Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, talked to reporters Wednesday afternoon at a press conference and provided a snapshot of some of the hot news surrounding Project Leonardo, the line's next phase of new ship construction.

The line announced several weeks ago that it had placed an order for four vessels with options for two more. Deliveries begin in 2022 and continue one per year through 2025. Options, if exercised, would mean deliveries in the following two years. "So it could be a six-ship order extending all the way to 2027," said Del Rio.

"I've done my best to look in the crystal ball and figure out what's going to be hot, what's going to be cool, what's going to be the best thing that guests want in a ship in 2027," he said. 

Continuing the industry trend of bringing the sea closer, this vessel has -- at the lower decks -- a huge expanse of area -- where guests will find infinity pools, restaurants and beach-like elements so people can connect with the sea. The rendering of the new ship is shown above. 

Each vessel will be 140,000 tons, so Project Leonardo ships will be smaller than the line's Getaway-Plus class ships. That's not typically how the industry goes. "Well, we're famous for always going against the grain," said Del Rio.

But he stresses that while the vessel is large, "not all destinations in the world can handle 4,000 or 5,000 passenger ships effectively, so we believe these vessels are the perfect size," he said. They provide a good return on investment yet also deliver flexibility in deployment. 

The line also talked about its third Breakaway-Plus class ship, Norwegian Bliss, which will debut in June 2018, sailing Alaska itineraries. It's the first ship purpose-built for Alaska with a 22,000 square foot Observation Lounge, which will provide 180 degree views. It will have a granite bar with a snazzy modern look. 

Norwegian Bliss, sailing from Seattle, will operate from Pier 66, which is being updated and expanded with a significant increase in check-in space, new passenger loading bridges and more.

Most notably, the Norwegian Bliss' ship-within-a ship complex, The Haven, will be the fleet's largest. It will have the same number of suites, 81, but the public space will be sizably increased with such features as a new two-story Observation Deck, private pool and four whirlpools and more. 

MSC Growth & Year-Round Ship: Continuing to build its presence in the North American market, MSC Cruises announced it will have three cruise ships sailing from PortMiami by late 2019.

Those will include MSC Divina, currently sailing year-round to the Caribbean from Miami; the new MSC Seaside, a vessel purpose-built for warm weather cruising, which will home port in Miami starting later this year; and the new MSC Meraviglia, which will arrive late in 2019. 

“Thanks to our 11 new mega ships investment program and the new capacity that we are adding to our fleet in connection with it, we are now in a position to significantly expand our global presence in North America,” said Roberto Fusaro, president of MSC Cruises USA. “We have worked to be able to offer guests a range of different experiences out of North America.”

Fusaro noted that the deployment entails “our three newest, most innovative classes of ships. Sizably increasing MSC Cruises’ North American capacity, the two larger vessels, MSC Seaside and MSC Meraviglia, will sail year-round, while the current year-round ship, MSC Divina, will sail seasonally and head for Europe in summer 2019. 

MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside will also be first in the Swiss-based line’s fleet to introduce the line’s new “MSC for Me” digital concierge program, including everything from digital way finders to interactive wristbands, virtual reality elements and a digital personal advisor.

Campeche Cruise Potential: This state in Mexico’s Yucatan was at Seatrade promoting its potential as a Gulf of Mexico cruise destination. Campeche’s current ports include Seybaplaya, which has served such small oceangoing ships as Ponant’s Le Levant. However, the State of Campeche is now developing a port feasibility study about enhancing its ability to serve new cruise ships.   

Alejandro Manzanilla, director of API Campeche, the state’s port authority, said Campeche offers new experiences and off-the-beaten-path explorations including archaeological and architectural sites, Maya and Spanish history, multiple museums, nature reserves and a burgeoning culinary scene. 

“This wealth of attractions located within a relatively small radius represents a unique opportunity to present cruisers with a new destination capable of offerings a diverse range of shore excursions,” said Manzanilla, who was meeting with cruise line personnel at Seatrade to discuss the potential. 

Sel de Mer Night at Pinnacle Grill: Holland America’s executive chef, Rudy Sodamin, told reporters attending a press briefing at Port Everglades that the highly popular new seafood restaurant Sel de Mer, which is on Koningsdam, will come as an experience to the line’s other ships via a special Sel de Mer night once per cruise within the Pinnacle Grill

Orlando Ashford, the line’s president, told Travel Agent that it would be a complete experience for that one night – with the same menu and seafood dishes served in Sel de Mer and that wait staff would be attired for that one night in the same uniforms as those seen in Sel de Mer on Koningsdam

Grenada Maiden Calls: This Caribbean island, which has beaches, historical sites, rum production and a  nutmeg factory to explore, among other tourism draws, is welcoming many cruise ship maiden calls by cruise industry vessels. Calling for the first time this winter were TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 5, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer; Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess, Holland America’s Rotterdam, and Seabourn Cruise Line’s Seabourn Odyssey

Next up? Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity will call there on April 4. Several new tours and excursions beckon cruise visitors this year. These include new dune buggy island tours by Sun Hunters; Calypso Island, a new private eco-island for dining and watersports; and the Grenada High Wire Zip Line Challenge and Canopy Obstacle Course, opening in mid-2017.

Tracking and Managing the Fleet: Carnival Corporation, which has a fleet of 102 ships for multiple brands, is expanded its Fleet Operations Centers with the opening of a new facility in Seattle, its second. The first operates from Hamburg, Germany. In addition, Carnival will open a third center later this year in Miami at Carnival Corp.’s corporate headquarters. 

The Hamburg center utilizes a new, state-of-the-art, Microsoft Cloud-based tracking and data-analysis platform called Neptune, which sizably improves communication from ship to shore and enhances safety at sea with comprehensive real-time data. The new technology is currently deployed at the Hamburg facility and will be introduced in Seattle and Miami this year. 

Cruising Down Under: Jill Abel, CEO, Australian Cruise Association, a cooperative marketing brand which represents Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia, reports the association’s new 12th Economic Impact Report shows growth in regional port visits -- 40 cruise ship visits last year, up from 30 the previous year. In addition, 46 cruise ships in total visited Australia including eight new ships.
Abel said all indicators point to this growth curve continuing with eight new ships slated to visit Australia in the 2016-17 season including upscale Azamara Quest and Royal Caribbean International’s Ovation of the Seas, the biggest ship to sail from Australia. 

This week at Seatrade Cruise Global, the association is talking to cruise lines about “how our members guarantee that the passenger experience on shore complements the experience onboard the ship so that cruising to, and around, Australia remains a number one option for international and domestic travelers.” 

In the next few days, Association members also will travel to Seattle and Los Angeles to meet with cruise lines and conduct itinerary and destination training for their reservations agents.