NCL hopes to tap into Tampa’s growing popularity among cruisers
On a hot day in Miami in 2001, I watched entertainment personality Brooke Burke name Norwegian Star in a dual christening ceremony in which the ship’s fleet-mate Norwegian Sun was christened by Angela Perez Baraquio, the reigning Miss America. The two Norwegian Cruise Line ships were docked bow to bow, appearing as sleek bookends, shimmering in the sunlight.
In a déjà vu move, NCL will position the two ships as bookends of sorts once again for the winter sailing season of 2011-12. They’ll sandwich central Florida’s tourism playgrounds—with the Norwegian Star homeported along Florida’s west central coast at Tampa and Norwegian Sun homeported along Florida’s east central coast at Port Canaveral. The two ports are close to beaches, central Florida’s major theme parks and a slew of popular attractions, including the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex along the Space Coast.
Tampa, New Home Port
Tampa, a growing cruise home port with 800,000 passenger embarkations in 2009, up 5 percent from the previous year, represents a new U.S. home port for NCL. Between October 16, 2011, and April 8, 2012, Norwegian Star will operate a series of western Caribbean voyages departing on Sundays from Tampa.
Clients booked on the ship will enjoy port calls at Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico, and two days at sea. Fielding a Freestyle Cruising product, Norwegian Star has 16 dining options, 12 bars and lounges, a spa, casino, children’s facilities, sports court, golf-driving nets, a movie theater and more.
But the ship is probably best known for its huge suites. The 5,750-square-foot Garden Villas boast three bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, butler service and a private garden with hot tub.
When news of the Norwegian Star’s new schedule from Tampa spread through a crowd of 300 travel agents attending an NCL sales event about the new Norwegian Epic in Tampa on February 22, the trade reaction was swift and positive. “This is exciting,” said Joan McCarty, president of Specialty Travel Inc., St. Petersburg, FL, who had a hard time containing her exuberance, noting, “This made my day.”
She believes Norwegian Star with its Freestyle Cruising product will add variety to Tampa’s existing portfolio of cruise offerings, giving agents more revenue potential. Currently, Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International and Holland America homeport ships in Tampa.
McCarty was among the agents gathered at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk as cruise line, destination and port executives outlined NCL’s new 2011-12 winter schedule from Tampa and the sales potential for agents who sell cruising within central Florida. Camille Olivere, NCL’s vice president of sales, told the agents that the Port of Tampa has a potential drive market of 8 million cruisers.
Port officials said discussions with the line had been in progress for some time. Wade Elliott, senior director of marketing for the port, told Travel Agent that the NCL Freestyle Cruising product was “perfect to add to this market,” a growing one, in which cruise boardings increased 75 percent between 2000 and 2009.
Speaking to the agent audience from the podium, Richard Wainio, port director and CEO, Tampa Port Authority, stressed to agents that eight of the top 10 theme parks in the U.S. are within an hour’s drive of the port, as are Caladesi Island and Siesta Beach, always rated atop major travel polls of the best beaches in the U.S. He called the beginning of the port-NCL relationship a “win-win” for both sides.
He also projected that the new service will take the Port of Tampa’s cruise passenger total to more than 1 million guests by 2012. Wainio pointed out that Tampa International Airport is just seven miles from the port. He also said the port authority is currently enlarging its parking facilities to help accommodate more cruisers.
At present, 3,020 parking spaces exist in a convenient garage across the street from Tampa’s prime cruise docks. Wainio said work is nearly completed on 725 more spaces, with only exterior artistic touches to be made.
As part of its 2011-12 itinerary announcement, NCL also said it will extend its previously announced winter cruising schedule with Norwegian Sun from Port Canaveral. The line will begin that service this October and now extend it to a second October-to-April winter sailing season.
Norwegian Sun will sail alternating seven-day eastern and western Caribbean cruises from Port Canaveral on Saturdays. The ship’s 2011-12 eastern Caribbean itineraries will include port calls at Nassau, the Bahamas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and Great Stirrup Cay—NCL’s private island in the Bahamas.
The new western Caribbean itinerary on Norwegian Sun will feature Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Great Stirrup Cay. NCL will be sailing to Jamaica for the first time in several years.
“The option of two new distinctive itineraries to combine for an exciting 14-day cruise experience from Port Canaveral fulfills one of our goals to diversify vacation options with longer itineraries,” said J. Stanley “Stan” Payne, CEO, Port Canaveral. In addition to Norwegian Sun’s planned departures, NCL also regularly utilizes Port Canaveral for port calls when its New York-departing vessels sail to Florida and the Bahamas.
Also interesting as part of its 2011-12 winter cruise itinerary announcement, NCL said it will add Rome as a home port; the ship will sail roundtrip from the Port of Civitavecchia. Norwegian Jade will operate an 11-day Mediterranean and Holy Land cruise roundtrip from Rome to Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. It’s the first time since 1999 that NCL will sail to Israel.
In addition, officials said that ship will offer a 10-day cruise out of Rome, which will be fairly similar to what it now operates from Barcelona.
For all the news of NCL’s latest itinerary announcement, visit www.ncl.com.
Norwegian Star will homeport at Tampa for the 2011-12 winter sailing season