NCL's Sheehan on the New Norwegian Cruise Line

With a $1.2 billion price tag, Norwegian Cruise Line's new ship, Norwegian Epic, was a hefty investment. However, it wasn't long ago that NCL was losing millions of dollars each quarter. It was an underachiever.

"Our cost structure was bloated," Kevin Sheehan, NCL's CEO, said aboard Epic, which was christened in New York during the Fourth of July weekend. "We believe we've reorganized camp and are employing better practices. We've redefined many things."

Epic is clearly one of them—from design elements to entertainment. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a better mix of entertainment all in one place. The line was smart to reach out and partner with such acts as Blue Man Group and Chicago's Second City. And, these are not second-rate iterations. Blue Man Group's performance equals what you'd see on land in New York's East Village. But, of course, on Epic, the show is free. Meanwhile, staterooms eschew convention with wavy walls and elements like trifurcated bathrooms (think separate shower, toilet and sink). "The ship is unlike anything ever built," Sheehan said. "We want guests saying that once they leave."

They will. Among other things, every outside stateroom is equipped with a balcony, there are 128 "single studios," built exclusively for solo travelers who won't have to pay the single supplement and, not to mention, an actual Ice Bar that is chilled to 17 degrees. Epic also has a suite complex of 60 suites that surround a courtyard with a private dining room and private gym. "Nothing, not even on the luxury lines, comes close to this," Sheehan said. "There is a huge segment for this kind of product," added Andy Stuart, NCL's executive vice president, global sales and passenger services.

Of course, a new ship is nothing without customers. On that note, NCL is recommitting itself to the travel agent community. Before, Sheehan admitted, NCL was a bit difficult to work with. Now, "we are looking to enhance our travel agent business," he said, adding that NCL's pricing is up and all ships are booking well. "Agents are the ones who make the business work."

Norwegian Epic will offer eastern and western Caribbean itineraries beginning July 10 from Miami. In April 2011, it will redeploy to Barcelona for Mediterranean cruises.



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