NCL President Harry Sommer Gives Insight on Norwegian Prima and More

As the new 3,100-passenger Norwegian Prima was introduced in the U.S. last week, Travel Agent and hundreds of travel advisors boarded for a four-night roundtrip cruise from New York City to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

One highlight? Beyond checking out this new ship first-hand, we attended a press briefing by Harry Sommer, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line. He offered insight about the new ship and the brand. Here are a few highlights for readers. 

Norwegian Prima: Guest Mix & Bookings 

Travel Agent asked Sommer what he was seeing in terms of guest mix on the ship. Is the ship attracting primarily past guests? What about new to brand? 

Sommer said that during the process to create the ship over the past few years, there was obviously a hefty push for past guests.That's the group that returned most quickly after cruising resumed in 2021. 

But he added that new-to-brand guests then also began booking. Of late, “we’ve seen the normal balance between past guests and new to brand," he said during the briefing. 

That said, "it's the guests we normally appeal to for the NCL brand that seem to be flocking to the ship and that’s exactly what we wanted," Sommer noted.

As a result, "the bookings have been very strong,” Sommer said. “Right now, she is our best booked ship for 2023 in the brand at the highest prices."

One of the suites in The Haven on Norwegian Prima
A bedroom area of one suite in The Haven on the new Norwegian Prima.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Elevating the Experience

As a new ship class, with six of these Prima-class ships planned in the next few years, Norwegian Prima fills a "size" spot within the line's portfolio that it didn't have previously. 

In addition, "we set out purposely to elevate the ship," Sommer said. "While it's not revolutionary in how it differs from the rest of the fleet, this ship was elevated a bit -- just taken up a bit."

He explained that when the team sat down in 2017 to decide what it wanted the next ship class to be, "we sort of surveyed the universe [looking at ] what NCL had in its offering at the time," he noted. 

Basically, it operates a series of ships -- such as Norwegian Sky, Pride of America, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Spirit -- that are about 2,000 passengers or so. "We also have four Jewel-class ships -- Norwegian Jewel, Gem, Pearl and Jade --- that are 2,400 passenger ships," said Sommer. 

The line also has a larger series of ships starting with [Norwegian] Epic that are in the 'high three, low four thousand' passenger range," he added. Those also include the Getaway, Breakaway and Breakaway-plus class vessels.

So, a 3,100-passenger ship fits well to diversity the fleet. "We thought that this would be sort of a perfect a thing to fill out the portfolio," he stressed. "Difference class sizes can go to different ports in the world. Some of the ports we like to visit aren’t possible with our largest possible ships."

Appealing to Different Customers

In addition, Sommer said that the line has different types of customers within its base: "We appeal to a wide range of guests. Some like bigger ships, some like smaller ships."

In addition, NCL was looking to "re-imagine the cruise industry," he noted. "I remember talking to Frank Del Rio about this in 2017 and he said, “I want to create a cruise ship that doesn’t look like a cruise ship.”

Del Rio wanted the newest class to be "like a high-end beautiful hotel" or even a residential area, said Sommer. "I think he succeeded and part of that required us not to have some of these larger spaces."

As a result, Norwegian Prima was designed differently, "So, we have smaller, more intimate spaces where people get this intimate feel," he added.

Yes, there are still many different venues, but they're venues that might hold only a couple of hundred people, or perhaps a bit more at 500-600 people -- but not a thousand or more. "Even our theater, which is the largest venue on the ship, only holds just over 700 people," Sommer emphasized.

There was "a little bit of risk," he said. After all, NCL's competitors keep going bigger and bigger in their ship sizes. "And that’s okay," says Sommer, as "there’s a market for that too."

But, he says NCL didn't want to create something that looked like a large indoor shopping mall. "That wasn’t our intention going out and designing the ship," he explained, adding that the line is very happy with the final result.

97 Percent What NCL Wanted

Putting things in perspective, Sommer described Norwegian Prima as "97 percent of what the company wanted." And so, he told journalists attending the press briefing that there are a couple of changes that NCL will make on the second ship in the class, Norwegian Viva, which begins service in August 2023.

"We're always going to look to set the bar," he noted. So, what's missing? “You know we used a lot of different architects to design the spaces," he said. All those designers had different visions. 

As a result, "you try to do your best to make sure that when you’re leaving one room that an architect designed and then going to the next room that a different architect designed that there’s some continuity – that it doesn’t feel like you’re in two different places," he said.

But Sommer explained that the team now sees "a couple of rooms where we could do a better job with those transitions. There are a couple of corridors that we think we can elevate a little bit more. So, it’s really four or five specific spaces on the ship that we can do even a little bit better."

He quipped that he didn't want to tell reporters as then they'd go looking for those. "But I’ll tell you that for a prototype, to get it 97 percent right, we are super happy," he said. 

Largest Haven in the Fleet 

Infinity pool in The Haven on Norwegian Prima. Photo by Susan J. Young.
An inviting infinity pool and two-level Sun Deck await guests staying in The Haven, an exclusive ship-within-a-ship enclave.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Travel Agent asked Sommer about The Haven, Norwegian Prima's "ship within a ship" enclave, The new ship offer 107 staterooms/suites in The Haven, representing 107 of 1,600 cabins.

That's about 6 percent of the ship's total accommodations, he estimated. On other NCL vessels, he said the Haven accommodations total about 3 percent of all suites/staterooms.

"This ship has the largest Haven percentage of any ship in fleet," Sommer noted. 

The Haven, which offers many exclusive spaces and perks, also appeals to a slightly more affluent, slightly older demographic, In addition, the key-card-accessible space is highly attractive for multigenerational travelers (grandparents, for example, when their children and grandchildren are staying in other parts of the ship.)

"Everyone gets the best of both worlds," he stated. The matriarch/patriarch of the family gets the luxurious Haven service and use of exclusive spaces just for Haven guests including a bar, restaurant, two-level Sun Deck, infinity pool and more. They also have access to a concierge desk team.

But then the family can come together for activities or shows in other parts of the ship. In addition, the ship has robust children's and teen facilities, plus "the children and grandchildren get to enjoy the racetrack, the slides the Galaxy pavilion and all the other wonderful things," said Sommer.

Market to Fill, Not Price to Fill 

One reporter asked if NCL thought it might be charging guests too much for this and that -- those "add-ons" that occur once guests get aboard. Sommer said the line is constantly evaluating pricing, does consumer research and looks at what the competitive landscape charges.

"We believe that we charge a fair price for the incredible value that we offer," he stressed. In terms of the fares themselves, parent Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' policy is "market to fill" not "price to fill," which Del Rio talked to investors about last week.

Bottom line? NCL doesn't believe in slashing fares routinely to fill cabins, but instead applies additional "marketing dollars" to fill staterooms and suites. That creates price integrity. It also avoids consumers always waiting for the best deal, after seeing price cuts all the time. 

In addition, NCL's "Free at Sea" offer bundles such elements as basic Internet, a beverage package, specialty dining and more to entice consumers to buy a value-added package to enhance their vacation. That's an extra spend but also creates value -- and it avoids many extra charges while aboard. 

"With our Free at Sea offering, a lot of things that are extra on other cruise ships are included here," said Sommer, citing the beverage package, the specialty dining package, at least some Internet minutes (not unlimited), third and fourth berths filled per cabin at no extra charge, as well as a $50 shore excursion credit in each port.

"We think a combination of all those things provides great value for our guests," he said. One interesting factoid? He said that as far as selling a stand-alone beverage package, "very few buy it because 85 percent of people take Free at Sea, which includes the free beverage package."

That said, he noted that for the guests that do buy a beverage package separately, "they believe that it’s a good deal for them and they enjoy drinking."

Upcoming Itineraries

Lounger beds on the Sun Deck of the Haven on Norwegian Prima.
Norwegian Prima's Haven complex has a two-level Sun Deck with comfortable lounge beds. The ship will sail from Port Canaveral, FL, this coming winter.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Speaking about upcoming itineraries, Sommer said that the Prima-class will tend to do seven-night Caribbean cruises in the winter season. Norwegian Prima will home port at Port Canaveral, FL, in winter 2022-2023. 

When Norwegian Viva begins winter season cruises in 2023, those will be seven-night cruises from San Juan, Puerto Rico. The line hasn't published its 2024-2025 cruises yet. 

In the summer, both Norwegian Prima and Norwegian Viva will run bit longer cruises because they're heading to Europe. "Most of our cruises in Europe are between nine and 12 days," he told the audience. 

Speaking of Norwegian Prima, he said: "This ship in the summer does a brief season out of New York going to Bermuda and then she runs cruises from June through September between Southampton, [U.K.} and Reykjavik, Iceland with calls in Norway,

When the Norwegian Viva arrives late in summer 2023, the ship will operate a few cruises in the Mediterranean, before sailing later in the year for the winter season operating from San Juan.

A Look at Sustainability

NCLH has pledged to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which Sommer called "an aggressive path forward."

Right now, he said the line is looking at two promising options. One is biodiesel fuel, which he says achieves "close to a zero greenhouse gas...We;re actually starting to test that on some of the ships in our fleet," although not on Norwegian Prima. 

That fuel is widely available in Europe and mostly used by trucking companies. "It's compatible with the fuel tanks and the engines that we have onboard," Sommer noted, "so we're going to test that."

He also said the brand is working on methanol "because we believe the supply of green methanol is also close to a zero greenhouse gas emission." So, NCL is looking at doing testing on one of its ships, perhaps converting a fuel tank and an engine to be methanol ready so that it can burn methanol fuel while the ship is in port during the next couple of years.

"Those are the two active tests that we’re working on," he added. In addition, the company has looked at other options too. "I'd say they're a little bit more speculative," said Sommer. 

For instance, the line has talked with shipyards about hydrogen fuel cells, but Sommer acknowledged that there’s not a ready supply of hydrogen available:  "So, I think that’s a little bit more for the 2030s."

But at least for the 2020s, NCL will look to biodiesel and methanol as the two most promising eco-friendly technologies. "But again our commitment is to get to zero by 2050," he said. 

NCL is also investing heavily in scrubbers and other ways to reduce sulphur and other emissions from the smokestacks.

Shore-side power is also available on all new ships, but Sommer said that the success of that depends on whether ports have that capability. Another factor to evaluate is how the location generates electricity. 

"If they’re using coal-generated electricity, shore-side power does nothing," he explained, as "it just transfers the carbon emissions somewhere else. So, we want to be very thoughtful about using shore-side power at places that are generating electricity through at least a somewhat sustainable source."

For example, he noted that in Miami, the bulk of electricity is generated through nuclear power, which is a zero carbon source. So, using shore power makes sense there.

Sommer believes that it's also fine in New York City, which gets much power through hydropower (use of water to generate electricity.)  So it makes sense there too. But, it doesn't make sense everywhere, he adds.   

For more information on Norwegian Prima and its itineraries, visit

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