Onboard Norwegian Escape: Del Rio, Stuart Talk the Latest From the Line

Frank Del Rio and Andy Stuart spoke to reporters about the new Norwegian Escape and how the brand fits into the NCLH portfolio. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Andy Stuart, president, Norwegian Cruise Line, spoke to reporters at a press conference onboard the new Norwegian Escape on Tuesday. Here’s a look at some of the interesting gleanings from the duo. 

Photo tour of The Haven on Norwegian Escape
While onboard our cruise editor got a chance to check out The Haven, Norwegian Escape's ship-within-a-ship concet. Click here for the details from Luxury Travel Advisor. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Complementary Brands: Del Rio described the three NCLH brands as complementary, stressing his views about the new Norwegian Escape: “This is NOT your grandfather’s cruise line.” He said the three brands -- in the upper levels of the contemporary, premium and luxury segments -- have both a track record of consistent financial performance and very high quality fleets kept up to date with sizable investment. 

Credit to Past Management: Del Rio acknowledged Norwegian’s previous management teams for the brand’s 29 consecutive quarters of financial growth. As for Norwegian Escape, Del Rio said the design plans and ship construction were well under way when he took over, although he did review and make changes to every menu, as well as shifts in colors or decor. 

Any River or Expedition Brand Plans?: Given that NCLH has grown sizably and now has three strong segment players, is it looking to move beyond that?

Given that Crystal Cruises and Silversea Cruises, competitors of Regent Seven Seas, have either expedition or river and mega-yacht brands, Travel Agent asked Del Rio if NCLH had any plans now or in the future for the addition of those types of brands. His response was a straightforward: “No.”

Frank Del Rio // Photo by S. J. Young

Burgeoning NCLH Fleet: Three more Breakaway-plus class vessels will join the Norwegian fleet in 2017, 2018 and 2019, as previously announced; the 2017 ship will go to the Chinese sourcing market.

He also told reporters about additional NCLH fleet growth with the new Oceania Sirena, which will join the Oceania fleet next year. Del Rio noted that Oceania has come a long way from the idea and plans set out on his own kitchen table back in 2002.  

He also pointed to the launch of the luxurious Seven Seas Explorer for Regent, sheepishly noting that he's "so over budget" for what the line is creating on that ship.

Norwegian Bliss: Del Rio was asked if the next ship will be called Norwegian Bliss, and reluctantly, but with a sense of humor, was pulled into the discussion.

He indicated that the line likes that name, but it won't be the Chinese sourced ship. That said, he hedged and said he couldn't say for sure which of the other ships would potentially get that name. 

Andy Stuart // Photo by Susan J. Young

Regent Seven Seas Explorer: Del Rio said the top suite on the new Seven Seas Explorer sells for $10,000 a night and for the 17 released sailing dates, that suite is sold out. In addition, the waiting list is 30 guests eager to get onboard. 

Best Practices: The new NCLH group is bringing synergies from each brand to the others in the portfolio, according to Del Rio. He cited the "foodie" approach on Oceania and Regent, which is helping Norwegian elevate its food product even higher, while he said Norwegian's top-notch entertainment expertise is now flowing over to the other brands as well. He noted that Norwegian Escape has a "very premium feel."

Waterfront Dining: Stuart talked about the Waterfront Dining -- one quarter mile long around the ship on Deck 8 - with bars and lounges that are outside (and also inside). He said the configuration allows guests to look outward and enjoy "the romance of the sea." 

Children's Areas: Norwegian Escape has new children's areas including a nursery for kids 2 and under on Deck 5. "Those are the ones you really want to hand off," he joked in talking about giving parents a blessed break so they can enjoy the ship, while the little ones are well-cared for in the nursery. He said there's a big difference between occupying and entertaining children, and that the line has focused heavily on the latter. 

The Haven is Norwegian Escape's ship-within-a-ship space, an exclusive enclave of high-end accommodations, a private restaurant and lounge and a water-relaxation area (shown above). // Photo by Susan J. Young

The Largest Haven Ever: The Norwegian Escape's three-level Haven, a ship-within-a-ship concept on the line's newest vessels, is the brand's largest such enclave ever, according to Stuart. It has a retractable dome so guests can enjoy the water and relaxation area in any kind of weather. It has an exclusive lounge and restaurant, and a slew of high-end accommodations. 

Cuba: When asked about Cuba, Del Rio answered that "there's not much to report," and that it's a waiting game to see when Cuban government approvals are granted. Tourism is still illegal under current U.S. law, he said, while travel for different purposes is legal. He envisions going into the market with one of Oceania's Nautica-class vessels, if and when the appropriate approvals are granted. 

Aggressive Drydock Schedule: Del Rio said that over the next 24 months, NCLH will send all ships (except one) from all three brands into drydock; the only exception will be Norwegian Jewel. That one will be sent in 2018.

With massive fleet investment -- not just on new builds but on keeping standards high -- he stressed that NCLH doesn't want to be a "bottom dweller" but instead to keep high standards and deliver exactly what consumers want as well as growing corporate yields. He noted that the Seven Seas Navigator, Regent Seven Seas Cruises' oldest vessel, is so well-maintained with high quality interiors that it has the highest yields in the Regent fleet. 

Consumer Demand at Margaritaville: During our short cruise that began Monday and ended today, lines at Margaritaville were -- in some cases -- two hours to get in. That said, this was a cruise of travel partners and media, so not a normal guest complement. 

When asked if the line would consider a cover charge of some sort for the experience. Del Rio said the line will evaluate. If too many people continue to be in line on normal revenue cruises, it's something they'd have to take a look at, he said. 

Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for more from the press conference and preview sailing. Travel Agent will be on the ship again starting on Saturday for the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. conference.

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