Onsite at Seatrade: NCL Details Freestyle 2.0, Still Tightlipped on F3

MIAMI-Norwegian Cruise Line is happy to volunteer information on its second phase of freestyle cruising, but details on F3, the codename being used for its two new ships debuting in 2010, are still sketchy and will remain so, it appears, for a while longer.

Here's what we do know. F3 will be a methodical progression of Freestyle 2.0, NCL's initiative to further better the guest experience, said Colin Veitch, president and CEO of NCL. "It will be a further development of what's already done well," he said. This will include expanding on the Villa and Courtyard suite concept. What the F3 ships won't have are main dining rooms, theatres and Lido cafes. Also, non-traditional staterooms are promised. "They won't be recognizable," Veitch said.

That is the extent of what NCL revealed on Wednesday of the two ships, which will together number 8,400 berths. NCL was more open to discuss everything else in its cupboard. The initiatives of Freestyle 2.0, which includes new dining features, upgraded staterooms and more amenities for suite and villa guests, will first appear on Norwegian Jade, sailing year-round in Europe, by the end of this month. NCL says that the rest of its fleet will have Freestyle 2.0 components implemented by the summer. Some specifics of 2.0 include champagne welcomes, menu upgrades to include more specialty items like lobster, an upgraded bedding program and a new pool experience that promises to be more relaxing.

To get the message out, NCL is ramping up its advertising and marketing efforts, which underscore the youth of NCL's fleet and the distinctiveness of freestyle cruising. It's the message they want to send out to travel agents through Partnership 2.0, NCL's campaign to ingratiate travel agents and help them understand the product. At some point, said Veitch, front-line agents began complaining about doing business with NCL, calling them difficult to work with. NCL listened to their complaints and is now fully vested in agents and taken measures to better assist and compensate agents. These adjustments include processing group commissions earlier, simplifying pricing, ensuring guests receive onboard credits where applicable and alerting agents via e-mail when a commission check has been cut.

In order to better strengthen its relationship with travel agents, NCL is trotting out top executives and key staff, who are making visits to agents around the country. These "walk in your shoes" visits will allow NCL executives to experience the NCL booking process. So far, visits have been made to such agencies as South Beach Cruises in Miami; Columbus Travel in Salt Lake City; and Cruise Planners in Coral Springs, FL. More visits are planned. Visit www.ncl.com. (DE)

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