ST. NAZAIRE, FRANCE-Travel Agent's cruise editor, David Eisen, who is sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship, Norwegian Gem, in The Netherlands, reports on the new F3 series. With a push of a button, Norwegian Cruise Line initiated construction on its boldest ship class to date, the F3 series (F3 is an initial, working name, which will be changed farther out), which, once the first ship is completed in January 2010, will hold 4,200 passengers-that's 1,800 more than its just-delivered ship, Norwegian Gem.
A steel-cutting ceremony was held at Aker Yards in St. Nazaire, France, on Monday, which brought together both American and European press along with a collection of NCL's top-producing travel agents from its President's Club.
Andy Stuart, NCL's executive vice president of sales and marketing, Brad Anderson of America's Vacation Center in San Diego and Tom Coiro of New York-based Direct Line Cruises, were given the symbolic honor of launching the F3, as they stood on a metal plank and watched as an incandescent steel-cutting apparatus sliced through a sliver of steel, signifying the start of work. "Today is the beginning of a new day for us," Stuart said. "It's our biggest single order in history and we would not be doing it if not for the help of our agents." Jacques Hardelay, general manager of Aker Yards, joined the three on the scaffold.
The shipyard will be responsible for constructing two F3 ships, at an all-in cost of about 1.5 billion euros, while an option for a third is still under negotiation. Both NCL and Aker Yards were tightlipped on whether the option will be picked up. "We have two firm orders," Stuart said, "nothing beyond that."
As hush as Stuart was about a third ship, he was even more careful not to blow the lid on what the public can expect from the F3 ship.
Here's what we do know: the ship's will be much larger and spacious than NCL's previous Jewel class of ships, run on a new propulsion system and contain increased technology. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess. "F3 will be a differentiated product for a new level," Stuart said. "But we are not saying how it's different yet."
While Stuart was reluctant to divulge concrete details, the fact that the new class of ships is markedly bigger offers some clues. "You can put more stuff in it," Stuart said. "There are more opportunities." Just what those opportunities are, is the question. NCL's newest ships contain features such as four-lane bowling alleys. The new ships would easily be able to absorb even eight lanes, but other amenities might be expected.
Without question, the new trend, especially among the Big Three-Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL-is to build bigger. Royal Caribbean's next class of ship, Genesis, will be capable of carrying well over 5,000 passengers. "People didn't think it could be done," Stuart said, "but the ships keep being delivered, bigger and bigger. There is more space to add things, and people want exciting things to do."
NCL currently has 12 ships in service with three under construction. Along with the F3 ships, Aker Yards is building four new MSC Cruises vessels in the Musica class. (DE)