Arnie Weissmann Of all the grievances outlined in last weeks story about a class-action suit involving consumers, a travel agency and Norwegian Cruise Line, what really jumped out at me were passenger complaints that Pride of Aloha crew members were ignorant about the use of finger bowls and were unable to pronounce the names of wines.

That these offenses were included in the suit may say something about the delicate state of Americans sensibilities or their litigious nature. Nonetheless, there they were, alongside more serious allegations about sanitation and safety.

Just what happened during those two early sailings of NCLs Pride of Aloha that led passengers to keep such detailed lists of grievances? And what has happened since then that passenger satisfaction scores have climbed to put the ship on par with other NCL ships?

NCL President Colin Veitch responded to my what-went-wrong, what-went-right questions with answers that are related: Staffing levels and the crew.

When intra-Hawaiian routes on the Pride of Aloha were inaugurated last summer, I was among those wondering how service provided by an all-American crew would differ from cruise ships with international staffs. When early problems surfaced, it crossed my mind that Americans-serving-Americans was the root difficulty.

The principal problem was an unexpectedly high turnover rate, Veitch said. We had anticipated high turnover and had even trained additional crew before we launched. But after initial problems with high turnover, we quickly got into a vicious downward cycle.

We were short-staffed, and the atmosphere onboard became difficult for the remaining crew, who had to work longer hours and, frankly, suffer abuse from passengers that no crew should have to suffer. So the turnover rate increased even more.

Veitch said the lines immediate goal became to reverse the spiral quickly.

We increased crew-welfare activities considerably, like social events and more time off. There was a lot of focus to make sure positive feedback got back to the crew. And we set realistic targets for them.

NCL also focused more on preparing prospective crew, increasing the shore-side training time from one week to more than three. The line has also worked with the crews union on training, customizing galleys and even providing a replica of the inside of a cabin.

In our conversation, Veitch never pointed a finger of blame at his crew.

The reality is that the crew is the major asset, he said. Its a real pleasure to watch the interaction between American passengers and the American crew. The crew is now consistently the highest-scored aspect of the passenger experience. All those naysayers who said Americans arent service-oriented or wont work hard -- it isnt true.

Of course, Veitch may not be out of the woods yet. He didnt mention whether the extended training included what may be the most important lesson of all to avoid future lawsuits: proper use of finger bowls.


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