Del Rio: Cuba may have more market potential than China

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Frank Del Rio, who was born in Cuba, visited the island several weeks ago for the first time in 54 years.
Frank Del Rio, who was born in Cuba, visited the island several weeks ago for the first time in 54 years. Photo Credit: Ed McDonald/Ed McDonald Photography

FORT LAUDERDALE — Frank Del Rio visited Cuba several weeks ago for the first time in 54 years, he told an audience at Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld on Friday, and the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) said he’s going back.

Del Rio is the only one of the major cruise company CEOs born in Cuba. He left when he was seven.

“There may be more opportunity for the cruise industry in Cuba than there is in China,” said Del Rio, adding that his company is positioned to move quickly when the opportunity is ripe. Del Rio said that Oceania Cruises would most likely be the company’s first brand to sail to Cuba.

Del Rio ascended to the top job at NCLH in January, after founding Oceania and running it and Regent Seven Seas Cruises for a decade. He said the company places “a great deal of emphasis in preserving the unique characteristics” of the company’s three brands.

At the same time, some of the culinary features on Oceania can be seen in subtle ways on the new Norwegian Escape, Del Rio said.

“We can implement something that worked across all three brands quickly,” he said.

After taking delivery of the Escape, NCLH is now pivoting to the debut of ships for Oceania and Regent.

Oceania’s Sirena, a ship acquired from Princess Cruises, isn’t new. Del Rio said $50 million will be spent to upgrade its suites, public rooms, and new gourmet dining venues such as Red Ginger, Tuscan Steak and Jaques Bistro, which will have dishes from chef Jacques Pepin.

Regent will be getting a new ship — its first in over a decade — that Del Rio boasts will be the most luxurious cruise ship ever. The Seven Seas Explorer, contracted at $450 million from Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard, is way over budget, Del Rio admitted.

He said one area he’s spent more than he should is art. “It’s my weakness,” said Del Rio, who co-wrote a book about Oceania’s art collection.

Another area where Del Rio blew the budget, he said, was a particularly pure variety of Carrara marble that doesn’t have veins.

Regent bought so much of the white marble for Seven Seas Explorer that, “I’m told there’s no more for at least a year in Italy,” Del Rio said.

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