When the Norwegian Bliss arrives in June 2018, it will be christened in Seattle and dedicated to the growing Alaska market, sailing from a much-improved terminal in the heart of that city's downtown.
The 4,000-passenger ship will be identified with the Alaska market in much the same way that Norwegian has themed previous ships to homeports: the Norwegian Breakaway to New York and the Norwegian Getaway to Miami.
In that vein, marine-life artist Robert Wyland has been commissioned to paint the hull for the Bliss. Wyland is known for his whale murals and marine-life paintings and sculptures. His design will be unveiled later this month.
The Bliss will be the first ship that Norwegian has christened in Seattle, and at 167,800 gross tons, it will be the largest ship from any brand to cruise the Alaska market. Plans call for weekly Saturday sailings on an itinerary with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia, "along with scenic glacier cruising," Norwegian said.
Norwegian has been sailing from Seattle since 2000, usually with one or two ships each summer. In 2017 it will have the 2,376-passenger Norwegian Jewel and the 2,394-passenger Norwegian Pearl there.
At a ceremony in Seattle on Oct. 13, Norwegian president and CEO Andy Stuart and Seattle port officials signed a long-term development agreement at the port's Pier 66.
The 15-year lease calls for Norwegian's parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), and the Seattle port to jointly invest $30 million in a bevy of improvements to the pier, also known as the Bell Street Cruise Terminal.
The funds will expand guest check-in space by more than 300%, to 150,000 square feet. There will be a VIP lounge with expansive views of Elliott Bay. Two elevated passenger-boarding bridges will be installed to speed embarkation.
Unlike the piers used by other lines in Seattle, the Bell Street terminal is within walking distance of Pike Place Market, the Seattle Aquarium and other downtown attractions.
Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick said the improvements will bring more tourists to the city.
"Our long relationship together is evident in this historic and unprecedented 15-year lease here at Pier 66," he said.
The Bliss is the latest Norwegian ship intended for the North American market; the Norwegian Joy, which will be delivered next year, will be deployed in China. While providing no details, Norwegian said the Bliss will be the first cruise ship "custom-built with features and amenities for the ultimate Alaska experience."
Norwegian's competition includes several lines with a long tenure and touring infrastructure in the Alaska market, including Princess Cruises and Holland America Line. Those lines depart from the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91, about three-and-a-half miles from downtown.
The total cruise passengers visiting Alaska in the 2016 season exceeded 1 million for the first time since 2009. The Bliss will leverage improvements by Alaska ports, including a pier in Juneau that opened this year and was built to accommodate ships longer than 1,000 feet (the Norwegian Bliss is 1,069 feet).
John Binkley, president of CLIA Alaska, has credited an improved tax and regulatory climate for the rebound in Alaska cruise tourism.
Norwegian said reservations for the Bliss will open in January. The ship is being built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in northern Germany and will make a transatlantic voyage and a cruise through the Panama Canal's new locks before arriving in Seattle for its debut.
Norwegian did not say where the Bliss will homeport during the winter months.
In addition to the Jewel and Pearl, Norwegian will have the Norwegian Sun in the Alaska market in 2017, sailing from Vancouver. Another NCLH brand, Oceania Cruises, has the Oceania Regatta sailing in Alaska next summer.