NCL eyes 'dining credit' option

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HONG KONG -- Norwegian Cruise Line, which in May launched Freestyle Cruising, a spinoff of the concept initiated by parent Star Cruises, is looking at incorporating still another idea from Star (dining credits) and another idea from the world of land-based dining (pagers).

Freestyle Cruising includes open seating at all meals, now offered aboard Norwegian Sky; another element -- provided a ship is outfitted with appropriate galleys -- is pay-as-you-go dining.

Sky is not yet outfitted for a pay-as-you-go option, but when it goes into dry dock in 2002, its Horizons restaurant may be converted into an a la carte Italian restaurant with its own galley, said Colin Veitch, NCL president and chief executive officer.

However, all future ships will have multiple a la carte settings.

On Norwegian Sun, to launch in September 2001, at least two restaurants -- the Pacific Rim and Italian eateries -- and perhaps a third will be pay-as-you-go, Veitch said.

Star Cruises uses the pay-as-you-go component as a marketing tool, offering dining credits at its specialty restaurants as an incentive to get customers to upgrade to balcony cabins or better.

According to Star, the dining credit is sufficient to cover a fixed-price dinner each evening of a cruise.

Veitch, speaking at a press briefing here, said NCL has not priced its pay-as-you-go restaurants, which "probably will have prix fixe and a la carte" options, he said.

However, he continued, rates will be based on the cost of materials; he said the line does not want the restaurants to be expensive nor expect them to be revenue generators.

He said NCL eventually may adopt the dining credit idea, making it part of the NCL product.

Also, to handle waiting periods when a shipboard restaurant is in high demand, the line is "thinking" about using a pager system so passengers awaiting a table are free to move about without losing their place.

Meanwhile, Veitch said, agents and consumers have reacted positively to Freestyle Cruising as seen on Sky.

A potentially controversial component is automated tipping. Because passengers move around for dining purposes, they no longer can designate recipients for their end-of-trip gratuities.

Therefore, tips to be distributed to waiters, stewards and maitre d's are automatically charged to passengers, but passengers have the option of eliminating, reducing or increasing those amounts.

On Sky, Veitch said, the figure has averaged about $10 per day, and he said about 3% of passengers dispute the automated tipping plan, "less than expected."

Another Freestyle feature is a revised disembarkation procedure that allows passengers to occupy cabins until it is time to leave the ship.

Veitch said NCL believes that with the added crew associated with the new cruising setup, it is possible to prepare rooms between sets of passengers faster, and "we are prepared to have some people find their room not quite ready," not unlike a hotel experience.

NCL is still tweaking Freestyle disembarkation on Sky.

The line aims to have Freestyle Cruising on all its ships, "to the extent possible," by next summer, Veitch said. The Norwegian Majesty is next on the schedule, with an Aug. 20 date, but no more dates have been set "because we want each working right before moving on."

Veitch also discussed NCL's new builds briefly.

The 77,000-ton Sun, with a maximum capacity of 2,400, will feature 67% outside cabins and balconies in 43% of cabins. There will be 30 minisuites, new with this ship.

Cabins will be more brightly colored than on Sky (more in line with Star Cruises' ships), and each will have hair dryers, refrigerators and water heaters for coffee and tea, as well as in-cabin connections for laptops.

There will be "learning areas" for computer classes, lectures and meditation time, plus a wedding chapel. The Internet Cafe will have 20 workstations, up from nine on Sky.

NCL's next new ship, currently dubbed the Libra II and slated for launch in October 2002, will be a sister ship to the 91,000-ton SuperStar Libra, under construction for delivery in 2001 to Star Cruises.

Besides the requisite multiple alternative dining outlets, the Libras will have 127 minisuites.

But the piece de resistance for each will be two penthouse suites, comprising 8,000 square feet between them. One will have four sleeping rooms, the other three; each villa will have a private garden and quarters for a sleep-in steward.

Line debuts all-purpose card:
Don't leave room without it

HONG KONG -- In other news, Norwegian Cruise Line made the following announcements:

  • NCL said it will introduce in all its ships over the next 18 months an all-purpose card to be used both for accessing the room and paying bills.
  • Star and NCL will get a new reservations system, called SeaWare. As an outgrowth of that installation, expected to be in place by fall 2001, Colin Veitch, president, said NCL will make its back-of-house operation a "one-stop-shopping" system, so agents can book all elements of a trip with the same NCL agent, whether it be the cruise, land elements or air.
  • The line is "upgrading" its repositioning cruises. Next year, "they will be proper cruises with more ports of call," Veitch said.
  • He said NCL will offer more types of group discounts than in the past.
  • In addition, to raise yields, he said it will focus more on on-board areas, such as bars and casinos, and ancillary revenue sources, such as pre- and post-trip add-ons, insurance, special-event packages, etc.

  • Passengers on Norwegian Wind's Asia cruise series in late 2001 will be at least 60% North American. "It's important to have a dominant culture," Veitch said, to give cruise planning a focus. "Then you have the scope to take on other markets."
  • However, for the early-2002 Wind series between Sydney and Auckland, he projected "close to 100% North American market."

  • Star Cruises is shutting down the money-losing Australia-based Norwegian Capricorn Line operation and transferring the Norwegian Star to the Star Cruises fleet.
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