NCL puts 'Freestyle' ships into service


NEW YORK -- With a precedent-setting dual christening in Miami last month, Norwegian Cruise Line put its first ships designed under the company's Freestyle Cruising system into service.

The ships will characterize the NCL product orientation for the future, said Colin Veitch, NCL's president. "Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Star are the what we're offering in the marketplace. They aren't better or worse than the traditional cruise model, but they are different," he said. "Our strategy is to grow our fleet with these ships."

Both the Sun and the Star offer the Freestyle system's meal-time flexibility and relaxed onboard dress code and atmosphere. The program also offers expanded dining options with 10 restaurants aboard both ships. The Norwegian Star will be based year-round in Hawaii; Norwegian Sun will offer western Caribbean cruises beginning this fall.

Additionally, NCL's introduction of the 78,309-ton Norwegian Sun and the 91,000-ton Norwegian Star is coinciding with a post-Sept. 11 booking surge, said Veitch. He said the Sun is 85% booked, and the Star is 95% booked for the first quarter of 2002.

"The last couple of weeks, we are ahead of last year's bookings in dollar terms," said Veitch. NCL also has more occupancy booked this year compared with the same period in 2000. Although rates are still near historic lows and "pricing remains aggressive," said Veitch, "things are not as 'gloom and doom' as some would have it, and the new ships help."

The NCL chief thanked the city of Miami, the travel agent community and the ships' builders, whom he said all played a role in NCL's expansion. Dato K.T. Lim, chairman of Star Cruises, NCL's Singapore-based parent, called the debut of the ships "a celebration of rebirth for NCL." Veitch said the new ships and the resurging bookings point to the cruise segment's strong fundamentals. "There is no business base to this segment; no one takes a cruise because they have to. But we are still the only travel segment whose bookings are growing."

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