MIAMI -- Norwegian Cruise Line will launch its interisland Hawaii initiative in July 2004 with NCL America, the new brand name under which it will operate two U.S.-flagged ships.

In addition to NCL's first U.S.-flagged, U.S.-crewed Project America ship, NCL will reflag the Norwegian Sky under a U.S. registry, rename it and sail it in Hawaii under the NCL America brand. NCL will round out its 2004 Hawaii deployment with two foreign-flagged ships, which will include stops at Fanning Island as part of their itineraries.

The 2004 lineup includes a new product for NCL in Hawaii: Three- and four-day cruises, which NCL will operate from Honolulu on the renamed, reflagged Norwegian Sky.

Andy Stuart, NCL's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said the line plans to reach out to tour operators and wholesalers to package the short cruises.

"There's a very strong base of agents buying Hawaii through wholesalers and tour operators," Stuart told Travel Weekly. "We think it's an opportunity to expand the cruise market. We're going to have to be more creative with the three- and four-days."

NCL has distributed its current seven-day Hawaii ship, the Norwegian Star, through Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, Stuart said. NCL has not yet approached tour operators or local

hoteliers for short-cruise package arrangements, he said.

In 2001, NCL became the only cruise line to offer year-round, seven-day Hawaii cruises from Honolulu, taking over a niche previously held by American Classic Voyages.

Earlier this year, in a deal engineered by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), NCL received an exemption from federal law that requires foreign-built ships to fly a foreign flag and include foreign port calls in their U.S. itineraries.

NCL, which purchased the materials for AMCV's failed Project America ships from a U.S. shipyard in 2002, is permitted to build the vessels in Europe and operate them as U.S. ships. It also is permitted to reflag one other foreign-built ship under a U.S. registry.

The new deployment will increase the line's projected passenger numbers in Hawaii by 40%, to almost 200,000 passengers, in 2004, NCL said.

But practically doubling its berth space in Hawaii is no problem for NCL, Stuart said.

"There's no question in my mind that we can fill it," he said. "The ships are consistently full every week, and we think there's pent-up demand for a Hawaii cruise."

The first, unnamed Project America ship, which is being completed in a German shipyard, will begin seven-day cruises from Honolulu on July 4, 2004.

The renamed Sky will follow with its short-cruise program beginning Oct. 1, 2004.

The Norwegian Star, meanwhile, will continue its seven-day Hawaii cruises until its redeployment to Alaska next April; the Norwegian Wind will sail Hawaii year-round with 10- and 11-day cruises featuring Fanning Island.

Stuart said offering several lengths of cruises means the line can broaden its marketing approach and target a bigger audience.

On that target list are honeymooners, families, an older audience that has more time to take an 11-day voyage and Hawaii residents who might lean toward three- and four-day trips.

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