Norwegian Sun extends NCL's building spree

tar Cruises' purchase of Norwegian Cruise Line in early 2000 infused what had been a struggling operator with a much-needed shot of vitality.

A year and a half later, Star's takeover is resulting in a series of new ships for NCL.

NCL took delivery of the 78,309-ton Norwegian Sun in a ceremony at the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven, Germany, last month, and introduced the vessel with a two-day cruise across the North Sea to Southampton, England.

Norwegian Sun is the sister vessel to Norwegian Sky, which NCL introduced in 1999.

"It's a sister ship, not a twin sister, but a step up," said Colin Veitch, NCL's president and chief executive officer.

The 1,960-passenger ship will be followed by the 91,000-ton, 2,240-passenger Norwegian Star, under construction at Germany's Meyer Werft shipyard. Another ship, the 2,240-passenger Norwegian Dawn, will debut in December 2002.

The building program will give NCL four megaships and, more importantly, modern tonnage in a mass market dominated by large, feature-rich new ships. "With new ships, the benefits are built in," said Veitch.

The atrium of the Norwegian Sun.The Sun also is "the first NCL ship that's given us the opportunity to blend the experience of Star Cruises into the American style of NCL," said Andy Stuart, senior vice president of marketing and sales.

It also is the line's first purpose-built ship for the Freestyle Cruising program. As such, it features more dining options than have ever been offered on a cruise ship, officials claim.

"Freestyle Cruising is a complete change of the cruise product that centers on dining," said Stuart. "It is a perspective brought to us by hoteliers."

Hotel and land-based resort guests, said Stuart, would never expect to be told where and when to eat and with whom.

And neither should cruise passengers, according to Veitch.

Said Veitch, "The [cruise] market will only grow to a certain size if everyone does the same thing. We are trying to broaden the market."

It's virtually impossible to discuss the Norwegian Sun without mention of its array of restaurants. There are nine venues offering 10 separate menus.

This means passengers on a seven-day cruise can dine in a different restaurant every night.

NCL also has upgraded the quality of the cuisine and placed additional waitstaff at each eatery to step up service levels, said Veitch.

Like many first-run ships, the Sun's staff displayed a noticeable degree of unfamiliarity with the ship and each other. But this is likely to fade as personnel gains crucial experience from daily operations.

Nevertheless, the Sun's menu of restaurants is impressive. The Four Seasons restaurant seats 564 and is one of two main restaurants serving traditional fare. The Seven Seas restaurant, the other main eatery, focuses on contemporary cuisine and seats 594.

Il Adagio is a formal Italian eatery that's somewhat more intimate than the main restaurants. Le Bistro, on Sun's Sports deck, offers French-Mediterranean cuisine.

Ginza is another specialty venue, with sushi the featured attraction. East Meets West, which NCL calls "California/Hawaii/Asian fusion," features a live lobster tank, and Las Ramblas is a colorful tapas bar with lounge seating.

Pacific Heights might be the first cruise-ship restaurant dedicated solely to "healthy living, spa and fitness cuisines." Also on Pool Deck is the Garden Cafe, the ship's 24-hour lido restaurant, serving hamburgers and hot dogs, soups and salads and food stations featuring paella, crepes, meat and fish.

Under Freestyle Cruising, passengers can opt for open seating dinner in one of the ship's two main restaurants from 5:30 p.m. to midnight. The Sun also has a 24-hour room service menu.

The diverse restaurants add an element of adventure to what is already a very contemporary and lively vessel.

NCL made the intriguing decision to adorn traditionally white exterior bulkheads and some interior areas with brightly colored prints, making the ship feel something like a relaxed but slightly upscale resort.

The staterooms are above average. Light cherry wood-toned furnishings in a deco/nautical style blend well with brightly patterned upholstery and bedding. The cabin artwork is unpretentious and contemporary. Bathrooms feature marble sinks atop sleek cabinetry.

Of the ship's 1,000 staterooms, there are 432 standard balcony cabins (measuring 172 square feet), 30 minisuites with balconies (267 square feet), and four owner's suites (502 square feet).

The Sun's wide assortment of facilities and amenities make the vessel a true megaship. There's a two-story main show lounge that also doubles as a late-night dance club. The lighting is a bit bright for that particular purpose, but certainly adequate.

Norwegian Sun also offers a large casino, an Internet cafe with 24 computer terminals, a health spa and salon operated by Mandara Spa (Body Waves), a wine bar, a cigar club, an observation lounge, a conference room, a library, a chapel, a card room and a duty-free shopping area.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI