Norwegian Cruise Line's Andy Stuart

Norwegian Cruise Line is moving its 4,248-passenger Norwegian Escape from Miami to New York in April as part of a swap that sends the Norwegian Breakaway, which has been in the Big Apple since 2013, to Scandinavia next summer and New Orleans after that. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke to Norwegian CEO Andy Stuart -- in New York to promote the move with the Escape's godfather, Pitbull -- about these changes and about how important it is right now for travel agents to sell cruises to Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean.

Q: You are offering a $50 bonus commission on Norwegian Dawn cruises from San Juan. Are people skittish about cruising from there?  

Andy Stuart
Andy Stuart

A: There's a lot of media around San Juan and everything happening in Puerto Rico. We want everyone to understand that Puerto Rico is up and running. Ships are already sailing out of Puerto Rico; we're not there until Nov. 12. So we wanted to get some attention to it. And we also understand that fares are lower than they typically are on that one ship, simply because of everything that's going on, and we wanted to compensate travel agents fairly for that, because it's hard work.

The other thing we want to get across is that it's really good for Puerto Rico to have people flying in, getting on ships and starting their economy again. We'd really encourage travel agents to talk about that, and that while Puerto Rico is still facing challenges, getting some normalcy -- and ships sailing out of Puerto Rico is getting it back to normal -- is something that's very important. So we really encourage travel agents to support that.  

Q: What about the Caribbean in general? Are people comfortable buying cruises to the other parts of the Caribbean? Do they understand that 70% of the islands were not damaged?

A: I think they do. What we see when we put a sale on an itinerary that doesn't have any of the affected destinations on it, there's very strong demand.  And so we're trying to balance the demand factor with how soon we can go back to destinations that were impacted, because that really is the best thing we can do for these destinations, when they're ready and when the destination has the capability to handle tourism, to get tourists back as soon as we can. Because that really will get the economic engine going again, which has come to a standstill in the wake of these storms.  

Q: Norwegian is bringing the Escape from Miami to New York. Will you add New York-centric features to the Escape, similar to the ones on the Breakaway?

A: Not to the same extent as we did for Breakaway, no. There's so much new on the ship, and New Yorkers have been asking for a new ship. The Breakaway has been here for a while, so they've seen the entertainment on the ship. They're looking for "new," understandably.  So we are bringing [one of our] newest ships here. They will have new entertainment, new restaurants, new bars, new everything. We think they are going to be excited.

The unique aspect of the New York cruise is that most people come from the tristate area, so you have tremendous repeat, a lot of people who sail the ship every year. Now they're saying, "Hey, we love 'Rock of Ages,' but we've seen it five or six times, we'd love a new show." And it's not that easy to keep rotating entertainment. We're excited about the new ship, and early indications are that it's been well received.

Q: Does this give you pause about giving ships local features and design?

A: I think it is a little limiting. It's super-exciting when you first do it. I think for Breakaway, the first ship we built for New York, it was the right thing to do. But ultimately we like the flexibility of moving ships around. We don't really want a lot of ships to get attached to a destination. It does make it more challenging.

Correction: The Norwegian Escape is Norwegian Cruise Line's second newest ship, not its newest. 

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