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   Cruise Travel - Cruise News

Cruise Club is a free service, and when you join, you will begin receiving weekly updates including the latest cruise news and cruise specialsWelcome to this week's edition of Cruise News, the best place on the Web to find up-to-date information about cruises. To automatically receive Cruise News via email each week, join our Cruise Club.

For up to the minute news, stop by Cruise Talk anytime to post a message or find out what your fellow passengers and industry insiders are saying about a particular ship, cruise line or destination.

Cruise Views - March 13, 2006

Cruise Views  
This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver takes a closer look at Norwegian Cruise Line and their stratgey for growth.

NCL a Serious Contender?

If someone had asked me five years ago what the general opinion of Cruise Talk forum members was regarding Norwegian Cruise Line, I would have said: "good value, but their uninspiring ships do not compete with the big two (i.e. Carnival's fun fleet or Royal Caribbean's amazing floating resorts)". In addition some aspects of the NCL onboard experience were arguably below the standard of that offered by Carnival and RCI.

Since that time, NCL has gone through a series of dramatic changes, not the least of which was being purchased by Star Cruises, the Asian cruise giant. Probably the biggest contribution of the Star acquisition was the addition of much needed capital, which has allowed NCL to embark on an aggressive new-build programme. Their current fleet of twelve vessels seems to be expanding almost on a yearly basis and is scheduled to continue doing so for a while. Another big change was the creation of NCL America. NCL America is a dedicated brand that allows NCL to provide unique itineraries of the Hawaiian Islands on three American crewed ships: Pride of America, Hawaii and Aloha. Although early customer feedback was mixed, NCL America seems to be finding its stride and an increasing number of cruisers are starting to consider a Hawaiian Islands cruise as a fresh alternative to an increasingly over exploited Caribbean itinerary.

NCL's new Libra class vessels are externally very different from all other cruise ships. For one, they all feature NCL's unique Hull Art, which looks a bit like a graffiti artist has tagged the ship. These painted designs on the bow of each ship incorporates a variety of themes, including: dolphins, the Statue of Liberty, a large Hawaiian Lei and the Star Spangle Banner, to name just a few.. Love it or hate it, it certainly does make their brand look very distinctive.

Internally their new ships are modern, lively and very colourful, without being over the top. They also feature NCL's innovations such as private Garden Villas, which are a bit reminiscent of the SS France's patio cabins.

Perhaps the most significant innovation is Freestyle dinning. In short the ships feature a multitude of dining venues, unlike more traditional ships with one large main dining room and two set evening meal times. The freestyle restaurants offer a range of different cuisines and flexibility. Passengers can choose to eat when they like (between core hours) in which dining room they like, and sit with who they like, subject to table availability. They can choose to be formal or un-formal. Although many traditionalists were rather sceptical of this system at first, those that have actually tried it, tend to love it.

That said, I do have some issues with NCL. I find it rather sad that NCL's legendary SS Norway (the ex ss France) is almost certainly destined for the scrap heap. NCL are clearly investing in their future, rather than reflecting on the past. A couple of years ago made the dramatic announcement that it had purchased the one-time fastest liner afloat, ss United States, and announced plans to restore and return her to service. In the opinion of many, myself included, this would be the jewel in their crown. However with each passing day it becomes harder to see how this historic ship would fit into their young freestyle fleet.

All things considered though, I feel quite justified in saying that for the most part NCL really have been "thinking outside the box". They have become an exciting and innovative cruise line with a state-of-the-art fleet. They may still be in third place, but they now have the market leaders firmly in their sight.

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Royal Caribbean - Bahamas Getaway from $129 per person
Description: Experience the beautiful ports of Nassau and Royal Caribbean's private island - CocoCay on a 3-night Weekend Getaway to the Bahamas. Absorb everything island life has to offer as you snorkel with the stingrays, parasail above the serene blue waters and walk the endless white sand beaches. From Miami.
Carnival - 4-Day Bahamas  from $229 per person
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NCL - Bermuda - 7 Day from $499 per person
Description: What a charming little chain of islands. Walk on pink sand beaches. Swim and snorkel in turquoise seas. Take in the historical sights. They're stoically British and very quaint. Or explore the coral reefs. You can get to them by boat or propelled by fins. You pick. Freestyle Cruising doesn't tell you where to go or what to do. Sure, you can plan ahead, or decide once onboard. After all, it's your vacation. There are no deadlines or must do's.
Holland America - Eastern Caribbean from From $599 per person
Description: White sand, black sand, talcum soft or shell strewn, the beaches of the Eastern Caribbean invite you to swim, snorkel or simply relax. For shoppers, there's duty-free St. Thomas, the Straw Market in Nassau, French perfume and Dutch chocolates on St. Maarten. For history buffs, the fascinating fusion of Caribbean, Latin and European cultures. For everyone, a day spent on HAL's award winning private island Half Moon Cay.
Celebrity - 7-Night Western Mediterranean  from $549 per person
Description: For centuries people have traveled to Europe to see magnificent ruins, art treasures and natural wonders. And the best way to do so is by cruise ship. Think of it - you pack and unpack only once. No wasted time searching for hotels and negotiating train stations. Instead, you arrive at romantic ports of call relaxed, refreshed and ready to take on the world.
Holland America - Alaska from From $499 per person
Description: Sail between Vancouver and Seward, departing Sundays on the ms Statendam or ms Volendam and enjoy towering mountains, actively calving glaciers and pristine wildlife habitat. Glacier Bay and College Fjord offer two completely different glacier-viewing experiences.
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