In this week's commentary TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver looks into the future and predicts what NCL's F3 class of cruise ships will be like.
Veitch tantalizes the Media
When the big players announce the construction of new cruise ships most aspects of the design including the ship's name are normally shrouded in secrecy. Only the basic details, such as gross tonnage, passenger capacity and the date the ship will be delivered are made public. Thankfully, here at CruiseTalk (our on-line community forum), we never let the absence of factual information stop us from extensively discussing such ships.
To date, almost all of Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL) vessels have been of modest proportions, but last year the cruise company announced that they had signed a contract with Aker Yards to build two huge 150,000gt vessels. Each will have 4,200 lower berths and they are scheduled for delivery in 2009 and 2010. The two vessels are known as 'Project F3' (3rd generation freestyle) or simply hull numbers D33 and C33. With the addition of these ships, NCL will become the latest member to join the 'mega-ship' club.
For those unfamiliar with NCL, the cruise line's unique selling point' is their 'Freestyle' cruising concept. In short the NCL ships all feature a multitude of dining venues, unlike more traditional ships which typically feature one large main dining room and two set evening meal times. These 'freestyle' restaurants on NCL offer a range of different cuisines and greater flexibility in terms of dining times. Passengers can choose to eat when they like (between core hours) in which dining room they like, and sit with whom they like, subject to table availability. They can choose to be formal or informal.
NCL has not issued an official image of an F3 as yet. However, an artist's impression has appeared on the Internet. Now I cannot be sure if the image is genuine or just a good 'spoof' by a talented Photoshoper. However if it is an accurate likeness, the F3's are set to be the ugliest cruise ships afloat!
If you can imagine that NCL's 'Pride of America' mated with an Office Block, F3 would be its offspring. The stern is so 'square' it's as if they did not bother to actually design one - they just decide to stop the ship at that point. The back of a bus is infinitely more attractive.
The bow appears to be relatively conventional but above the bridge sits a rectangular structure several decks high, looking like a couple of packs of playing cards lying down on top of the front superstructure. The ship in the image has twin parallel funnels not unlike some ferries. Words cannot fully describe the total disregard for aesthetics, so let's hope the image is a fake.
NCL president and CEO Colin Veitch tantalized the media at the recent Miami 'Seatrade' show with a few morsels of information about the F3. According to Veitch, the design will continue the most successful elements of Freestyle Cruising, including the exclusive Courtyard Villas, a concept that will be expanded. Otherwise, the ships will have no main dining room, no theatre, no Lido Café and be 'without a traditional cruise ship cabin,' he added.
So what can we deduce from the few facts that we already have? NCL clearly aim to compete with the 'big two' (Carnival and Royal Caribbean) by offering a less structured, more relaxed, more resort-style experience than traditional cruising. The F3 ships are going to expand on the ideas featured on board NCL's existing newer ships, which offer up to twelve dining rooms with many different menu options. Therefore the news that the F3's will be no main dining rooms really comes as no surprise.
It also looks like NCL are going to extend the 'Freestyle' concept to multiple entertainment venues which will probably mean some smaller show lounges (not necessarily all raked) rather than a big main Theatre holding the required 2000+ guests for this ship. After all, having two sittings for a theatre show makes little sense if you do not have two traditional sittings for dining. Multiple entertainment venues would be more consistent with the Freestyle concept.
It will be interesting to see whether Royal Caribbean's 'Genesis' project (the world biggest cruise ship: also shrouded in secrecy) will have just one main dining room and one main theatre or will their design be less traditional too? Mind you RCI and their Celebrity brand seem to be concentrating on some low key innovations lately such as real grass, on board poetry recitals and glass blowing seminars. I suppose something has to supersede the ancient arts of Jigsaw puzzles, towel animal creation and napkin folding.
Veitch's comments about the accommodation are the most intriguing. Rumour has it that every cabin will have a balcony (or maybe that should read every 'outside' cabin will have a balcony?) We do know that this will be a high density mass-market ship, so maybe much of the accommodation will be of a 'standard' size; possibly quite compact? However Veitch did make it clear that there would be 'Courtyard Villas' as on previous NCL newbuilds, offering more palatial accommodation, at a price.
The newer NCL ships all have attractive atriums, but they are not particularly tall. For example Norwegian Gem has only a two deck atrium, unlike many RCI and Carnival ships, some of which have nine or ten deck atriums. Rather than waste space on a big internal hole just to get a 'wow' factor, NCL seems to prefer to use this space for extra decks and cabins. Therefore I would not be surprised if the F3's also only had modest atriums. The existing newbuilds also have 'hull-art'. Love it or hate it (some people say that it looks like the ship has been tagged by a graffiti artist) it is certainly distinctive and differentiates the NCL brand from others. I would expect the F3's to have hull-art too.
So there you have my speculation. I accept that much of it may well turn out to be inaccurate, but it's still great fun guessing.