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Cruise Line

Company Overview:
A few people in cruising deserve special recognition, and the original founder of NCL, Knut Kloster, is certainly one of them. Another is Ted Arison, the founder of Carnival Corp and father to present day Carnival CEO, Micky Arison. The Norwegian, Kloster, and the Israeli, Arison, started selling Miami to Nassau cruises together under the name "Norwegian Caribbean Line." And so was humbly born not only what became two huge companies, but also an entire industry. It all began with a tiny 830-ton steamer, the Sunward, originally built for ferry service in Europe. Of course, there was a "disagreement" and Arison left only to eventually start competitor Carnival Cruise Lines, but Kloster kept the company going, soon changing the name to Norwegian Cruise Lines, adding more ships, making waves and sometimes enduring rough seas.

Some of the landmark achievements in the history of NCL include buying the SS France in 1979, once the fastest ocean liner ever built (by the French Government), and re-naming it the SS Norway, then the largest cruise ship in the world. NCL pioneered the first combined air-sea program (marketed as "Cloud 9 Cruises") which combined low cost air fares with the cruise, which helped transform cruising from a Florida novelty into a national industry. It was the first cruise line to develop new ports in the Caribbean, like Ocho Rios in Jamaica, and their own "private island" in the Bahamas.

Despite a common notion of NCL being something of a "budget" cruise line, Knut Kloster also once owned the now famously retired Royal Viking Line and operated it for several years (the final Royal Viking build is now sailing for Holland America as the Prinsendam). Many of the concepts, and indeed many of the people who worked for Royal Viking, including Knut's son and namesake, are today vitally involved in running the various luxury cruise lines in the world. Knut's son, (Knut Kloster Jr.) created the idea behind "The World of ResidenSea," the world's first passenger-owned all-condo ship.

NCL also started Orient Lines in 1991, still in operation, which focuses on international travel on longer cruises worldwide more than the typical sun-seeking cruise experience.

In the year 2000, after a fierce battle for public shares in which all the major cruise lines were players, NCL was acquired by a surprise victor, Star Cruises of Malaysia. Star Cruises operates ships in the Asian market, and as parent company of NCL has largely left the company unfettered. Norwegian Cruise Line now operates a modern fleet that sails to New England, Canada, Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, where it all began, and enjoys a reputation as surviving because of its ability to adapt and innovate in a very competitive environment.

In 2001, NCL revolutionized the cruise experience by introducing "Freestyle Cruising", making itself very attractive to potential cruisers who find strict dining times and dress codes counter-intuitive to being on vacation. NCL's Free-style service, now in operation on all of their ships, offers open seating dining and a huge choice of onboard restaurants. Passengers have the option of traditional cruise dining procedures such as as meals included in the cruise fare served at specific times at reserved tables in the dining room, or they can opt to go to go another dining room where the mealtimes and seating are open. Or they can select from several onboard alternative restaurants offering a variety of cuisine, most of them carrying a service charge.

"Freestyle Cruising" didn't just usher in open seating, but also increased entertainment options, improved casino services, increased staffing, and flexible debarkation arrangements. Passengers are encouraged to try a different restaurant and style of cuisine every night of their cruise, and may do so in everything from French bistros to steakhouses to sushi bars. Room service is available around the clock.

In response to the terrorist attacks on New York, after which many U.S. travelers simply stopped flying, all the cruise lines re-deployed most of their ships back to homes port in the United States. Since all those ships could not sail out of Miami, NCL coined the phrase "Homeland Cruising" and started using cities all around the United States as home ports. Suddenly, cities like San Diego, Charlotte and Baltimore, who had never seen cruise ships before, had them stationed there year-round. Naturally, the other cruise lines soon followed.

NCL introduced "Homeland Cruising", at that time, and took it a step farther by being the first cruise line to deploy a ship sailing out of New York City for warmer climates all year-round, deploying Norwegian Dawn on year-round Bahamas/Florida itineraries.

NCL introduced subsidiary company NCL America after Congress gave the line exclusive rights to operate a year-round, inter-island Hawaii service without having to call at a foreign port. In order to do this, the line agreed to sail under the U.S. flag, to hire American crewmembers, and to be subject to American taxation and environmental regulations. The first NCLA ship, Pride of Aloha, began weekly sailings from Honolulu on July 4, 2004. Pride of America, the first new ocean-going passenger ship to be built in 50 years to sail under the American flag, joined her a year later. Pride of Hawaii joined them in June, 2006.

The line has also bought two former American flagships, the S.S. United States and the Independence, for which plans are yet to be announced.

The Norwegian Cruise Line Experience:
No cruise cruise line has vessels that vary one to the next more than NCL, so watch our ratings and reviews. They vary from being old and small to modern, state-of-the-art vessels. The average age of their ships has become much younger in the last few years as they phase out the older ones (mostly sending them to obscure Asian ports to sail for Star Cruises) and introduce newer models to the fleet.

Some of the older vessels include sister ships Norwegian Dream (1992) and Norwegian Wind (1992), both of which were "stretched" in 1998 which is another way of saying a large addition was added mid-ships to both ships to add more public rooms, and unfortunately many more cabins. As a result, though these ships truly have some lovely public rooms, they are small and crowded ships, with few balcony cabins, and lines tend to get long. Look for bargains on these ships. Norwegian Majesty (1992), is just recently stretched and refurbished. Norwegian Crown (sailed for Orient Lines as the Crown Odyssey for many years) and Norwegian Sea are still unstretched.

To experience the best of Free-style cruising, seek out the newer vessels, as bargains can be found on them as well. Norwegian Sun, (2001), was the first purpose-built vessel as a "Free-style" ship. Another ship, Pride of Aloha (one of the NCL-America Ships) was originally Norwegian Sky (1999). Norwegian Star , Norwegian Dawn (year-round from New York City), and the brand new Norwegian Jewel are lovely, new ships built for Free-style cruising. NCL also nabbed an additional "Freestyle"-designed ship; parent company Star Cruises has traded in its SuperStar Leo in exchange for Norwegian Sea (which left NCL's fleet in fall 2005) and renamed it Norwegian Spirit, now also sailing out of New York.

Similar to Norwegian Jewel. Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem are scheduled for launch in February and October, 2007. All are 93,502-tons and feature modifications in both technical and passenger areas. The new "Bar Central" connects three venues - a martini bar, champagne and wine bar and beer and whiskey pub. The new ships have 10 restaurants, a passenger capacity of 2,376 and are capable of 24-25 knot speeds. And Norwegian Pearl has something which is a first at sea - an actual bowling alley. Pride of Hawaii is the same design, sailing under the NCL-America banner (but no bowling alley).

Though they get a little bigger with each new ship, NCL's standard inside and outside cabins are noticeably smaller than a lot of the competition's. Indeed, Carnival's 185-square-foot standard cabins snicker disdainfully at NCL's 110 to 165 square feet. Moreover, the older ships have few balconies � only 16 on Crown, and a grand total of none on poor Majesty.

Lavish Broadway-style entertainment is on offer. Singer Jane L. Powell, she of the big, memorable voice, is regularly featured across the fleet. While the main dining rooms are unlikely to serve you anything to make you swoon with delight, there's a wide variety of alternative dining on all the ships, and these restaurants almost all offer excellent cuisine and service well worth the additional service charge. And if all else fails, there's a "Chocoholic Buffet" on every cruise to pacify your sweet tooth.

Fitness and sports programs vary by ship. Europe, Hawaii, Bermuda and Caribbean cruises offer golf instruction on special Tee-Up Golf cruises, The Dive-In Snorkeling program is a popular feature of Caribbean, Bermuda, and Hawaii cruises. There are courts for paddleball, volleyball or basketball, golf nets, and jogging tracks.

When it comes to service, the main thing to understand about NCL is that there is a huge difference in the way the NCL ships are crewed versus the NCL-America ships sailing in Hawaii. The Hawaii ships, frankly, experienced tremendous service issues when they first came out, due to the fact that U.S. young people had never held cruise ship jobs before, and (due to no fault of NCL at all) they did not prove to be of the temperament required to do such a job. See individual ship reviews for more details. The non-U.S.-crewed ships have very personable crew and staff-members, many of them gracious Asians who understand the benefits a loyal and humble disposition add to a service position.

Fellow Passengers:
Especially in its Caribbean itineraries, NCL attracts many first-time cruisers seeking a low- to mid-price cruise vacation. Dress code is flexible, which is to say a couple of large steps down from country club casual. Don't be shocked to glimpse T-shirts among the tuxedoes in the dining room. Expect many first-time cruisers and honeymooners; during summer vacations and school vacations, families with children; Europe- and New England/Canada-bound cruises attract mostly couples over 55. Lots of different countries are typically represented � all of them English-speaking including Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Special Programs:
NCL's tours run the gamut from bus rides to private helicopter tours. "Dive-in Snorkeling" and the Sports Afloat programs help scuba and snorkel enthusiasts prepare for their destination dives while still onboard the ship. Shore excursions are outlined on the NCL web site.

Taking The Kids:
Except on Europe sailings NCL offers "Kid Crew" -- age-appropriate activities ranging from parties and video arcades to learning sessions -- to Junior Sailors, ages 2-5; First Mates aged 6-8; Navigators, aged 9-12 and Teens aged 13-17. Staff members won't change diapers, but you'll be given a beeper so the staff can let you know that your Junior Sailor has committed an indiscretion. There are cribs for younger passengers.

In-cabin private babysitting is no longer offered, but group babysitting for ages two to 12 is available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. each evening and on port days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a fee.

NCL insists that visitors to its casinos be at least 21. There are no casinos on NCL-America ships. There is one NCL ship (Norwegian Wind, currently) that does sail the Hawaiian islands on an 10 or 11-day (alternating) itinerary that includes a visit to distant Fanning Island. This ship is not U.S,-flagged and therefore has foreign crew-members and a casino.

Past Passenger Program:
Latitudes, the past passenger program, is comprised of four levels depending on number of cruises you have taken Bronze,(1-4), Silver, (5-8), Gold (9-13), and Platinum (14+). NCL, NCL-America and Orient Lines sponsor special member cruises world-wide throughout the year. Other benefits include access to a Latitudes Customer Service desk; a complimentary subscription to Latitudes, a quarterly members-only magazine; exclusive pricing on all sailings; the added enjoyment of Polo Club benefits when sailing on Orient Line�s Marco Polo; Latitudes Check-in Desk at the pier; a Latitudes ship pin; a members-only cocktail party hosted by the Captain; and a Latitudes onboard liaison to ensure that all past guests receive their benefits. Additionally Silver Members receive an invitation to an exclusive gathering on board and treats delivered to their stateroom twice during the cruise; Gold Members receive VIP service, which includes priority boarding, an in-stateroom welcome basket upon embarkation; priority restaurant reservations; priority tender tickets; priority disembarkation and an invitation to the Captain�s VIP cocktail party. Platinum members receive all of the above and enjoy the added benefit of a complimentary dinner in NCL�s signature restaurant, Le Bistro. For more information call 800-343-0098.

NCL automatically adds a fixed service charge of $10 to the shipboard accounts of passengers over 13 to make service personnel feel appreciated; children between three and 12 are charged $5. Those under three get off scot-free.

While further tipping is not compulsory, NCL recommends a 15 percent gratuity for bar service and urges the beneficiaries of concierge or butler services to come up with a little something extra. All else is at the passenger's discretion.


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Ship Reviews
  • Norwegian Dawn
  • Norwegian Dream
  • Norwegian Jewel
  • Norwegian Majesty
  • Norwegian Spirit
  • Norwegian Star
  • Norwegian Sun
  • Norwegian Wind
  • Pride of Aloha
  • Pride of America
  • Pride of Hawaii

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