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The New Ways Of Norwegian

 Two couples who are good friends of ours were both on Norwegian ships in the last couple of months. The experiences met with mixed reviews, for both, although we have to say that’s never been the case for any of our Norwegian cruises…and the most memorable of them lasted 19 days!

Well, times are changing at Norwegian.

Tom Stieghorst, who’s on top of everything that happens in cruise central (aka, South Florida) for Travel Weekly, authored an interesting article about the cruise line Norwegian is becoming under new CEO Frank Del Rio and President Andy Stuart. If you’ve been on a GetawayNorwegian ship, you’ll be interested in knowing that the freestyle is being scaled back from Freestyle Cruising and that you’ll no longer be encouraged to Cruise Like A Norwegian.

The slogan seemed appropriate until Del Rio rationalized it this way:

“When you tell a German that he has to cruise like a Norwegian, he says, ‘What are you talking about?’”

So Norwegian’s likely to become more global, as it continues to explore venturing where cruise lines are all going, China. It’s also likely to change its marketing approach (one recent hiring was a door-to-door, high-end vacuum salesperson) by introducing more valued-added components and fewer discount prices…for example, combining air fares as Del Rio did with Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, cruise lines where he formerly presided as the head honcho.

As much as we were thrilled about Freestyle Cruising, perhaps it has run its course. At the time Norwegian introduced it to the industry, it was a welcome change from the staid, fixed-seating, four-or-more-to-a-table style of dining that many of us found unappealing. Today, in no small part because of Norwegian’s innovation, almost every cruise line has an abundance of dining options and life on every ship is less structured.

Or more “freestyle.”

Del Rio also wants to make the “guest experience” on board more complete. Among other things, that could mean enhancements to include enrichment programs on the ships, with the kind of experiences and guest speakers Del Rio is familiar with from his Oceania and Regent  past.

For at least half our friends who just cruised on Norwegian, that would be most welcome…and might even bring them back.

In the news…

• P&O Adonia to become first voluntourism ship for 'fathom' cruise line
• Royal Caribbean returns cover charge to Jamie Oliver's (CruiseCritic)
• Death toll over 400 from capsized Chinese ship on Yangtze River

Today at portsandbows.com: Azamara's major re-furbishments

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
September 19, 2015
Miami (return): St. Thomas, Tortola, Nassau
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

Drinks For Free On Norwegian Sky


Oh, for the days when going on a cruise meant once you paid for your ticket, that was it…everything was included but shopping for souvenirs, and taxes and tips.

Are those happy days starting to make a comeback?

They are in Norwegian’s world. Well, in one corner of Norwegian’s world. Okay, one neighborhood…bar.

Starting in 2016, cruises on the Norwegian Sky, an 11-year-old ship that goes from Miami to the Bahamas and back will be so inclusive that you won’t pay for drinks. From margaritas to wine (even premium) to beer to soft drinks…nada. 

“We’re taking freestyle cruising to the next level,” said Andy Stuart, Norwegian’s President and COO.

“Freestyle cruising” is the umbrella under which Norwegian introduced the non-traditional seating in dining rooms, allowing passengers to pick their times and tables. Following an era in which passengers felt they were being nickled and dimed at every turn, Norwegian announced that the Sky’s passengers will  “enjoy an even more all-inclusive cruise experience with dining, entertainment and now free unlimited beer, wine and premium spirits included.”

However, if you think “dining” includes the Sky’s three specialty restaurants (Il Adagio, Cagney’s Steak House and The Bistro)…guess again. What it includes in dining is what is already included: the dining room.

For anybody too young to drink…free soda. Now that’s a first for an ocean cruise ship.

It’s likely another test. If “free drinks for everybody” fills up its ships, expect that it will be extended beyond the Sky’s horizon.

After that, who knows?

Today at portsandbows.com: Entertained on Anthem of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas
14 nights
June 11, 2015
Sydney, Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Cairns, Darwin, Benoa, Singapore
Inside: $974
Cost per day: $69

Freestyle Flashback: What's Up?

Here's an item that strikes at the very heart of our love of cruising.

Dinner reservations on Norwegian.

As you may have read here before, we came back to cruising because Norwegian was the first cruise line NOT to insist on fixed dining. No traditional times. No identical Norwegian Stardining partners, night after night. All of these things appealed to us so…Norwegian Star, here we came. It was the introduction of Freestyle Cruising.

Now, reservations are creeping back into Norwegian.

It started on Pride of America, the Hawaii ship. Norwegian told its customers it could reserve space in the dining room up to 90 days in advance. As people who don't know what time dinner is tonight, or any night, this is foreign territory. The offer has now been extended to all Norwegian ships and, no, you don't have to make reservations…you can still do the Freestyle thing.

But here's the real catch: Reservations are offered at 5:30, 6:30 and 8:30. Fixed times.

The more things change, the more they remain the same?

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Crystal…way up north

Ruby Princess
14 nights
September 8, 2014
LondonBergenLerwickAkureyriIsafjordurReykjavikSt. John’sNew York
Inside: $1,299
Cost per day: $92

Norwegian's Freestyle Dining 'freestyle?'

In the beginning, Norwegian's strategy of Freestyle Cruising was designed to attract passengers who didn't necessarily want to dine at a predetermined time and who didn't necessarily want to have the same dining partners every night.

That would be us.

Fast forward. Today, Freestyle Cruising is part of a marketing tool for Norwegian customers who want to book dinner days, even weeks, in advance. Now they can make a dinner reservation up to 90 days before sailing and if that seems like something of a contradiction in "freestyle dining"…welcome to the club.

Part of the attraction, at least for us, was the flexibility and saying "Okay, time for dinner" and walking down to the ship's dining room and getting a table more or less right away. The idea of "freestyle" isn't making that decision — again, for us — 12 weeks in advance.

However, that was before speciality restaurants (for fee) came along.

Had Norwegian called this promotion "Specialty Freestyle Dining" then it guarantees you won't be shut out of places like the signature steakhouse, Cagney's (above). You can decide (up to 90 days before your cruise) which specialty restaurant you want to go to for dinner, who you want to eat with (or without), and precisely what dinner time you want.

Look at it that way, and it's the ultimate in Freestyle Dining.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Oosterdam
7 nights
July 6, 2014
VancouverKetchikanJuneauSkagwayGlacier BayAnchorage
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Norwegian's Morphing of Freestyle Into Paystyle

In the midst of today's christening of its new ship the Getaway, Norwegian has also launched a new way to eat on board, calling it the Ultimate Dining Package.

A cynic might call it Paystyle Cruising.

That's a play on Freestyle Cruising, the revolutionary concept Norwegian introduced about 15 years ago. It eventually spread to all Norwegian ships…and then to ships around the world, in one form or another. We were among the early advocates on Freestyle Cruising, which essentially offered cruise passengers an opportunity to eat dinner at any restaurant at any time.

The Ultimate Dining Package is a spinoff…except it comes with a price tag, as you may have guessed.

Passengers can now sign up to eat at a ship's speciality restaurant every night of the cruise, on any of its ships. The cost varies from $59 per person for short cruises to $349 per person for cruises longer than 36 days.

The bridge between Freestyle Cruising — which was free — and the Ultimate Dining Package is the arrival of specialty restaurants. All the cruise lines have them ncl_Epic_Rsrnt_Cagneys.psdand you pay a fee that varies, depending on the restaurant and the line. In Norwegian's case, there are five restaurants that are now fleet-wide:

Cagney's (above), the signature steakhouse
The French Bistro…think coq au vin, creme brûlée, etc.
The Italian Restaurant, which is self-explanatory
Asian Fusion, for dishes from Japanese to Pan-Asian
Moderno Churrascaria, a Brazilian spot for meat lovers

For the traditional 7-day cruise, the price is $119 per person. Norwegian says "every night of the cruise" so presumably that would mean seven nights, or two of the restaurants twice. Since an average price for a specialty restaurant would be in the $25 to $30 range, that's a good deal.

It is, however, a large step from FREEstyle Cruising.

Norwegian Jewel
7 nights
March 30, 2014
New Orleans (return): CozumelBelizeRoatanCosta Maya
Inside: $589
Cost per day: $84

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