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Norwegian, The Frank Del Rio Way

Frank Del RioWhen Frank Del Rio became CEO of the company that owns Norwegian Cruise Line, everybody who has seen him in action knew there would be more action to see. Outgoing, perhaps even flamboyant, gregarious and entertaining, he seems to stand still for nothing unless it’s for the next idea to pop into his head…within minutes, or seconds.

This week, engaging reporters on the new Norwegian Escape, here’s what Del Rio revealed to Cruise Critic’s Brittany Chrusciel…

• Every older ship will go into dry dock in 2016 and 2017, except the Jewel, which is already scheduled for 2018. By our count, that’s nine refurbishing in two years, 10 if Pride of America is part of the deal. Del Rio wants the older ships to become more popular, like the 16-year-old Regent Seven Seas Navigator is for one of his other cruise lines.

• Norwegian will start the migration towards smoke-free casinos, and the Escape will be first to become 50 per cent smoke-free. The last four Norwegian ships launched — the Epic (2010), Breakaway (2013), Getaway (2014) and Escape — have all fielded complaints about “drifting smoke” from the casinos.

Escape• Complimentary dining in the new Jimmy Buffett restaurant, Margaritaville At Sea, may be short-lived. There were long line-ups once the Escape arrived in “Jimmy Country” and when something is that popular it’s only a matter of time until it becomes an additional revenue stream. As an aside, as people who have waited in line to get into several  Margaritavilles, we get it.

What Del Rio is doing, since replacing Kevin Sheehan at the helm, is turning Norwegian into a cruise line that turns more heads.

There’s every indication that he knows exactly how to do it.

In the news…

• Viking orders two more ocean ships — fledgling fleet to be six strong by 2020
• Harmony of the Seas to combine attributes of Oasis and Quantum Class ships
• 'Tangled The Musical' world premiere on Disney Magic in Miami
• MSC Divina arrives in Florida to begin year-round cruises to Caribbean

Today at portsandbows.com: Guess where Liberty of the Seas is going?

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
7 nights
January 30, 2016
Tampa (return): Key West, Belize, Costa Maya, Cozumel 
Inside: $560
Cost per day: $90

Kevin Sheehan No Undercover Boss Now

As our colleague Phil Reimer always says — and he is The Expert, after all — corporate news about cruising is usually as interesting to people on cruises ships as what the captain had for breakfast.

SheehanThe Kevin Sheehan story, we think, is different.

On Friday, Sheehan resigned/was fired/left as the head of Norwegian Cruise Lines. The “s” on “Line” has applied since Norwegian purchased Regent Seven Seas and Oceania. It’s always been a complicated or complex relationship because Apollo Management owned half of Norwegian and all of Oceania, but the long and short of it is that Sheehan’s replacement is Frank Del Rio, co-founder of Oceania.

But that’s probably not what should interest you (and us).

This should…

It was Kevin Sheehan who elevated Norwegian from being just another player to a high-profile member in the club of major cruise lines, albeit a junior member. He spent seven years at Norwegian, becoming CEO in 2010, when he had to stickhandle through the mess created by a ship the industry — but not the passengers — have often ridiculed as a misfit, the Epic.

Once the economy showed signs of recovery, Sheehan turned Norwegian into an entertainment icon at sea, and became part of a show not at sea when he appeared on Sheehan-UndercoverUndercover Boss, which at least gave the impression he was very hands-on and very much the public face of Norwegian Cruises. He also embarked on a four-ship expansion that will be something of a legacy, once the third (Escape) and fourth (Bliss) arrive in his absence. At least two of the four Breakaway and Breakaway Plus ships have his signature pub (O’Sheehan’s) so you could say his footprint remains on Norwegian, but nowhere is it more obvious than on the Breakaway.

It was the first cruise ship to be anchored in New York for year-round sailings, and it was always presented as “New York’s ship.” Sheehan, you should know, is a New Yorker. Under Breakawayhis direction, the Breakaway has a “New York” Boardwalk, New York godmothers (The Rockettes), Broadway entertainment (Rock of Ages), a New York hull artist (Peter Max) who painted a New York skyline, and a famous New York chef, Geoffrey Zakarian, whose restaurant adorns the ship’s eateries.

The Breakaway was the blueprint for the Getaway, which has everything Miami, which is Sheehan’s other home.

Or was until Friday.

So if you like what you see on the newest Norwegian ships, you probably have Kevin Sheehan to thank for it.

Now the questions that remain are: (1) Will he surface with another cruise line that likes what he did? and (2) Will O’Sheehan’s still be called O’Sheehan’s?

Today at portsandbows.com: More on Norwegian's news

Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas
10 nights
March 30, 2015
Baltimore (return): Labadee, San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten  
Inside: $682
Cost per day: $68


Yo Ho Ho…on Great Stirrup Cay

What's going on here? If you ask passengers which cruise line would be most likely to wear the unflattering moniker of "booze cruise" chances are the response would be Carnival, the line that admittedly tries to take "fun" to the extreme without directly linking it to the consummation of alcohol.

But…is that Norwegian, making a run at the title?

One week, Kevin Sheehan's favorite cruise line seals a deal with the Mondavi GSK-Bacardi barfamily, known for many decades of turning grapes into red and white beverages that are downed by drinkers who don't care for the exotics and the hard stuff.

The next week, Norwegian proudly locks arms with Bacardi, the people who make rum and who as of yesterday have a "first of its kind" rum bar at Great Stirrup Cay, the Caribbean island owned by the cruise line. 

Now, for those of us who don't have this spirit on our drink menu, a rum bar is a rum bar s a rum bar. Apparently there is something unique about this one, other than the fact that it's on the beach at Great Stirrup Cay, but it seems you need to go there to find out. Yes, on a Norwegian ship (the Pearl is a regular).

And maybe that's the whole idea. Maybe it has nothing to do with taking on Carnival after all.

Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
January 20, 2014
Miami (return): Key WestCozumel 
Inside: $169
Cost per day: $42

Norwegian vs Bermuda a Gamble

Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian's aggressive CEO, isn't always right. But often, he is. We'd like you to weigh in on whether you think this is one of those occasions.

Last week, Sheehan addressed the fact Norwegian would like to have its casinos on the new ship Breakaway, which spends three nights every week docked in Bermuda. Open in the evenings only.

As a rule, cruise ships are not allowed to have casinos open when close to any port. Whether it's because it will cut into that port's gambling business or because there is a law prohibiting the importation of this vicarious form of entertainment, who knows?

Here's what Sheehan told the Royal Gazette in Bermuda:

"People love to spend the day off the ship shopping and then in the evening they come back on. But then the pulse of the ship really drops because we’re not allowed to open our casino. To me, I can’t understand why it’s even a point of view for Bermuda, because it’s only for people on the ship."

From Bermuda's side, the unspoken fear is that cruise passengers will spend money in the casino and not in the evening entertainment on shore. The fact that the island has no casinos means there is no gambling competition.

So, is Sheehan right or not?

Celebrity Constellation
12 nights
July 7, 2013
Amsterdam (return): Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Copenhagen
Inside: $999
Cost per day: $83

Norwegian Captains a Special Group

We've never met Hakan Svedung. Nor Evans Hoyt. But we hope to meet them. A lot of people who cruise clearly have, since together these two captains have spent 65 years at sea.

Their next assignment(s) is the Norwegian Breakaway. They'll be co-captains of Norwegian's newest ship when it leaves New York Harbor next month on a series of inaugural cruises. At the helm will be Capt. Svedung (left), who will be relieved by Capt. Hoyt (right) when it's time for a vacation.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that we have a soft spot for Norwegian captains. It has been our good fortune to meet several of them…good fortune because we've enjoyed talking to all of them of their experiences at sea and their lives on land, both of which they've been willing to have us share with you.

Among them was one of the original captains of Norwegian's last new ship (the Epic), the late Trygve Vorren, from Norway, and Roger Gustavsen, a Norwegian who's climbing the captains' ladder — might the Getaway be next for him? A couple of months ago, we spent time with one of the Epic's current captains, Frank Juliussen, who's also from Norway and who will be featured in this space later this month.

He was not a candidate for the Breakaway, by choice.

"I don't want more new ships," he said. "I just want to be here on the Epic. The young boys can take it now."

Captain Svedung is from Sweden. He has been with Norwegian for almost seven years and before that with a company shareholder, Star Cruises. Captain Hoyt is from America, a Moroccan-born son of a U.S. diplomat and a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Says their boss, CEO Kevin Sheehan:

“We carefully chose these seasoned veterans [because they] have a proven track record as successful leaders in our operations team and possess the dedication and passion that will make the Breakaway our most successful new ship launch.”

Sounds like your typical Norwegian captain to us.

Windstar Wind Surf
7 nights
May 28, 2013
Nice, Monte Carlo, Calvi, Cannes, Portofino, Portovenere, Portoferraio, Rome
Oceanview: $2,799
Cost per day: $399

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