Norwegian Cruise Lines is celebrating four years of operating out of Australia – with its three marquee brands winning significant numbers of new Australian fans.
While experiences on Sydney-based Norwegian Jewel have turned many families into big ship cruisers in Europe, the stand-out success here has been Oceania Cruises.
Australians have taken the line that boasts the best cuisine at sea to its heart, making our market number two in the world for the fleet of six small upper-premium ships, says Steve Odell, Senior vice President and Managing Director Asia Pacific, who opened NCL’s office four years ago.
“We’ve done well in all categories but Oceania is the highest performer as we are the second largest market globally outside of North America.
“I think there are three things that made that happen: We are foodies and the food experience with Oceania is second to none; it’s a very casual style – no jacket, no tie. And that’s like our lifestyle. And then there are port intensive cruises. We go to a lot of small ports.”
Mr Odell says opening the first office in Sydney – he started with a team of six and now has 150 staff – was the catalyst for the line’s growth.
“From a baseline of two regionally based ships in 2015, there will be eleven NCLH vessels sailing in local waters in 2020, including the year-round Asia deployment of Norwegian Spirit and a fifth homeport season in Sydney for Norwegian Jewel, just announced,” he said.
The arrival of Norwegian Jewel, which sails from Sydney for its third season this year, allowed Australians to trial the brand best known for great food and big-ship facilities
And while many moved on to Norwegian’s Hawaii offering aboard Pride of America, Europe’s big ships were now attracting families.
Among Australian favourites are longer cruises of ten and 11 days: the Norwegian Epic Barcelona to Rome, for instance, and Norwegian Breakaway Baltic cruises out of Copenhagen.
The attraction, said Mr Odell, is the big ship experiences of shows like Burn the Floorand Pricilla, Queen of the Desert.
“It’s a flexible style of product – up to 29 restaurants, a big investment in entertainment. We’ve had real cut through in the fly cruise market,” he said.
He also noted The Haven – the luxury ship-within-a-ship concept – was now very popular in the Australian market.
“It’s another trend we have seen grow significantly. We were hardly doing any Haven sales, but now it’s a big contributor. Families are particularly attracted. A bit of exclusivity, private sunbathing deck, private restaurant, private bar – that’s appealing to higher-end families who normally go into premium of luxury ships but want the big ships for their families.”
Mr Odell’s third brand, Regent Seven Seas, is in the sector facing most competition. Australia’s luxury sector has grown enormously – as have the cruise lines offering white-gloved all-inclusive service.
“We’ve come from no-where to being recognised and picked up awards for the category.” Says Mr Odell. “We’re pushing very hard that we are the most inclusive of the luxury cruise lines, especially free unlimited shore excursions.”
This matters in places like Alaska and the Baltic, where you can be spending a lot of extra money on excursions, warns Mr Odell.
“We’re not the cheapest, and we don’t apologise for that – but we think we offer the luxury traveller the best uncompromising set of benefits.”
And he is looking forward to 2020, when Regent Seven Seas Explorer– known as “the most luxurious ship ever built” – will be in Australian waters.
“We talk about opulent luxury – the hardware being as good as the software,” said Mr Odell.
And in February next year, the line launches Regent Seven Seas Splendor – “we’ll set the bar higher again in full glorious technicolour, “ says Mr Odell.