By Steve Odell

Cruise Passenger readers might not be aware of the important leaders in the parent holding companies of the leading cruise brands. One such leader Frank Del Rio, President & CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced his retirement this week.

But if you have taken a cruise in the last decade, you’ve probably been touched by his influence.

The man who led Norwegian Cruise Lines, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas retired this week – but his legacy will live on for a long time to come.

He managed to have an impact across the spectrum of cruising, from contemporary through upper premium and ultra-luxury.

If you’ve cruised on Regent Seven Seas, you’ll have noticed art from Picasso to Chagall. It was all bought personally by Frank, who loves to encourage artists and curated his shipboard collections. If you’ve cruised on Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ships, with everything from luxury Haven enclaves and go-kart race tracks – Frank again. Actually, the go-kart tracks were the idea of his grandson!

In three decades, he has left an indelible mark on cruising which many other lines have tried to emulate. But Frank is one of a kind – you can only follow in this wake.

Exllorer christening Frank Del Rio Norwegian President and chief architect of ExplorerIn 2002 he founded Oceania Cruises with a vision to deliver something completely different in the market: smaller ships focussed on high quality cuisine and service with immersive itineraries. In doing so he was responsible for creating a new ‘upper premium’ cruise category which, to this day, is a globally respected experience.

Again, there have been attempts to copy the concept. But it will always be hard to beat the original.

Frank led both Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises until its acquisition by Norwegian Cruise Line, where he eventually took the helm in 2015. Frank’s style, panache and ability to envision trends has catapulted Norwegian back into one of the top brands in all of cruising.

Eight new ships have been delivered since 2015, each with the hallmark of Frank’s eye for detail. Be that architectural design, focus on fine cuisine, shared knowledge between brands and down to smaller details like his curated art collections and the unique go kart tracks on the Breakaway Class ships of NCL.

He raised the bar for the luxury sector with the game-changing ‘Explorer-Class’ ships for Regent, Seven Seas Explorer, Seven Seas Splendor and the much anticipated Seven Seas Grandeur, set to launch in November. We all eagerly await VISTA, Oceania’s new ship due to launch in May – there is no doubt this will be Frank’s ‘piece de resistance’!

I had the honour and pleasure to work under Frank’s leadership since 2015 when NCLH decided to expand its global footprint and he embarked on an expansion plan which heavily focussed on Asia Pacific. Perhaps no coincidence that his then ‘International’ lieutenant Harry Sommer was chosen for this project  – and is now named his successor at NCLH.

Frank instilled in us all his mantra of ‘market to fill’ and the need to work as far ahead as possible in the booking cycle. This led to achieving industry-leading yields and financial results.

Frank led the company through the tumultuous period COVID-19 pandemic. He was a vocal leader and advocate for the entire cruise industry through those unprecedented times. For those of us who worked under him in that period, he was a constant voice of reassurance and encouragement which none of us will ever forget.

What has made Frank so successful? Certainly his vision, persistence, passion, drive, resilience and dedication. But also his ability to connect with his people, know about them and earn their respect. He will leave an indelible mark on the modern cruise industry.

Steve Odell opened the NCLH offices in Sydney eight years ago, and was most recently Senior Vice President and Managing Director of the Asia Pacific region for Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises