Travel Advisors, Pride of America Needs You—and Vice Versa | Travel Research Online


Travel Advisors, Pride of America Needs You—and Vice Versa

Off Hawaii’s Naapali Coast, onboard Pride of America—Concerns over having to quarantine abroad are pushing travelers to domestic destinations and first among them is Hawaii, with the highest prices in the nation. But price is no object this year, and bucket list trips are all the rage. So you’d think Norwegian Cruise Lines wouldn’t need much help from travel advisors to sell its Pride of America itineraries in Hawaii.

Indeed, since returning to service last month at 40% capacity, the newly refurbished POA is sold out through October. Still, though, I’d argue that Norwegian needs travel advisors to help sell it more than most ships—and that it offers a great opportunity in return.

Pride of America is a unique and expensive product, commanding the highest daily rates in the NCL fleet but sailing under the most unusual conditions. The key to success, as she returns to service, really is to manage customer expectations, to get the right heads in the right beds, and to encourage customers to spend a little more than they originally planned.


NCL’s Pride of America along the Hawaiian coastline. Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines.


POA is always a different experience from other Norwegian ships. Built in 2005, it’s heavily itinerary-focused; there is no big show, no casino, no bells and whistles. And nowadays, with staff impossible to find, capacity is limited to under 50%, making evenings onboard quieter than ever. (Those capacity controls will last through October, NCL president and CEO Harry Sommer said at a press conference on board the ship.) In May, our contingent of 150 or so press-and-travel-partner invitees sailed with 1,194 passengers, about 40% of the maximum, and a crew of 550 rather than the full 930. For now, only two specialty restaurants are open and reservations for them are hard to get, even for penthouse suites that have a butler. The dining room is open only for dinner; the Aloha Café and Cadillac Diner are the only options for breakfast and lunch unless you have a suite (more on that below!).

In short, the Aloha State, not the ship, is the draw here. The décor is historic, leaning toward Americana and Hawaiian culture, though it has been lightened and brightened in the refurbishment and all soft goods have been replaced. It’s not right for everyone. (“I want to party!” said one honeymooner on a POA Facebook page, complaining about the lack of nightlife. So sorry he didn’t use a travel advisor. He’s on the wrong ship for sure.) But it is the perfect product for a river cruise regular, for example, or a bucket-trip customer who wants to see many islands at a relatively reasonable cost.

“At first I didn’t put the décor together—but now, as a former employee of the House of Representatives, I love the Rotunda and all the symbols of the United States, and all the historic Hawaiian pictures,” said one travel advisor that asked I not use her name, as we sipped mai tais at sunset against the towering backdrop of the Na Apali Coast. “I’m going to market it to all my customers who have done the Caribbean and are ready for something a little more. I’ve been promoting it while I’m on the ship and I’ve gotten a lot of interest.”

“It has to be the hand fitting the glove,” said another. “I doubt many people will stick balls in their bikini top to win a $2.99 bottle of champagne here. It’s for a more educated, higher-income customer.”

While it is a big-ticket item that is not completely open, and even with a largely brand-new staff, it is “absolutely a great value,” he said, as long as customers are prepared for what they are going to get. “I have a family reunion in Hawaii, eight rooms in July, and it is running close to $60,000 not including food. But people who are cruisers want to do Hawaii, and there are no all-inclusives in Hawaii. We are seeing four islands in seven nights. This is your only option.”

Wooing Travel Partners

Indeed, NCL Holdings VP of sales Derek Lloyd told me, “this is not a Caribbean cruise on another set of islands; it’s a very unique product and it needs to be sold as such.” With hotels in Honolulu and Maui at $800 a night plus a resort fee, “this is realistically the closest thing to an all-inclusive in the Hawaiian islands. We’re a much better value than other options.”

To help travel advisors understand the product, NCL also will host seminars at sea for travel partners, he said.

Also in his sights is Europe, where Prima will have an inaugural tour with cruises through Northern Europe, interesting new routes like New York to Galveston, and a number out of Port Canaveral. Viva will sail out of Lisbon “and do a lot of neat itineraries in the Med” and then winter out of San Juan.

Coming out of Covid, “people are looking to explore, they’re looking for something different”—and often that means a 9-10 day vacation rather than a week, be it in Europe or in Hawaii. “You add just a few more days and you can build something very exciting,” he said.


Pride of America – Owner’s Suite With Large Balcony – Living Room. Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines.


Tasting the Suite Life

A number of travel advisors mentioned the better chance to get a suite upgrade given the limited capacity; indeed, my hubby and I were thrilled to win our $1,370 bid to upgrade from a balcony to a Penthouse Suite! Included in that price was priority boarding; a butler to help us score those very hard to get restaurant reservations and hold seats for us at the show; private breakfast and lunch in Cagney’s (especially nice since the main dining room is not open for lunch); Nespresso coffee; a bathtub and double sinks; priority tendering; and an amazing view at sail-away, though over the pool deck and not the ocean. One couple of travel advisors who scored the Owner’s Suite for $1,500 said they are encouraging all customers to bid on the upgrade, and are finding it an easy sell on a product that usually goes for 10 times that amount.

But the big draw, of course, is Hawaii itself. An overnight at the Moana Surfrider Waikiki Beach, the oldest hotel in Waikiki, set the right historic and cultural tone for our trip. Then, NCL topped it off with some unforgettable excursions and amazing private dinners (made possible by two overnights). We had a magnificent sunset cocktail party and dinner al fresco at the Montage Kapalua Bay, a private tour of the USS Missouri and the USS Arizona Memorial, a lunch at the Maui Aquarium, a hula lesson on a riverboat sailing up the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto, and dinner at The Beach House Restaurant in Koloa.

Whether selling Europe or Hawaii, “travel advisors need to focus on the value, not on the price,” Llyod says.

And of course, Hawaii itself never disappoints. From spouting waters at the edge of crashing waves to volcanoes creating brand new lands, from tales of ancient gods watching from above to coral spawning babies in the seas below, it is a testament to life—the perfect backdrop for celebrating the rebirth of travel after a global pandemic.


Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.

As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business and technology sectors.

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