Norwegian Prima Sets the Tone for Del Rio’s Six-Year Vision: #CruiseNorwegian as “The Most Innovative Ships Ever Built” | Travel Research Online


Norwegian Prima Sets the Tone for Del Rio’s Six-Year Vision: #CruiseNorwegian as “The Most Innovative Ships Ever Built”

To understand the new Norwegian Prima, it helps to keep in mind that for Norwegian Cruise Line—and on a personal level, for Norwegian Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio—Prima is not just the newest ship in the fleet. From the curves in the stateroom dressers to the floor-to-ceiling chandeliers in the Orca dining room; from her intimate and upscale little nooks to her seven-deck, 107-suite Haven complex; from the $10,000 painting on the wall to the $12,000 bottle of wine, Prima was designed to usher in a new luxurious vacation experience that will guide its growth over the next six years.

Even now, her designers say, they are working hand in hand with Del Rio not just on Viva, the second ship in the Prima class that will debut in August 2023, but more so on the as-yet-unnamed Primas 3, 4, 5, and 6, which will follow over the next four years, in an as-yet-undefined future for the cruise industry. And indeed, much of what they test here will not only roll forward but also back across the fleet if it works out well.

“We had a meeting early on where Mr. Del Rio set the initiative to deliver the most innovative ship ever built and to elevate the design more to a premium category,” Yohandel Ruiz, founding partner of design firm Studio DADO, told me. “It’s definitely going to be a catalyst that will push the brand forward.”

Next year, Viva will look very much like Prima—but the vision for the ensuing five years will raise the ante even higher in terms of sustainability, beauty, space, service, food and beverage, and entertainment. Del Rio’s stamp (and increasingly, Harry Sommer’s too) is on every decision; the designers say that, before he approved the showers in the staterooms, he had a member of the team step inside one with him, to ensure there was sufficient space for guests to be comfortable. (Talk about cozying up to the boss!)

“We saw this trend coming, that people aren’t looking to be in these large spaces; they like smaller and more intimate spaces,” Sommer said. “We see the popularity of Oceana and Regent and the resorts—and we’re going to give it a shot too, in a slightly larger platform.”

Like all great art, many of the brushstrokes are not noticeable unless you look closely—but the patterns they create are soothing and beautiful. It begins with the unique engineering of the ship. The zig-zaggy pattern of the atrium, for example, different on every floor, meant each level had to be designed completely differently, its columns moved from one place to another. Cagney’s design pays homage to Frank Lloyd Wright. The Bistro sports three giant chandeliers that took months to coordinate, with every piece of Austrian crystal individually fastened so it wouldn’t vibrate as the ship moved. There is $6 million worth of original art onboard, including paintings and sculptures—a veritable art museum, with text guests can follow to read about the pieces.

The unique shape of the hull makes it possible to move the engines to the middle of the ship, leaving room for a larger Haven in the aft, open to the sea and with its own infinity pool, and a whole lot of extra outdoor space on Deck 8. The Haven itself has become more of a work of art, more upscale, with prices two or three times those of balcony suites. The five-day Bermuda itinerary in October, for example, runs $1,480 per person for a balcony or $5,000 for an entry-level Haven suite. Wines in the cellar go for as much as $12,000 a bottle; bartenders can pour specially infused vodkas and tequilas, or create a cocktail just for you.

The retractable seats in the theater allow the staff to convert the room into a disco in just a few minutes, and make room for full-fledged versions of The Price Is Right, Supermarket Sweep and Press Your Luck, where guests can win a cruise or a car. Retracting the seats part way leaves a dance floor, or a space for the stage performers to step down and mingle with the crowd, as Kool and the Gang did to great success during our sailing. And “we looked at every nook and cranny; there’s not a bad seat in the house,” Ruiz said.

New Models for F&B and Entertainment

Next comes a new kind of dining experience, in which smaller main dining rooms serve the same set menu every day, much like fine restaurants do, while guests move to other venues—such as an upscale food court where you can order everything from sushi to crab samosas.

“We’ve been brainstorming about this for four or five months,” Sommer said. “We thought, why is there a menu rotation to begin with? Because 55 years ago there was only one dining room.” But with 22 dining venues to choose from, most guests eat in the dining room twice. So why not create one fantastic menu, delivered expertly every night?

When it comes to entertainment, meanwhile, “we were thinking technology innovation, what will entertainment be 10 years from now,” said Richard Ambrose, SVP entertainment & cruise programs. “This ship has all the technology to support that—including that 60-ton movable chandelier in the theater. Entertainment is a pillar of Norwegian, and Frank said do it.”

While not yet ready, Prima soon will add Noise Boys, a new production by the team that brought us the wonderfully entertaining and original Choir of Man. “It’s very young, it’s very hip, and it’s really, really, really fun,” Ambrose promised. The virtual-reality-heavy Galaxy Pavilion, meanwhile, is “the finest collection of technology anywhere in the world,” and includes five pieces created for this ship.

Looking Forward to Strong Sales

“When you throw so many new things together you have to cross your fingers a little,” Sommer acknowledged. But Norwegian is feeling pretty confident that the cruise market—and indeed, the higher end of the market—will hold steady. He is heeding the crystal ball of NCL’s financial advisors at Goldman Sachs, who “do not see inflation as a long term issue,” and who believe “the economic disruption is starting to mend and see 2023 as a more normal year.” Indeed, the fact that Oceania and Regent are doing even better than NCL points to growing interest in the kind of upscale experiences the Prima class ships will deliver, he said.

And deliver Prima does. Born before Covid entered the lexicon, she fits right into our new world where people like their spaces a little less crowded and a little more outdoors. The Observation Lounge has shrunk and filled with intimate spaces; The Local bar has shifted away from the restaurant and muffled the sounds of the Atrium.

In the end, Sommer asked, what makes a great vacation? It’s a combination of great service (think one crew member for every cabin), excellent food, excellent activities (a three-story racetrack, 22% longer than the one on Encore and the biggest at sea; the cutting-edge Galaxy Pavilion; the terrific Donna Summer Show) and going to really interesting places. Outside of a cruise ship it’s hard to get those four things together in one place. “As long as we get those right, it’s impossible for a resort to mimic that,” he says.

Meanwhile, the design team already is working on Prima 5, whose Atrium “will be very different but it will be a show-stopper,” Ruiz promises. The vision comes in part from feedback from travel advisors; “they understand the industry, and we do a lot of research with them.”

For travel advisors, meanwhile, Norwegian has made a significant investment in marketing, photography and video, and NCLU has some great content documenting all the features on Prima and Viva, Sommer noted.

Travel Advisor Feedback

Onboard the ship, Marisel Aleman, co-owner of Cruise Elite Inc., declared Prima “totally beautiful” and the service “wonderful.” The Observation Deck is perfect for morning coffee and pastries, “much more open with lots of little seating areas; very much like Edge and Virgin.”

It’s great for families, she noted, and the higher price tag should not deter many; “they want to get out, especially our older clients, and they are trying to check off all those bucket list items.” Sailing out of Port Canaveral is great, too, for her Ormond Beach agency; “we’re lucky to have a new ship in port.”

While many of her clients, and especially her older clients, are loyal to Celebrity Aqua class, Prima is “definitely a good fit for families and for the many loyal Norwegian clients.”

“I think it will be easy to sell,” agreed Jeff Leach, a Dream Vacations franchisee in Omaha. Since the vaccine requirement was dropped, “our cruise business is way up—and I think families are number one, but also mutigenerational groups, couples, friends groups will all be interested.” While Prima will command high prices this year, that will fall as Viva comes online.

Dream Vacations franchisee Trapper Martin called Prima “amazing; it’s definitely the nicest Norwegian ship, and the Indulge Food Hall is a great concept.” He’s already booked himself for 14 days in The Haven at a price of $23,000—and now sees the price has gone up to $38,000.

Still, he’s feeling confident. “I’m shocked at how people are willing to spend coming out of Covid,” he said. “I absolutely can sell Prima.”

And indeed, he already has. Even while sailing the christening, he’s been posting pictures on social media—and already one client had switched from Encore. “She’s so excited about the ship, the more intimate spaces, the infinity pools. It didn’t take much to convince her.”

At LBAC Travel in Sayville, NY, Liz Henn agrees that “with this new class of ship, Norwegian Cruise Line is closer than they have ever been before to being a premium brand. For my agency, she will be an easy sell because we specialize in multi-generational vacations and Prima offers something for everyone. And she will be the best sailing from the Galveston market, as well as a stand-out sailing the European itineraries that are planned.”

Sailing in the Haven, meanwhile, Signature Travel Network CEO Alex Sharpe said the ship “really is a game-changer. It’s not just a ship—it’s the ships coming year after year that really can elevate the perception of Norwegian in the cruise business.”

Here in the exclusive Haven, “there are elements as luxurious as their sister ships.”, he said. “Sometimes we do a disservice by categorizing them as a contemporary.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity also are moving upscale with their suites—“but this Haven is more exclusive, and Haven is dripping into everything else, so everything is getting elevated, from the wines to the venues to the service,” Sharpe said. And while the price is higher, “the difference between $700 and $850 a day doesn’t make much difference to luxury customers. To me the value proposition is still there.”

Cheryl Rosen on cruise

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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