'It starts with Norwegian Bliss,' Stuart told Seatrade Cruise News, with its exceptional multi-city launch and record-breaking performance in every metric.
'The idea of a sister ship to Bliss in Alaska was very appealing,' he said.
By redeploying Norwegian Joy from China to Seattle for the Alaska season, that enabled moving Norwegian Pearl to Europe.
And the next 'domino' was keeping Joy on the West Coast year-round, with Mexican Riviera and Panama Canal sailings from Los Angeles, freeing Norwegian Jewel to return to Australia/New Zealand for a third season and sending Norwegian Jade for additional capacity in Southeast Asia.
West Coast opportunity
'Norwegian has always been a stronger line on the East Coast than the West Coast because of the history of the brand and the infrastructure challenges,' Stuart pointed out.
Starting with Norwegian Epic in 2010, the new ships were too large to transit the Panama Canal, and even if they went around South America, Alaska's cruise infrastructure wasn't suitable. All that changed with the Panama Canal's expansion and Alaska improvements.
Bliss has been hugely well-received there.
'Clearly our past guest base and our travel partners were ready for a big new ship on the West Coast. This is really an opportune moment,' Stuart said. The reaction to Joy's addition, particularly from travel partners who experienced Bliss during its recent inaugural tour, has been 'a lot of excitement and positivity.'
The Port of Los Angeles welcomed the news. 'We’re extremely pleased that the Norwegian Joy will be calling at the Los Angeles World Cruise Center,' said Chris Chase, marketing director at the port. 'This 4,000-passenger, newly built vessel will be extremely popular as the Mexican Riveria re-emerges as a premier cruise destination.'
The changes in store for Joy
The $50m going into Norwegian Joy, which was built for the Chinese market, will make it a twin to Bliss, but not an identical twin, Stuart said. The scale of the retail and the casino will be adjusted, bar/nightlife venues will be added, along with a Starbucks, and the dining will be altered for international clientele. The work will begin in Shanghai then completed on the crossing to Victoria, BC.
Joy will be different from Bliss in that it offers the Galaxy Pavilion of virtual reality games and experiences, and its spa lacks a Thermal Suite. Another distinction is that Joy has a Concierge Class of 95 staterooms that are positioned between the mini-suite and Haven categories. It offers a private dining room for breakfast and lunch, additional amenities and, as the name implies, concierge service.
Broad sourcing for Europe
With NCL's first six-ship deployment in Europe, the addition of Norwegian Pearl from Amsterdam broadens the northern bases of operations from Southampton and Copenhagen to a city with excellent airlift. Stuart said Schipol Airport offers very good service for both European and overseas travelers, including from the US and even the Middle East.
'We don't have to rely on just one market. A very broad sourcing is important,' he said.
Norwegian Pearl will also operate in the Mediterranean, with cruises from Civitavecchia (Rome), Barcelona and Venice.
Australasia and Asia
Norwegian Jewel has been sailing seasonally in Australia/New Zealand, with cruises in Asia as it transits there.
'For the first time, we'll have two ships in the region,' Stuart said. 'It's quite a substantial expansion as we take Jade out there.'
'Right-sizing' China capacity
Shifting from year-round China deployment on the big, new Norwegian Joy to seasonal sailings on the smaller Norwegian Spirit (built in 1998 as SuperStar Leo, it's NCL's oldest ship) is quite a change. Wall Street certainly welcomes it.
Stuart called it 'right-sizing our China capacity,' and said Norwegian Spirit's 'Norwegian Edge' update—which completes the fleetwide program in 2020—will be a 'bow to stern, strip to steel' refurbishment, to be carried out in Marseille.
Because Norwegian Spirit will operate just seasonally in China, it's not going to be customized for that market.
'It's a very high-quality ship and it will be the most recent to have gone through this major investment,' Stuart said, adding that the 'Norwegian Edge' treatment makes vessels like new.
'I'll proudly show any ship to anyone, that's come from back in 1998 to 2018,' he said.