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How Norwegian Prima raises the bar for Norwegian Cruise Line

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The starry sky of the asymmetrical Penrose Atrium by Studio DADO
From its asymmetrical atrium to its convertible theater to the fabulous multi-deck Haven suites complex, from the broad Ocean Boulevard dotted with infinity pools, indoor-outdoor restaurants and an interactive sculpture garden to the triple-deck racetrack, Norwegian Prima makes a splash.

The first Norwegian Cruise Line newbuild under Frank Del Rio's design guidance, it is strikingly contemporary and upscale. He wanted it to emulate the upper premium Oceania Cruises and the ultra-luxury Regent Seven Seas Cruises, while also providing the contemporary elements that appeal to mainstream travelers willing to pay more for an elevated experience.

Del Rio considers it a big success.

'The most beautiful ship we ever built'

And Fincantieri is very proud of its first creation for NCL.

'She's the most beautiful ship we ever built,' according to Claudio Cisilino, SVP and managing director, cruise division, Fincantieri.

Norwegian Prima's style is different from NCL's existing fleet, yet all the signature venues are there and Del Rio's delighted with the 'sum of all parts.'

'New guests will be blown away'

'Their loyal passenger base will see a change but a welcome change. New guests will be blown away,' predicted Yohandel Ruiz of Studio DADO, one of the ship's key design firms. With exciting architecture, greater spaciousness and 'some of the largest staterooms at sea, this is true luxury,' Ruiz said. 'The guests are going to see the value.'

NCL President and CEO Harry Sommer singled out the Penrose Atrium as a favorite space. It's remarkably original, with asymmetrical design, 'a place of discovery,' as Ruiz put it.

'From every deck, there's a different view, so every day you're on the ship is a discovery ... and you navigate by stars,' he said, pointing to the sparkling chandelier overhead.

'A ship for that new generation of travelers'

With the sculptural openings at varying levels of the atrium, 'Even the simple act of coming down the stairs becomes very memorable,' Ruiz continued, adding that Prima is 'a ship for that new generation of travelers, always on their phones, always trying to capture those moments.'

Another favorite of Sommer's is Indulge Food Hall, a fresh concept with 11 venues including NCL's first Indian-dedicated spot with two tandoor ovens, Q Texas Smokehouse, a full-service Starbucks, an emporium for noodle dishes from around the world and a food truck housed in an actual Airstream trailer.

The adjacent indoor-outdoor Soleil Bar has 72 taps for beer, wine, hard seltzers, ciders and cocktails, according to NCL's Wes Cort, VP food & beverage operations.

Taking full advantage of the rounded design of the aft superstructure affording 270-degree views, is Hudson's, one of the two main restaurants — so glamorous, it looks like a specialty venue.

For the first time, NCL's main restaurants will offer the same menu every day, but it's going to have great variety — for example, diners can choose from 24 pastas and sauces — and upgraded quality seafood and steaks.

Cort explained many passengers frequent specialty dining venues, so there's no need to change the main restaurant menu daily, and this lets the chefs there become experts in the dishes.

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Cagney's — a steak house without the typical masculine leathers and dark woods

NCL signature restaurant Cagney's has a completely different look from the past. It shuns the typical steak house masculine leathers and dark woods and instead is light, with punches of color from chartreuse chairs. Studio DADO looked to American masters like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe as inspiration for the elegant and sophisticated design.

The signature French venue Le Bistro is dramatically different, too. 'We wanted to take the guest to Paris,' Ruiz said, so Studio DADO conjured up Versailles and its crystal chandeliers. 'Why stop at one? Why not three?' he said.

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Klaus Lugmaier, left, and Yohandel Ruiz in Le Bistro

And, in a twist, the chandeliers are lowered to floor height. Austrian supplier Kalmar had to custom engineer them so the individual crystal pieces wouldn't vibrate. Continuing the Versailles vibe, the walls of Le Bistro's banquettes are covered in gold leaf.

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Handcrafted porcelain details in Hasuki

Among Norwegian Prima's seven new dining spots are seafood specialty restaurant Palomar, the elevated Japanese hibachi venue Hasuki with its handcrafted porcelain details and the new contemporary sushi house Nama.

'We've upped our game in all aspects,' said Mark Kansley, SVP hotel operations. NCL is investing $100m a year to elevate the food and adding more staff in the bars and restaurants. Prima's crew to guest ratio is the highest in the fleet.  

Transformative Prima Theater

The 752-seat Prima Theater, designed by Rockwell Group, spans four levels — one of them rising behind the stage where there are 16 electric rails for scenery.

'This allows us to create these Broadway productions Norwegian Cruise Line's known for,' said Richard Ambrose, SVP entertainment. (Norwegian Prima's headliner will be 'The Donna Summer Musical.') When Broadway creators see a theater like this, he added, 'Their minds explode with possibilities.'

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Richard Ambrose in the transformative Prima Theater

The really dramatic aspect is that the theater's seats can be retracted, creating a giant dance floor. And what Ambrose dubbed 'the spaceship,' a 60-ton chandelier in four concentric rings, can be lowered, ring by ring or all at once, for dazzling effects.

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A 60-ton chandelier in four concentric rings can be lowered ring by ring or all at once

'This is an honest-to-God disco ... It's not Studio 54, but that's what we're trying to emulate,' Ambrose enthused. Entertainment will be able to segue from a stage production directly into a dance party.

Cruise ship theaters typically sit empty most of the day. This one 'will be running 24/7,' Ambrose said, with events including full-size game shows like 'The Price Is Right' and 'Supermarket Sweep' and giveaways like cars and refrigerators.

'We're not doing "The Price Is Right" the game,' he said. 'We're doing "The Price Is Right."'

The Haven

NCL's Klaus Lugmaier, regional VP fleet hotel operations, considers The Haven one of Norwegian Prima's standouts. 

For the first time, all the 107 suites and public areas in this luxurious 'ship within a ship' are together and occupy eight decks aft with private elevator access. Each public space affords colossal views. The Haven sun deck's infinity pool overlooks the wake and has an outdoor spa with a glass-walled sauna and cold room.

Designed by the preeminent Italian architect Piero Lissoni, The Haven is also a dynamic space. For example, the restaurant can transform from 'sun splashed' at breakfast into an elegant dinner venue. 'The idea is to surprise the guest,' said Giorgio Pappas of the Lissoni studio.

The Concourse

Norwegian Prima boasts a $6m art collection. 'Art adds richness and depth,' according to Sarah Hall Smith, art director, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

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The Concourse has intriguing installations by Alexander Krivosheiw

The biggest canvas is the hull art by Italy's Manuel Di Rita, known as 'Peeta.' And the Concourse, a new outdoor sculpture garden on Ocean Boulevard, displays large installations by Alexander Krivosheiw with special lighting and interactive elements.

NCL's largest accommodations

Prima's accommodations are NCL's roomiest and designed to feel 'homey,' not industrial, Studio DADO's Ruiz said. Details like eliminating the bedskirt make the rooms feel larger, and the bathroom door pivots in the middle to lend more space.

Lighting levels can be adjusted, and even the headboards are decorated with art. 

'Like Celebrity but more fun'

Claus Jensen, co-founder and CEO of Copenhagen-based MyCruise, likes NCL's Breakaway class but said Norwegian Prima takes it to 'the next level. You see the details. They invested more in the materials. Constantly you're surprised.' 

When Harry Sommer first announced Norwegian Prima, he predicted it would 'stand up well to Celebrity Cruises.' 

'Absolutely,' it competes with Celebrity ships, in Jensen's view. He added: 'It's a good choice for families who want a premium product or adults who want more activity and entertainment. It's like Celebrity but more fun.'

See also 'The genius behind Norwegian Prima's naval architecture' and look for the ship to be splashed out in the September issue of Seatrade Cruise Review, the official publication of Seatrade Cruise Med

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