The kick-off press conference for the week's series of Seatrade events was held at the uber-chic National Hotel in South Beach and, not finding a sign directing me to a venue in the hotel, I asked a reservations agent where to go. "Fred. Olsen?" he said, puzzled. "Is he staying in this hotel?"
It was not an auspicious beginning for the fifth generation British cruise line. And indeed, ask all but the most Anglo-centric North Americans about Fred. Olsen and you might get a similar response.
For now, anyway.
That's because the line, which currently operates four ships -- check out our full reviews of two of the four, Black Watch and Boudicca -- is planning a big, splashy and first-time-ever appeal to passengers from North America when it launches its newest acquisition. And that was the gist of today's announcement.
"We believe there's a market in the United States [for Fred. Olsen's more sedate cruising style] just as many of the British enjoy the razzmatazz of American ships," Nigel Lingard, the company's marketing director, noted at the press conference. To start with, the outreach will apply to four Miami-based Caribbean/Central American cruises in the winter season of 2008.
The expanded marketing approach is doable, he said, because Fred. Olsen has acquired Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Crown (it's currently leased back to NCL until November) in what's been called the most expensive secondhand ship sale ever. When that lease winds up in November, the ship will undergo a three-month dry-dock for refurbishment (that's a pretty serious amount of time for a refurb). The ship, which currently carries 1,100 passengers, will be, well and away, the largest in the fleet.
Some intriguing details about the remake, especially for folks who've sailed on Norwegian Crown: Lingard said that the "single biggest change is the casino, which will be stripped out and removed" (that area will be transformed into the Blenheim Room, and pay homage to the famous British palace, featuring some of the design concepts found there). Also, the line, which caters to the over-50 crowd, is famous for its willingness not only to devote cabins to solo travelers but also to actually design them to be comfortable for singles. On this ship there will be 50 dedicated cabins for travelers sailing alone.
And in answer to a question from the rogues' gallery -- "Will you take the thing off the top of the ship?" which got a hearty, if knowing laugh -- he said yes. That "thing" is a fitness and spa facility that NCL added to the top of the ship; its presence negatively altered the views from the top of the Crown lounge.