NCL has been, more than most cruise lines, a stalwart fan of the region. The line has, in the past, committed several ships, such as Norwegian Crown (which recently left the fleet) and Norwegian Majesty, to regular weeklong trips from the east coast -- which offered three days on island, whether in St. Georges or in Hamilton. In additional efforts to promote its ships as floating hotels there, NCL, working with Bermuda's resturateurs, created a program that gave passengers credits for dining off the ship -- and in local eateries.
But NCL is at a crossroads. Its ships, like those of other cruise lines, are growing bigger and are too large to dock at cozier facilities right in the heart of St. Georges and Hamilton. Its ships, like the others, now must dock out at Dockyards, dredged for big ship ships, and which is a bit removed from the island's center of action. And in many cases, cruise lines now treat Bermuda as a day trip pitstop on the way south -- or north -- during East Coast-based Bahamas and Caribbean cruises. The era of ships sailing a simple itinerary comprised of two days at sea on the way, three days docked in town, and then another couple of sea days heading home, seems to be ending. As well, most of the ships small enough to fit into the two harbors don't offer some of the newer bells and whistles -- balconies, restaurant options, nice spas -- that cruise passengers have come to expect.
That's why NCL's news this week was a boost in the arm for the charming British overseas territory. It's going to remain committed to a series of multi-day stays (and one day trips) but will offer up some of its designed-for-freestyle vessels, such as Norwegian Spirit and Norwegian Dawn. Beginning in 2009, Norwegian Spirit will sail repeating itineraries on Fridays out of Boston, with a three-night stop at Royal Naval Dockyard from Sunday to Wednesday. Norwegian Dawn will sail a season from New York on Sundays, spending Wednesday and Thursday night in Royal Naval Dockyard. With only one a single pier at Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyard, it was important for NCL to lock up the berths. During the newly planned deployment, NCL ships will occupy that pier spot for five nights in a row. A second pier is, however, scheduled to open in 2009.
Also in 2009, Bermuda mainstay Norwegian Majesty will still have something to offer traditionalists who want to experience the ye olde seven day cruise; they'll sail to St. George’s from Charleston, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Ironically, the new agreement will actually reduce the number of average yearly Bermuda-bound cruises from 26 to 22, but with larger ships and longer stays, both numbers of passengers and total passenger days are expected to rise dramatically. Total passengers will increase from 116,000 in 2007 to 139,000 in 2009; passenger days will increase from 250,000 in 2007 to 417,000 in 2009.
One note: NCL's release, which announced the new commitment to Bermuda, was a tad disengenuous. It noted that "newest and largest ships" would be deployed in Bermuda. In reality the 76,800-ton, 1,996-passenger Norwegian Spirit (1996) and 92,250-ton, 2,240-passenger Norwegian Dawn (2002) would more accurately be described as NCL's mid-level offerings. There are no current plans for the newest and largest, Norwegian Gem, Jewel and Pearl to call in Bermuda -- and likewise for the 150,000-ton, 4,200-passenger F3, due out in 2009.
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor