Freestyle 2.0 is a fleetwide initiative to upgrade several aspects of the guest experience, including dining, staterooms, and onboard activities and amenities; NCL will also revamp its tiered Latitudes past passenger program. The initiative is the result of customer and travel agent feedback, and is being helped along, at least financially, by the $1 billion investment Apollo Management offered the company earlier this year.
Here's a glimpse of what's to come:
Freestyle Dining is the largest component of the current Freestyle Cruising movement, and that will not change -- most of the 2.0 improvements involve food and beverage. In fact the line expects to spend $50 million on dining-related upgrades before its next new-build (the first in the prototype class now known as F3) launches in winter 2009. Look forward to:
No more buffets. Well, sort of. The lido eateries on NCL ships are being transformed into action-station-only restaurants. We've seen the shift throughout the industry from standard buffets with long lines to those peppered with action stations -- but this move will completely eliminate heated holding trays, with all cuisine carved or cooked to order. Staffers on hand carry trays. At night, tablecloths and candlelight will transform the space into another alternative for dinner, with full bar service.
Each specialty restaurant will get a signature dish. For example, the steakhouse will offer a 48-ounce porterhouse -- an entree Veitch calls the "Fred Flintstone" cut.
A tapas-style food sampling will be offered on embarkation day from all of a ship's specialty restaurants.
Lobster will be available in at least one restaurant every night of the cruise. The main dining rooms will serve lobster multiple times each sailing (generally on sea days).
All guests will be welcomed onboard with a glass of bubbly -- a nice touch.
The room service menu will be expanded.
NCL will upgrade mattresses, sheets, pillows, duvets, towels and bathrooms in all cabins on all ships. Coffee makers will be added to any cabins in the fleet that don't already have them, and all suites will get sofa beds. Guests booked in balcony cabins and mini-suites will receive priority check-in and disembarkation, a personal escort to their staterooms, and a special "At Your Service" hotline (not a concierge, per say, but a team of folks who can field questions and delegate requests).
And suite and Courtyard Villa holders, who already receive perks such as butler and concierge service, will get extra benefits including a private breakfast and lunch menu available in the Courtyard and in Cagney's Steakhouse; previously, the Courtyard had only light snacks for breakfast, such as pastries and fruit.
Activities & Amenities
The line will launch NCL "U" -- an education and enrichment program that will offer new classes, including organic cooking, improv with Second City, and how to be a bartender or sommelier. The health and wellness program will be expanded, and even the pool deck experience is getting an overhaul -- each deck chair will have a flag on it so when you need a cool drink, you don't have to signal or wait for a bartender. Chilled towels and Evian spritzes will also find their way poolside.
Some of the enhancements, such as the action-style "buffet" restaurant, are already in place on Norwegian Gem. Though there's no target date for a complete fleetwide rollout (it will take time as dry dock is required for some ships -- especially in the lido eateries), Veitch says Freestyle 2.0 changes will be largely implemented on all ships by the summer of 2008, and that more details on specific additions and changes will be revealed in the coming months.
Oh, and those F3 ships that we mentioned earlier? Veitch tells us we can expect to see even more changes -- Freestyle 3.0 -- with that class, a new prototype for NCL.
We'll keep you posted.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor