Norwegian Cruise Line delivered the stunning announcement today that it would transfer Pride of Aloha to parent company Star Cruises, where it will be re-flagged and deployed to Asia. The news comes on the heels of Pride of Hawaii's departure from NCL America -- leaving only one of three original ships, Pride of America, left in the NCL America fleet.
Pride of Aloha will leave the NCL fleet on May 11, 2008.
The news is both startling -- and yet not entirely unexpected. Cruise Critic members had posted messages on the boards of late wondering why cabin availability for all of its Hawaii cruises during selected months this spring and summer had vanished from NCL's own Web site, along with cruise agency sites.
In a telephone interview with Cruise Critic this evening, Andy Stuart, NCL's executive vice president of marketing, sales and passenger services, confirmed that the disappearance of Hawaii cruises from travel agents' booking inventories and the NCL Web site is indeed related to the Pride of Aloha news. The line has held back inventory so guests booked on Pride of Aloha could be accommodated on Pride of America. Stuart told us that at least 90 percent of guests should be able to switch ships without problems. Guests looking to first book a summer Hawaii cruise should check with travel agents around the beginning of March to see if any cabins remain open after the Pride of Aloha guests make their alternate arrangements.
Due to the complexity of this change of plans, the cruise line had to keep mum about why the cruises had suddenly vanished. Stuart apologized for the shroud of mystery, saying "There's no perfect way to handle such a complex situation."
As for the Pride of Aloha, Stuart says several factors went into the decision to transfer it to Star Cruises.
Apollo Management, the company's new major shareholder, had already made it clear it wanted nothing to do with the line's money-losing operations in Hawaii. That company, and the infusion of cash that comes with its involvement, was solely interested in upgrading NCL's Freestyle Cruising to what it considers "Freestyle 2.0," a new generation of service onboard the fleet's ships.
Pride of Hawaii, one of two new-builds designed to sail intra-Hawaii cruises, had already been reassigned; that ship, now known as Norwegian Jade, has been repositioned to Europe.
As well, Pride of Aloha, one of the fleet's older ships and the only vessel in the NCL America program to be refurbished rather than designed for the itinerary, didn't merit the investment of upgraded amenities, Stuart said.
As well, the company is in consolidation mode. It's already put one-ship line Orient Lines, a sister company, out of business with the transfer of its Marco Polo to a European cruise operator. This way, NCL can be more of a total business with a particular interest in Hawaii, rather than several mini-companies wrapped into one. Stuart claims the cruise line's unique struggles in Hawaii (in particular, challenges with training the mostly American crew required as part of its efforts to be the only cruise line in the industry to offer all-Hawaii voyages) certainly played a role in the decision, but weren't the only reasons for the transfer.
Finally, he added that NCL is still committed to Hawaii. Pride of America, Stuart said, is indeed appealing to cruise travelers (and making money in the process). "There's a strong possibility that if Pride of America has tremendous success, then we will bring Pride of Hawaii back," he said.
Finally, in NCL's official statement today, focusing on the departure of Pride of Aloha from the fleet, Stuart was quoted as saying "We cannot justify further investment in this ship. Withdrawing Pride of Aloha was an extremely difficult but necessary commercial decision; however we see a strong future for the long-term flagship in Hawaii, Pride of America."
If you're already booked on the Pride of Aloha for a cruise departing on or after May 11, here's what NCL will do for you:
NCL will allow guests to switch to the Pride of America cruise departing one day earlier than their original cruise (the two ships feature repeating itineraries, staggered by one night). The fare will remain the same as what was offered for the already-booked cruise.
If they choose to switch, guests will receive a $100 per person onboard credit (up to $200 per stateroom).
For guests who made air and/or hotel arrangements through NCL, the line will offer the same rates and cover any change fees.
For guests who purchased their own airfare, NCL will cover up to $100 per person of airfare increases and up to $75 per person in change fees. For guests who booked their own hotels, NCL will cover up to $25 per person in change fees.
Alternately, guests who choose to book another NCL cruise by March 7 will receive $100 per person in onboard credit (up to $200 per cabin). These guests will also receive up to $75 per person in air change fees and $25 in hotel change fees.
Guests who choose to cancel by March 7 will receive a full refund and up to $75 per person in air change fees and $25 in hotel change fees. After March 7, regular cruise cancellation fees apply.
It's no secret NCL was experiencing financial difficulties with NCL America and Hawaii; in fact, in an effort to protect the struggling product, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has proposed a new interpretation of the 122-year-old Passenger Vessel Services Act that that could drive foreign-flagged competition from the market. However, a move of a second ship this soon after the pullout of Pride of Hawaii was unexpected.
Now that the Pride of America will be the sole Hawaii flagship, it will see some additional changes. The ship is scheduled for a dry dock in late April and will receive the line's Freestyle 2.0 enhancements. When the ship emerges on May 10, it will offer a rearranged itinerary. The new schedule features an overnight in Nawiliwili, Kauai; an afternoon cruise of the Napali Coast; Hilo, Hawaii; an evening sail by Mount Kilauea; Kona, Hawaii; and an overnight in Kahului, Maui.
--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor