March 12, 2008
Norwegian Cruise Line, which is in the midst of a massive fleetwide upgrade of food and services, announced today at Seatrade that its newly renamed Norwegian Jade (formerly Pride of Hawaii) will be its first ship to debut with the full Freestyle 2.0 treatment.
That ship recently completed its assignment in Hawaii and is currently undergoing shipyard refurbishments for its March 30 unveiling. Norwegian Jade will begin with Mediterranean cruises out of Barcelona before moving to England, where it will be homeported this summer.
NCL, genuinely the industry's most innovative big-ship line, announced its 2.0 program in conjunction with Norwegian Gem's debut this past December. However, Norwegian Jade will be the first ship to sail with every upgrade. Also, the complete fleetwide rollout will occur earlier than originally planned. In December, NCL announced that all ships would have at least some 2.0 upgrades by summer -- today, however, we were told that all 2.0 initiatives will be available on all ships by June 1.
Just to recap, the Freestyle 2.0 enhancements focus on elements of hospitality related to comfort, indulgence and enrichment in a way that actually feels more like what you'd expect from Holland America or Celebrity. For instance:
A welcome glass of sparkling wine greets all at embarkation.
"Lobster Galore": Every restaurant on every ship will have lobster at least once per cruise and the vessels' main restaurants will have it twice (once the usual way and once incorporated into a dish).
New menus reflect a wacky culinary theme: "surf and more surf" (a play of course on "surf and turf," a lobster-steak combo). Each onboard eatery will have specialties that include, for instance, lobster ravioli in the Italian trattoria, plateau de fruits de mer (a shellfish dish) in the French Le Bistro, jumbo prawns at the Tex-Mex joint and a stir-fried lobster at the Asian restaurant. And, of course, menus will still reflect passenger diversity featuring everything from vegetarian cuisine to a massive 32-ounce porterhouse at Cagney's. (This steak, incidentally, is a tad smaller than the 48-ounce steak NCL considered implementing. The problem? The 48-ouncer would have taken an hour to prepare, President Colin Veitch said today amidst much laughter).
In-cabin mini-bars will be expanded and passengers will have the option to customize their selections.
Okay, this one represents a massive revolution for big-ship cruise lines and it's a welcome change: In the library, book cases will be unlocked (tomes set free!) and passengers will be able to borrow on the "honor system."
Kid's Crew, the fleet's children's' program, will get some new tweaks. First up? Hours will be extended. "We're taking parents off the clock," Andy Stuart, the line's marketing chief, explained, noting that the program would basically be operational all throughout the cruise, which gives parents a little bit more couples' time. One caveat: The facilities will not arrange for most meals. "We don't feed the kids," Stuart said. "Unless parents are very mean they'll have to pick them up at some time."
Other enhancements include more tech-related goodies in the facilities themselves (such as Nintendo Wii and Microsoft XBox) and a revamped, hipper teen center.
The pool decks, already vibrantly decorated, will be a bit less chaotic and a bit more sophisticated in ambience. Veitch noted that "We've done away with 1970's pool games" (you know, wet T-shirts, belly flops). Instead, ambient music will be aimed at chilling passengers out rather than revving 'em up. Evian spritzers will be available. And chaises will be outfitted with drink flags. Want a cocktail? Put up your flag and server will find you.
Entertainment offerings are freshened up with two new additions. The White Hot Party -- which starts in the afternoon and runs into the evening -- will be a shipwide affair; expect a party that hops from public area to public area and all-white interiors. The Monte Carlo bash is held (where else?) in the casino.
We're interested to experience NCL "U" for ourselves, soon; suffice it to say all we know about it is its four areas of specialty: humor (via NCL's partnership with "Second City"); food, wine and spirits; destination education; and digital photography and media.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
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