Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line (Norwegian or NCL) is notable for revolutionizing the cruise experience via its "Freestyle Cruising" philosophy. Eschewing traditional cruise line stuffiness -- in dress codes, dining options and even entertainment offerings -- Norwegian has inspired other lines to copy its more successful "freestyle" concepts. Norwegian has also carved itself a niche in the homeland cruising specialty, featuring departures from a number of continental U.S. homeports that include New York, Seattle, New Orleans, Boston and Tampa, among others.
Aiming to operate the cruise industry's youngest fleet, the line is currently focused on ridding itself of pre-Freestyle-designed ships. As such, Norwegian Dream sailed its last cruise with Norwegian on October 26, 2008, and Norwegian Majesty left the fleet for Cyprus-based Louis Cruise Lines in 2009. The line did reverse its plans in one instance: Pride of Aloha, which finished its Hawaiian itineraries in spring 2008, has stayed on with the cruise line and now sails under its original name, Norwegian Sky.
On its newest ships, Norwegian Cruise Line offers a number of amenities -- like luxury villas, martini and Champagne bars, interconnecting cabins, onboard bowling alleys and electronic restaurant reservation systems -- that are reminiscent of land-based resorts. Another distinction is NCL's revolutionary (for mass-market cruising) disembarkation policy, which is so relaxed that it is more resort-like than cruise-like. Norwegian Epic, part of the embattled F3 project
, debuted in June 2010, and took freestyle cruising to the next level.
The first of its Breakaway Class vessels -- Norwegian Breakaway -- launched in April 2013; sister ship Norwegian Getaway launched in January 2014. Norwegian has two more new-builds on the docket as part of the "Project Breakaway" initiative. The 163,000-ton, 4,200-passenger Escape and Joy will debut in October 2015 and March 2017, respectively. Joy is being built for the Chinese market.
In addition, Norwegian Cruise Line is the only cruise line to offer year-round Hawaiian itineraries. At present, the NCL America fleet, which formerly consisted of three ships, has been significantly downsized; only Pride of America remains in Hawaii.
Norwegian Cruise Line is also known as an aggressive discounter, and past initiatives have included $99 kids' fares, cruises for $25 a night before taxes, and complimentary onboard credit.
Starting with one ship in 1966, Norwegian Cruise Line was first established by Oslo-based Klosters Rederi A/S, one of Norway's oldest and most respected shipping firms. Its first ship (M/S Sunward) repositioned from Europe to the then-obscure Port of Miami for Caribbean cruising. The line added four more vessels by 1971 and the former S/S France (which was renamed the Norway) in 1979, and NCL was on its way to becoming an industry leader and one of the largest cruise companies in the world.
Malaysia-based Genting Hong Kong (then Star Cruises) acquired Norwegian in 2000. As a result of the investment by Star Cruises, the largest Asian-based cruise line, NCL underwent an unprecedented growth spurt that resulted in the introduction of ships specifically designed to carry out its Freestyle innovations. To date, the line has launched eight brand-new ships since 2001.
In 2007, Norwegian entered into another chapter when private equity firm Apollo Management agreed to become a 50 percent owner of the cruise line, sharing leadership with Genting Hong Kong. The cost for half the company? A mere $1 billion. In early 2008, TPG Capital, another private equity firm, acquired a 12.5 percent stake in the cruise line. Apollo now holds a 37.5 percent share.