Pride of Hawaii Readies for May Launch

March 15, 2006

Pride of Hawaii sailed backwards down the River Ems from Meyer Werft, its German shipyard, on Monday on its sea trials expedition. All went well. The ship, the most expensive ever to fly the U.S. flag, will be delivered to NCL on April 12. But passenger cruises (as befits NCL's previously announced schedule) won't start for almost two months.

The reason? NCL America, the line's Hawaii-oriented subsidiary, is trying a new approach with this vessel and its staffing, an issue which has plagued the line since the debuts of both Pride of Aloha and Pride of America.

In this case, only 40 percent of its 1,000 crew members will even board the ship before it deadheads across the Atlantic. The ship will sail to Baltimore (the port that serves NCL America's training facility in Piney Point, on Maryland's Chesapeake Bay) and pick up more crew members. Pride of Hawaii will hang around for over a week there so that the new crew can receive training and adjust to their new work world before the ship takes off for the west coast via a Panama Canal transit. Still no passengers. It arrives in Los Angeles on May 19 and tops up its staffers to full capacity (these folks most likely will come from other NCL America ships).

"We are making an investment in a long period of no revenue," Veitch told the assembled throng of media in Miami, attending the cruise line's annual Seatrade convention, "so that this launch has the potential to be the perfect delivery."

All this is different from the approach that NCL America took with Pride of America. In that case, crew were trained at Piney Point and then flown to Germany, where hopes that a pre-delivery adjustment period would translate into staff stability down the road. Problems at the shipyard, which have been well documented by Cruise Critic (the ship was swamped by a storm and sank to the shallow bottom of the seabed while under construction at one point, and then the shipyard itself filed for bankruptcy midway through project) resulted in less quality training than had been imagined, and many crew left the ship after it arrived on the U.S. East Coast. That necessitated a significant new training operation to prepare new staffers for the job.

"This," says Veitch, referring to the launch of the entire NCL U.S.-flagged operation, "is the toughest thing this company has done in its 40 year history. With the delivery of Pride of Hawaii, our task moves from rapid buildup to stabilizing the operation. There's nothing more on the horizon to challenge us, such as these new introductions."

The CEO sounded relieved.

Indeed, the job is already easier for Pride of Hawaii because the ship, a sister to the internationally flagged Norwegian Jewel, is a familiar one, if not necessarily to American crew than at least to NCL executives.

The 93,000-ton, 2,400-passenger Pride of Hawaii will feature similar accouterments, such as the luxurious Garden Villas, an over-the-top Owner's Suite, and the fabulous Courtyard Villas, complete with private pool and sundeck. Also featured will be 10 restaurants (with the line's computerized reservations system), the unique-to-NCL golf shop, and its third Kumu Cultural Center, which celebrates the history and culture of Hawaii.

Following Pride of Hawaii's May 20 christening, the ship will head to Hawaii and begin its regular, year-round seven-night cruises. Based in Honolulu, the ship will depart on Mondays and visit Kauai, the Big Island's Kona and Hilo, and Maui.