NCL Debuts in Southampton

June 1, 2008

Some 1,500 Brits were on board as Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Jade set off Saturday on its inaugural cruise from its new summer home of Southampton.

Norwegian Jade's arrival in Southampton was a big moment for NCL, which for several years has just watched as Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International established a foothold at the port in competition with P&O Cruises, and successfully grabbed a growing slice of the burgeoning UK cruise market.

The number of Brits cruising is expected to reach 1.5 million this year, up from 1.37 million last year, according to the Passenger Shipping Association.

Now that NCL has managed to free a ship by shrinking its operation in Hawaii (Norwegian Jade, you may remember, was Pride of Hawaii until last year), it wants a slice of the south-coast action.

Once plaques and keys were exchanged between the ship and city's mayor to mark the Norwegian Jade's arrival in Southampton, the crew prepared to depart for the Mediterranean with those 1,500 Brits on board, as well as a contingent of Americans and a handful from Northern Europe. The ship carries a total 2,400 passengers.

According to Stephen Park, NCL UK general manager, there's an average 1,500 passengers per cruise from the UK booked on voyages through the season, with spikes during the school holidays. “We're very pleased with that number,” he confirmed.

NCL hasn't done anything to Anglicise the ship (except it will serve British beer) -- in fact it hasn't done anything at all to tone down the extreme Hawaii theming, which does seem very out of place in the Med, and especially odd on a gloomy day in Southampton.

However, it has made some changes to Norwegian Jade. It feature the Freestyle 2.0 upgrades, including a welcome glass of bubbly on embarkation, better mattresses and linens in the cabins and more lobster at dinner, and also has a casino for the first time (gambling is not allowed in Hawaii). No doubt that is aimed at slot happy Americans rather than the more abstemious Brits.

“People are coming because it's NCL so why should we want to change it,” Park said. “And with the dollar-pound exchange rate at almost 2:1, it's terrific value for money.”

--by Jane Archer, U.K.-based contributor