'The Hawaii Specialist'

NCL describes plans for new ships, with more interisland options and cruise-hotel stays

By: Theresa Norton Masek

MIAMI BEACH Norwegian Cruise Line wants to be “the Hawaii specialist,” with initial plans to add a weekly interisland cruise in 2004 and increase the island ambience aboard its ships.

Of course, the line is well on its way. It already operates the only ship based year-round in Hawaii. And new federal legislation allows it to operate three more ships in Hawaii, under the U.S. flag. That provision eliminates the expense and time needed to visit a foreign port, which is required of other foreign-flagged ships on U.S. routes.

“Our ambition is to be known as the Hawaii specialist,” NCL President Colin Veitch said at the Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention here, earlier this month.

Veitch laid out a tentative timetable for his Hawaii program, which allows NCL to reflag foreign-built ships to U.S. registry; normally only U.S.-built ships can fly the Stars and Stripes. The American registry will also require that NCL’s Hawaii ships have an American crew.

NCL says it will add a weekly interisland Hawaii cruise, starting in early summer 2004, with a ship being built in Germany. That vessel will have a Project America hull, left unfinished in a Mississippi shipyard by the 2001 bankruptcy of American Classic Voyages. NCL bought the hull and parts of a second ship.

By summer 2005, an existing ship will be reflagged and deployed in Hawaii, possibly to operate shorter cruises that could be packaged with hotel stays, Veitch said.

A contract to complete the second Project America ship has not been signed yet, Veitch said, but it will be added when it is complete.

The new ships will have “more of a Hawaii flavor than there is now,” Veitch said. “They will have a principally Hawaii-based crew.”

While the NCL deal is similar to that held by American Classic Voyages, Veitch believes his company will be successful.

“American Classic operated old ships and had four brands with no critical mass,” Veitch said. “We have a wealthy parent company that is making money.”

He also reiterated that the company will continue to visit Fanning Island, the foreign port about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, which it now uses.