American Pride, Premium Price

NCL’s Pride of Aloha, its first U.S.-flagged ship, is costly to operate but fetches ‘premium’ rates

By: Mimi Kmet

The Independence-Day christening of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of Aloha was well-timed: The line reflagged the five-year-old former Norwegian Sky as a U.S. vessel. It’s the first in NCL Corp.’s Project America fleet and the first in the company’s new NCL America division. It promises to boost Hawaii’s tourism industry to new heights. And its crew is 100 percent U.S.-based, with most employees from Hawaii.

While those attributes are indeed a source of pride, they’re also a source of expenses not incurred by foreign-flagged vessels: The ship is now subject to U.S. taxes. It cannot operate a casino. NCL must pay minimum wage, overtime and benefits to the 850-person crew and abide by collective bargaining agreements. The company also had to train the entire crew, because there were no American crewmembers to recruit from its other ships.

Despite those obstacles, NCL America will succeed, because “travel agents have something different dramatically different to offer,” said Colin Veitch, president and CEO of NCL Corp. “It’s costing us a lot [to operate the Pride of Aloha], but we’re doing it with a product for which people are willing to pay a premium. We deliberately set the prices at a level we know sells. If the demand is high, we will raise the prices.”

In fact, the line already has raised the cruise-only fares. The starting fare jumped from $799 to $879 per person, double, and there is no discounting except for groups. Yet the Pride of Aloha is virtually sold out for the third quarter of 2004 and nearly sold out for the fourth quarter, he said. Most bookings for the ship are coming from the Western U.S., primarily Los Angeles, he said. “The West Coast alone can support this product, but we’re getting bookings from all over.” Still, he acknowledged there are kinks that NCL is working to iron out.

“The productivity of crew and management is not the same as those on NCL’s other ships,” he said. For example, 24-hour food service is not available, although the ship will offer it by next year.

Meanwhile, NCL is making up for the extra expenses in other ways. Among them:

- The Pride of Aloha charges a mandatory daily service fee of $10 per adult, $5 per child, which automatically appears on passengers’ onboard bills. It’s not a tip; Veitch likened it to the daily resort fee charged by many Hawaii hotels. However, he added, the charge is in lieu of tipping, and NCL does not require Pride of Aloha passengers to leave cash tips. The ship is in port every day, and there are nearly 150 shore excursion options, with several offering two or more departures. This not only fetches more revenue, but it gets passengers off the ship during the day and some evenings.

- While passengers are aboard the ship, they get a heavy though not overbearing dose of Hawaiiana. Prior to sailing under its new flag, the ship underwent a renovation that redesigned most areas with new furnishings and names; restaurants received new menus.

Throughout the ship, carpeting, upholstery, art and other accents reflect various aspects of Hawaii, with themes around tropical flowers, the ocean, agriculture, history, culture and sports such as surfing and sailing.

For example, the floral carpeting in the Palace restaurant resembles an aloha shirt pattern, and the banquettes in the Hukilau Cafe, the ship’s buffet restaurant, feature a bright shell pattern. In the seven-story Aloha Atrium, bright sails seem to hover from top to bottom, and colorful decorations have transformed the columns into cartoon-like tikis.

The Blue Hawaii nightclub pays tribute to film and music stars with a statue of Elvis playing guitar at the club’s entrance and murals of Bing Crosby and other celebrities flanked by hula dancers along the walls.

Murals account for a significant amount of the ship’s art. Images of hula dancers, surfers, local scenery and other Hawaiian themes are located in several areas. Even the forward hull is a mural, with big, bright tropical flowers painted by a local artist.

Although a color scheme of sea blue, golden yellow, fuchsia, teal, violet and other vibrant hues pervades several of the ship’s public areas, more subdued colors and themes can be found as well.

For example, the former casino is now the Kumu Cultural Center, a museum with artifacts, sailing ship models, handicrafts and vintage photos encased in wood and glass. A continuously running movie depicts the islands’ geology, history, migration and way of life.

The Plantation Club piano bar recalls the home of wealthy plantation owners, with shutters, red burled wood and pineapple-patterned carpeting.

Captain Cook’s Bar and Captain Cook’s Cigar Club pay homage to the famous explorer with nautical, clubby decor of dark woods, forest green vinyl upholstery, brass accents and tall ship models.

And the ship’s three specialty restaurants Kahili, serving Italian cuisine; Pacific Heights, an Asian fusion dining room; and the Royal Palm Bistro, offering French fare feature more elegant, subdued decor, paying tribute to Hawaiian royalty, local contemporary art and Victorian/tropical gardens, respectively.

The specialty restaurants and Hukilau Cafe are among the Pride of Aloha’s six dining venues, which also include two main dining rooms called the Palace and the Crossings. With NCL’s Freestyle Cruising concept, passengers dine when and where they want.

In addition, the ship offers 13 bars and lounges, three pools (including a children’s pool) and five whirlpools (including one for children).

Other amenities for kids include children’s and teens’ programs and a video arcade.

The ship’s Body Waves center features a salon, fitness center and the Mandara Spa, offering a wide range of treatments including Hawaiian treatments such as the lomi lomi massage.

Its Internet cafe offers nine terminals and a printer flanking a coffee bar. Guests with laptops can also use the ship’s wireless WiFi service. A small conference center, a library and a wedding chapel also are available.


Ship: Pride of Aloha

Size: 77,104 gross tons

Capacity: 2,002 passengers

Accommodations: 987 staterooms (429 inside, 558 outside including 243 with private balconies); 14 suites

Plugging in: Standard staterooms have one outlet above the vanity with one 110-volt plug and one 220- to 240-volt plug. There is an outlet for electric shavers in the bathroom. The Internet cafe features nine computer stations and one printer. Prices are 75 cents per minute, $55 for 100 minutes and $100 for 250 minutes. WiFi is available throughout the ship and offers a similar pricing structure.

Hits: The ship is in port everyday (nearly 100 hours total during the cruise) and offers an incredible array of shore excursions. Cuisine at the specialty restaurants is superb. Misses: Standard staterooms are cramped, and storage consists of a closet and four shallow drawers.

Be aware: In lieu of tipping, there is a mandatory daily service charge of $10 per adult, $5 per child, which is automatically added to the bill. A $5-per-cabin, per-cruise donation to a local organization that presents a cultural program aboard ship during the cruise also is billed to each cabin automatically, although it will be removed upon request. There are no self-serve laundry facilities; laundering and ironing are available for an additional charge, and it takes up to a day and a half unless you put a rush on it.

Itinerary: The ship departs Honolulu each Sunday on seven-day sailings, calling at Nawiliwili, Kauai, for a day and a half; Hilo for one day; Kona for one day; and Kahului, Maui, for two days before returning to Honolulu. On certain departures, the ship reverses the call dates for Hilo and Kona.