NCL Returning to Houston

Cruise line expanding U.S. homeports, transferring Crown Odyssey

By: Theresa Norton Masek

Norwegian Cruise Line, the company that pioneered weekly cruises from Houston in 1997, will return to its former Texas homeport in November 2003 after a three-year absence.

In addition, the Crown Odyssey will move from the Orient Lines fleet into the NCL fleet in September. Orient, part of the NCL Group owned by Star Cruises of Asia, will continue to operate the Marco Polo “for years to come,” NCL President Colin Veitch said.

Along with these changes, NCL is expanding its Homeland Cruising program to include two additional U.S. homeports Baltimore and New Orleans bringing the number of embarkation points in the country to 12.

“Homeland Cruising has been well-received by cruisers and travel agents alike since we introduced it a year ago, and it is now very much the focus of our expansion plan for NCL,” Veitch said.

It’s a strategy that is working well for the company, even in these difficult times, according to at least one industry analyst.

“The NCL brand, with more than 90 percent of cruises departing from North American ports, saw yield increases, which suggests that keeping ships closer to home may make for better yields than Europe, especially given the potential for U.S. involvement in Iraq next year,” said Robin Farley of UBS Warburg.

In a research update, Farley noted that NCL was absorbing a 29 percent capacity increase in the third quarter but was the only one of the four major cruise operators to report higher yields.

“The NCL brand grew yields almost 2 percent while the other three major operators reported a decline for the third quarter,” Farley wrote.

The Norwegian Sea will operate seven-day Exotic Western Caribbean cruises from Houston starting Nov. 8. Ports of call include Cozumel and Cancun, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; and Belize City, Belize. Fares will start at $399 per person, double.

Veitch said NCL chose Houston as its homeport over Galveston for several reasons.

“Houston’s attraction over Galveston, from a consumer standpoint, is that it is much closer to the population center of Houston and the suburbs,” he said. “It is also much closer to George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston for passengers flying in from other parts of the U.S. and Canada.”

Veitch also noted that Houston and New Orleans are a little easier on cruisers flying in from the West Coast.

“Consumers in the Western half of the United States won’t have to catch the red-eye all the way to the East Coast in order to experience a Western Caribbean Cruise,” he said.

The Norwegian Sea will undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation in January.