Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Miami and Norwegian’s resurgence

Miami and Norwegian’s resurgence

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightFor years, one of the most impressive sights in the cruise business was the Norway steaming out of the Port of Miami.

Painted a striking blue, the former S.S. France was over 1,000 feet long at a time when most cruise ships were pushing 800 feet. It had the sleek look of a classic liner, which it was before being mothballed in 1974 when trans-Atlantic jetliners made it obsolete.

In 1979, what was then Norwegian Caribbean Line bought the ship and spent $80 million retooling it for use as a full-time cruise ship. For all of its good looks, however, the Norway was something of a white elephant financially.

A steamship when others were diesel electric, and completely unique when fleet uniformity was coming into vogue, the Norway helped send Norwegian into a decades-long tailspin.

A weakened rival, Norwegian was unable to compete head-on with new ships from Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International. It had to zig when those lines zagged. With Miami cruises firmly locked down, Norwegian went hunting elsewhere. It abandoned the seven-day year-round Caribbean cruise from South Florida about a decade ago.

So it is noteworthy that Norwegian will have four ships cruising from Miami this winter, including the brand-new Norwegian Getaway, which will stay year round after making its debut in February.

And that’s not all. While Norwegian isn’t confirming it, the Miami-Dade County Commission has just approved a joint marketing agreement for the Norwegian Escape that would keep the ship in Miami for at least three years following its debut in late 2015.

The deal calls for Norwegian to hold the Escape’s naming ceremony at the port, which now styles itself PortMiami. For its part, the county-run port will pay $3 million to help market the ship.

Norwegian’s return to Miami can only help re-establish that port, which once was the undisputed cruise capital of the world but has lost some of its mojo as Port Everglades and Port Canaveral have come on. PortMiami recently crossed the 4 million passenger mark for the first time, keeping it ahead of its rivals, if only by a little bit.

A resurgent Norwegian is even good for its competitors, because they don’t have to contend with all the cabins that the old Norwegian used to price to fill six weeks before sailing.

Norwegian’s new ships no longer have the classic lines of the Norway, but they don’t have its losses either. That’s progress.