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Norwegian Embraces Something Royal Caribbean and Carnival Don't

Norwegian Cruise Line has decided that its future won't be the same as its present, and it's making some changes as it adds a new ship class.

Royal Caribbean International (RCL) and Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) have built their businesses around shorter cruises, at least when it comes to sailings from U.S. ports on its newest ships.

Royal Caribbean uses its newest, largest ships (Oasis and Quantum Class) for six-to-eight-day itineraries from Florida. Carnival has been doing the same with its newest and largest ship, Mardi Gras, which has been sailing largely seven-day itineraries. 

And when Carnival adds its latest Excel-Class ship, Celebration (a sister ship to Mardi Gras), it will also sail mostly seven-day trips out of Miami.

In addition to using its latest-and-greatest ships largely for trips that last around a week, both Royal Caribbean and Carnival have numerous ships sailing three-day weekends (Friday to Monday) and four-day weeks (Monday to Friday) from multiple Florida ports. 

As family-based cruise lines, the two companies have embraced the idea of the quick getaway and the week-long vacation as the core of their businesses.

Now, rival Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) has decided to do something different with its latest ships.

Norwegian Cruise Line Lead JS

Norwegian Cruise Line Embraces Luxury

With its first new class in more than a decade, Norwegian has decided not to enter an arms race with Royal Caribbean and Carnival. Its new Prima Class will sail with 3,215 passengers at full capacity. That's around half the passenger load on an Oasis or Excel-Class ship sailing with a full passenger load.

Norwegian intentionally went smaller because it will enable Prima Class ships -- six are being built -- to dock in more places. Some cruise ports simply don't want ships carrying 6,000 passengers and others lack docks big enough to accommodate them.

By building midsize ships, Norwegian has given itself more port options, and that will enable it to embrace longer voyages, which Norwegian Senior Vice President of Sales  Todd Hamilton spoke about to Travel Weekly.

"Time is 'not a constraint anymore. People are willing to put in the time to do it and really get the best experience they can possibly get,'" he said. "When we put long itineraries on sale, they sell like hotcakes."

Norwegian Prima, the first of its class, will sail mostly seven-to-12-day itineraries. Hamilton also took a little shot at his company's rivals.

"What we're offering is not a mass-market three-day cruise," he said. "We're offering a total vacation package, and the Prima and the Viva are the next logical step to that."

A Look at Norwegian Prima

Norwegian wants both the ship and the onboard experience to be at a level higher than its current cruises offer on Prima and, later, on the five other ships in the Prima Class.

"Norwegian Prima will offer the highest staffing levels and space ratio of any new cruise ship in the contemporary and premium cruise category, delivering an unrivaled guest experience," the company said.

The cruise line has also taken some steps to make its newest ships even more comfortable for passengers, in an area where cruise lines have traditionally valued function over form. 

Prima-class ships will offer Norwegian's largest-ever bathrooms for standard rooms and more "outdoor deck space of any new cruise ship, including more total pool-deck space than any other ship in NCL's fleet."

Norwegian also plans to offer an updated take on a buffet -- one that seems quite similar to what Virgin Voyages offers on its ships:

"As part of the multifaceted experiences offered on Ocean Boulevard, NCL introduced the Brand's first-ever upscale open-air marketplace with Indulge Food Hall. Created to elevate the guest-sensory experience on Norwegian Prima, Indulge Food Hall offers visitors diverse menu items from 11 culinary venues featuring indoor and outdoor seating"

The ship will also offer the 44,000 square-foot Ocean Boulevard, which wraps around the entire deck of the ship. That area of the ship also offers "three additional dining venues offering both indoor and outdoor seating including Onda By Scarpetta, Los Lobos, and The Local Bar & Grill."

Prima will also offer an outdoor sculpture garden featuring seven installations that change as the sun sets, and Infinity Beach, which offers two infinity pools, one located on each side of the ship and close to the water line.