Many cruise sellers tell Cruise Week that NCL’s customer satisfaction is higher than ever.
“It took NCL awhile to nail it,’ says one large national cruise seller, ‘but they successfully used the money provided from Apollo Management to provide a higher quality product. We have a lot of experienced cruisers booking online, and they have very, very few complaints about the product.”
His clients report that crews on NCL ships are now providing consistent service, focusing on getting the basics right, not running around trying to keep up with the various marketing gimmicks the line has tried over the years. With too many programs at once — from face towels at the pool to coffee machines in the room — crewmembers faced too many tasks to do any of them really well.
Apollo’s appointment of Roberto Martinoli as NCL President was critical to solving the problem. Martinoli is not only known as a tough operator, but after years of heading operations at Carnival, sources say he understood well the importance of keeping crew duties manageable in order to get the basics right.
Getting the Freestyle Cruising dining element right was another critical factor. “The main dining room experience is the absolute core of the experience,” says Executive V.P. Andy Stuart. “It has to be, ‘I want to go to the steak house because it’s our anniversary,’ not, ‘I don’t like the main dining room; let’s go to the steak house.'”
With the basics under control, the arrival of Norwegian Epic will further raise expectations. Cruise sellers report that people are willing to pay more for Epic sight unseen, impressed with reports of the ship’s amenities, including entertainment. Stuart credits another Apollo appointment with getting the offerings right on Epic. “When Kevin Sheehan came in as CEO, he had a strong view of who our consumer is and what they are looking for,” says Stuart.
With the enhancements to its entertainment line-up, NCL’s Freestyle Cruising is becoming more than just a dining program. Now it includes Blue Man Group and other headline acts not found elsewhere at sea. “We went and sat with them [the Blue Man Group] and said our objective was to change the face of cruise ship entertainment,” says Stuart. “Matt Goldman, one of the three original Blue Men, told us, ‘Well, that’s what we do. We change people’s views of entertainment.'”
Stuart points to Vegas as a precedent: “Nobody thought Blue Man Group could work in Vegas, because Vegas had a very set genre of entertainment. But, here they are, very successful in Vegas, and now they’re bringing it to sea.”
He assures the onboard Blue Man Group show will be similar to its land versions. “It has some tweaks, but it’s the same show,” he says. “So there’s absolutely no gap between expectations and reality.”