With NCL’s post-pandemic comeback finally completed in 2022 – after Norwegian Spirit’s $100m plus refurbishment in Marseilles – the inevitable question for passengers is what does this mean for them? Answering this question, Gary Anslow, senior director of sales, UK&I at NCL, is quick to point out – unsurprisingly – that guests are always at the forefront of the company’s mind when it comes to designing interior spaces. Whether that be accommodation, entertainment venues or dining areas, it means enhancing every expectation where possible.

“As one of our smaller ships, accommodating just over 2,000 guests, Norwegian Spirit is packed full of features that appeal to the NCL clientele, including the adults-only ‘Spice H2O’ pool retreat, which transforms into a refined, open-air cocktail lounge and nightclub after dark,” says Anslow, adding: “The Mandara Spa – which has now doubled in size – boasts a thermal suite with a steam room, sauna, shower experience and heatedtile loungers.”

The ship also features 14 dining options for guests to choose from, including a contemporary Italian offering at Onda by Scarpetta, and rich, French flavours at Le Bistro. Crucially, guests can look forward to holidaying their way with no set dining times, tables or dress codes.

Passengers also have the option of Taste; the 24-hour eatery, The Local Bar and Grill; as well as the all-day dining outlet, Garden Café; the Great Outdoors Bar; the Waves Pool Bar and an additional main dining room. New to the ship, however, is The Social Comedy & Night Club and Spinnaker Observation Lounge, featuring the Humidor Cigar Lounge.

Reimagining ocean vistas

Guests can also relax and retreat to their reimagined staterooms. According to Anslow, from spacious suites to balcony staterooms, rooms feature floor-toceiling windows for the ultimate ocean vistas.

In the meantime, the ship’s interior has seen a complete overhaul, including the addition of a giant screen, a new staircase, replacement of all carpets and furnishings, and a redesign of every stateroom. One practical change is that charging points have also been updated. Prior to refurbishment, balcony cabins only had one three-prong outlet and no USB ports. Now they feature a bank of charging points (US and EU) and also include USB capability, ideal for phone charging.

Also noteworthy is that Spirit has been repositioned – from a marketing standpoint – to be more ‘adult centric’ after the removal of some kids’ facilities and replacing the space with new cabins.

For a company whose ships are normally seen as being family-friendly, this may, at first sight, appear counter intuitive. However, the logic behind the move is that Spirit operates in an Australian market that is already crammed with family-friendly ships operated by rivals such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean and P&O Australia. This explains the thinking that an adultcentric approach differentiates its offering from other cruise lines. Children are still welcome, though, but they simply have fewer facilities than before.

Against this backdrop, lessons have been learned along the way. Not least when it comes to the length, severity and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which decimated the cruise line industry in general for the best part of 18 months.

Safety protocols

Clearly, standard industry protocols, such as the company’s Sail Safe Health and Safety programme – centering around the requirement for all guests to be fully vaccinated to board its ships – needed to be put in place. But as Anslow points out: “As positive progress was [subsequently] made in the public health sector, we gradually updated our health and safety protocols and ultimately removed all Covid-19 testing, masking and vaccination requirements, effective 4 October 2022.”

This followed the company’s previous announcement that it was relaxing its safety policies for vaccinated guests on NCL, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, starting in September. The initiatives were a response to a number of countries lifting testing requirements for international air travellers as people returned to their pre-pandemic lifestyles across the globe. Despite this, the company has kept some of the enhancements for safety and guest experience in place, including medical-grade filters, touchless embarkation and online safety drills, according to Anslow. “And of course, we continue to follow travel guidelines as required by the destinations we visit,” he adds.

While operators in general evidently took a hit during the pandemic, with many responding – postpandemic – by offering cheaper fares to attract passengers as the industry slowly opened up again, NCL has been moving in the opposite direction by raising its prices and taking a more measured approach to building load factors (occupancy) back to historical norms. Despite unveiling a net loss of $295.4m in Q3 2022, key takeaways for NCL were total revenue per passenger cruise day being up 14% versus the same period in 2019 (before the pandemic), with the company on track to generate positive adjusted free cash flow in Q4 2022. In the meantime, the 2023 cumulative booked position was equal to the record 2019 levels – and at significantly higher pricing.

As Anslow puts it: “We are positioned at the top of the contemporary/mainstream segment. On each of our ships, we offer a top-quality product with significant variety and choice, while providing more space for each individual guest and combining it with the highest services ratios.”

Passengers keep coming back

The latest addition to the NCL fleet, Norwegian Prima, forms the core of this strategy with the remaining five ships in the company’s Prima class set to continue evolving the guest experience and reinforcing its upscale positioning. “Even before 2020 and the recent economic headwinds, our strategy was to target and attract upmarket consumers, market-to-fill and value-add bundling in order to maximise long-term, sustainable profitability,” says Anslow.

The total cost of refurbishment on Norwegian Spirit.

Refurbishment also means sustainability

Refurbishment at NCL isn’t simply a question of providing improved offerings and facilities to passengers though; there are also long-standing objectives in place such as reducing the size of the company’s carbon footprint. In January 2020, for example, NCL became the first major cruise line to eliminate single-use plastic beverage bottles across its entire fleet. Since then, other pro-sustainability policies have been instituted, with the refurbishment of Norwegian Spirit providing, in part, a template for this.

“We are more focused now than ever on our commitment to drive a positive impact on society and the environment through our global sustainability programme, Sail & Sustain. The future of our business is reliant on the health of our oceans and the destinations we visit, and environmentally friendly practices allow us to thrive,” says Anslow.

The number of guests accommodated on Norwegian Spirit, making it one of the smallest in the NCL fleet.

A case in point is water, which is primarily used by guests and crew in their staterooms for showers, bathtubs and sinks, but is also used for galleys, laundry, pools, whirlpools, spas and the general cleaning of public spaces. Here, the company is focusing on increasing water production on board with sophisticated plants that use seawater as their source. This reduces the need for the bunkering of fresh water and is particularly important in countries where fresh water is limited and best reserved for local communities. In 2022, the company committed itself to pursuing net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 across its operations and entire value chain, as well as developing short and near-term greenhouse gas reduction targets. It has also joined the Methanol Institute, a global trade association for the methanol industry, which represents the world’s leading producers, distributors and technology providers to collaborate, share and adapt solutions for the future.

“Alongside strategic partners such as engine manufacturers and classification societies, we are assessing the feasibility of retrofitting our fleet’s engines to operate with dual fuels – diesel and methanol – with the goal to test the use of methanol by 2025,” says Anslow.

As part of its 2050 strategy, the company successfully completed testing using a biofuel blend on its Regent Seven Seas’ branded ship, the Splendor, in October 2022 – supplied by its partner World Fuel Services.

In addition, the company announced the signing of a partnership with MAN Energy Solutions to assess the feasibility of retrofitting a MAN engine to operate with dual-fuels, diesel and methanol.

Consumer research is important

These initiatives are important in more ways than one – not least because NCL’s own consumer research has shown that 44% of guests regard sustainability as a very important factor when choosing their cruise line. Hence, it’s a strategy likely to reap dividends longer term.

The company has also set a target for approximately 70% of its fleet to be equipped with shore power capabilities by 2025, allowing its ships to connect to onshore electrical power grids while in port, with the required infrastructure.

Like all of the ships in the NCL fleet, Norwegian Spirit exceeds all environmental requirements set by the destinations and is equipped with scrubbers, which filter up to 99% of sulphur and particulate matter to reduce any environmental impact, according to Anslow.

“Looking to the future, our brand-new class of ships will feature alternative technologies, such as a NOx reduction system (SCR) – which reduces the ship’s overall environmental impact – an exhaust gas cleaning system (EGCS), an advanced wastewater treatment system and cold ironing functionality to connect to onshore power to reduce emission in port,” he adds.

Given NCL has already proved its marketing strategy is working – in terms of passenger number uptake – that’s likely to be a win-win for the company long term.