Showing posts with label NCL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NCL. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2013

NCL's Suites - They Are Not Luxury...They Are Excuses To Charge Extra For What Should Be Included

As you know I have lots of issues with Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL's) ship-within-a-ship concept.  Beside the curious décor and the feeling of being trapped in a small area or else being overwhelmed with huge mass market throngs of people, there is a new reason.

Seatrade reports that NCL has announced that its passengers (not "guests") can now choose from a selection of luxurious baths drawn by their butlers. The new 'Butler Bath' menu includes a beverage selection and is available in all of its suites, including those in The Haven.

That sounds OK, but then there is the catch:  It'll cost you.  And it will cost you a lot!  The "Mediterranean Soak" which includes French verbena bubbles, a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne and sturgeon caviar costs $499!

Seriously, I can offer you a cruise on Seabourn, Silversea, or Crystal with a per day cost for the cruise at significantly less than that and you will receive the same (OK, different champagne) for less money.

But, as you know, the little things always catch my eye.  When NCL feels compelled to let you know that the caviar it is serving is "sturgeon" you know the rest of what you are being served is not exactly top shelf.  Folks, if the fish eggs in front of you are not from a sturgeon it is called "roe"; not "caviar".

I wonder, does NCL give you real champagne glasses or are they plastic?

Honestly, if you are interested in a luxury experience that includes a luxurious bubble bath, quality champagne and caviar, you need to look to one of the luxury cruise lines.  You will find there is not only a much higher quality of service and cuisine throughout the ship, but a far better value for your cruise dollar.

Don't believe me, give me a call and I will do the math for you!  (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Norwegian Cruise Lines F3 Project Has Wind In Its Sails!

It was announced today that NCL's F3 project will be going forward with an estimated delivery date of May 2010. 

Very few details have been announced about the deal between STX France and NCL, but what has been said is that as of now the F3 project is for one ship, with the second ship being canceled, and that the terms of the original deal have been modified (though how has not been disclosed).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Concerns: Apollo Management and Prestige Cruise Holding (NCL, Regent Seven Seas and Oceania)

I have hesitated to write about the effects of this poor economy on the cruise lines themselves because, in large part, we really don't know what the long term effects will be. While the issues of last minute discounts and more close-in bookings (ala post 9/11) on less than full ships are not beyond possibilities, the fact is that right now people who are cruising paid for their cruises before the bottom seemingly fell out and it is too early to really see what the next couple of months (post-election) has in store for us, the consumers and them, the industry.

Also, while some cruise lines are panicking, others are being creative and yet others are still figuring out what, if anything, should be done differently. So that too is not the focus on this post and speculating would not be fair or productive.

However, over the past three weeks there has been much in the industry news about NCL and Aker Shipyard having a "dispute" over Norwegian Cruise Line's new F3 ship. While Aker claims it has not stopped work on the first F3 (which is about 25% complete), it has been reported that they are now trying to sell the hull to other major cruise lines...and there is not much interest. Aker, though, has also stopped work on the second F3 ship.

Apollo and NCL have been silent claiming they do not discuss disputes or litigation. What has happened, however, is that their announcement of the new ship is not as clear in their taglines, mention of the F3 is all but absent from the NCL website, the F3 microsite has been buried (You you can still find it via http://www.f3.ncl.com/main.html.) and the person who was in charge of the PR for the F3, Susan Robison, has left NCL.

The word on the street is that Apollo has shut down the project as simply being too expensive. I think there probably is another, related, problem: Financing. Most entities like Apollo leverage their assets in order to obtain sufficient cash to improve products and then sell them off at a profit. If the product is losing value, or if a cash infusion will not increase its value, the desire to put money in drops. Banks and lenders - especially now - are not as willing to finance companies to put cash into a potentially unprofitable venture. Add to that the unexpected strength in the US dollar versus the Euro and some of the math turns upside down.

Here, the F3 ships have a radical - and unproven - interior design for a market that is being hit hard by the economic problems and, at least in the near future, probably are not going to be parting with as much cash on the holy grail of the mass market cruise business: onboard revenue. Add to that the downward pressure on pricing and the drop off in (long range) bookings, Apollo and its lenders have probably (my guess) said something along the lines of, "NCL's Hawaii plan seemed good, but we took a bath as it was unconventional and had unforeseen problems. NCL has lost over $350,000,000 in the last two years. Now we have a $1,000,000,000 (yes, one billion dollar) project which is now seeing cost increases (due to the loss in value of the Euro - the currency of the contract - as well as difficulties in creating the radical design elements) and we cannot assure a profit at higher prices with possible reductions in passenger loads...and NCL is bleeding cash flow as it is."

While that "magic" is playing out, the operationally pretty solid Oceania, through Apollo's Prestige Cruise Holdings (separate from NCL) is working hard to clean up the issues at Regent by increasing efficiencies on many levels and revamping the luxury line's ships from hardware to software to crew. We have seen the previously greatly publicized talk of a new ship for Regent being, quite obviously, pushed to the back...see the parallel here!...and, in its place, a $40,000,000 refurbishment of the Voyager and Mariner; leaving the Navigator for another day (if there is another day for that ship!) and there being talk on the street and some publications of the end of its relationship with the Paul Gauguin. Now, there is talk of the Voyager and Mariner refurbishments being scaled back as well.

I am not so sure these fiscally stringent moves are a bad thing. The concept of growth through huge increases in inventory has a great flaw: Not enough buyers of that inventory (i.e. cruise passengers). That, added to the cost of creating that additional inventory, can destroy a positive bottom line. So, Apollo and Prestige Cruise Holdings may just be saying that we would rather utilize what we have and utilize it well, possibly generating smaller profits, than growing ourselves (and our debt) right out of business.

I much prefer a higher quality product from a profitable cruise line than a less quality product from a cruise line trying to find its way out of a problem it created which, inevitably, would cause the passengers to pay more to get less.

It is going to be interesting to see how all this plays out.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Seabourn Staff Receive Unique Training and Compensation

Last week I discussed a bit about Seabourn taking back control of its officers and ship's management by abandoning a short-lived V.Ships relationship.  Today I thought I would mention a unique aspect of Seabourn as it relates to its hotel staff; that is stewardesses, waiters, etc.

One thing that is unique about Seabourn is that it has maintained a European/South African staff while virtually (if not literally) most other lines, including other luxury lines, have focused on reducing costs by utilizing less expensive Filipino and other Southeast Asian staff.  In an industry where finding and keeping well trained staff is becoming an bigger and bigger problem, the challenges are many.

As a bit of background, most cruise lines hire staff, put them through a short shore-based program and then put them to sea; starting them out as assistant stewards and assistant waiters generally in the lesser cabins and easier areas of the dining rooms/buffets and allowing "on the job" training to run its course.  As the demand for crew has increased...as have the number and sheer size of new ships increase...some lines have taken to using private "schools".  The problem is, of course, that while it is better than just starting to work without any training at all, there is a big difference between the school room and the ship.

Seabourn is unique in that it does not hire untrained, or merely school trained, staff for its hotel service positions.  Generally, Seabourn has the following criteria:  1.  The potential staff must be a minimum of 20 years old years (eliminating many "youth issues"); 2.  They must have a certificate from a recognized professional training institution; 3.  (And I think this is key) they must have at least 2 years of full-time restaurant or hotel service experience in a five star establishment catering to an international clientèle; and, 4.  They must have a good written and oral use of English.

(Having suffered through Regent's overnight change from European to Filipino staffing, the frustrations of the lack of training and the lack of a good command of English was, to me shocking.  As time goes by this problem has dissipated quite a bit, but it still remains with too many new staff.  I have heard of similar problem on Silversea.)

But Seabourn does not end its training there.  With the Seabourn Odyssey coming onboard, Seabourn is in need of more staff...and the staff has to be experiences not only in a classroom and a hotel or restaurant. So Seabourn is taking the unusual step of taking a certain number of suites out of service so that the new staff can come onboard and shadow the existing staff.  Remember the term is "shadow"; not replace.  The full compliment of trained staff will remain on the ship to service the guests.  The new staff are in addition to the full compliment. So when some of the more experienced staff migrate over to the Odyssey, trained staff to replace them will already be onboard.  (Will this be perfect?  Probably not.  Will it be significantly better than pilfering the existing crew and leaving new and not so well trained staff on the triplets?  Every indication is that it should work quite well.)

[Side Note:  When it comes to hiring galley staff, Seabourn actually travels to the schools and puts the applicants for jobs as chefs, bakers, butchers, etc. through tests before they are hired; again taking that extra step which reduces the pitfalls of mere "on the job" training.  Many cruise lines take the graduate sight unseen, evaluate them once onboard and then figure out where they might fit.]

The other major issue is compensation.  Until last week's 5% drop in the value of the Euro, the U.S. Dollar has been the standard rate of pay for most crew...and one of the biggest bones of contention as crew has seen their net pay in their home countries actually reduce.  It is very difficult to maintain staff when compensation reduces.  It is, in part, why the concept of automatic gratuities being added to your onboard account started...and then the newest things:  mandatory service charges being added; the concept obviously being the higher percentage of passengers that pay the full gratuity (and the fewer that pay none...and those folks do exist), the easier it is for the cruise lines to boost or at least stabilize crew wages...but at the passenger's expense.

Seabourn, once again, takes a unique position in the industry.  It pays its staff in the currency of their residence.  So a South African has a contract paid in Rand, British in Pounds, Dutch in Euros, etc.  This is a huge benefit for the staff because their pay is, regardless of currency international fluctuations, their pay...just like it would be at home.  This sort of...consistancy...is a very good tool to obtain and retain high quality staff.

One thing to consider is that while as a guest Seabourn is a fantastic place to be, the employees don't get to have the same experience.  They are in charge of assuring you the experience.  This, in large part, can affect the international mix of the staff.  Some have wondered why there are so few American staff.  The reasons range from the rate of pay, to living conditions, to the requirement to work seven days a week at times.  With all of the employment opportunities in the U.S., obtaining and retaining U.S. staff can be very difficult.  Just ask Norwegian Cruise Lines when they were pulling their hair out in Hawaii.

Also, keep in mind that societal and cultural differences also come into play as to the type of service being provided.  While European/South African staff are more outgoing and engaging, Filipino staff can be very charming, but generally take a more distanced or subservient approach.  To be sure, each individual is different, but you can most definitely tell the difference when you walk aboard a Holland America ship versus a Seabourn ship.  It is, alas, part of what the product is that is being provided to the guests.

Hopefully this has helped answer some of the questions concerning training, pay and interactions with the staff aboard the ships.