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Progress cited on Pride of Aloha

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Despite recent setbacks, NCL America said yesterday that it remains committed to the Hawai'i market and is moving forward with plans to add two more vessels to its interisland fleet by 2006.

NCL vice president Mitchell Schlesinger says that despite complaints about service on Pride of Aloha, business has been "phenomenal."

Richard Ambo.

Problems with service aboard the Pride of Aloha escalated in August, prompting Norwegian Cruise Line to apologize to passengers, issue $35 refunds and send a senior management team from Miami to Honolulu to oversee operations.

"We've been through some bumpy waters in our early sailings — that's obviously not a secret. ... But they are making very positive progress on the ship," Mitchell Schlesinger, vice president of North American sales for NCL, said at a Waikiki luncheon yesterday. "Service levels will be up to standards in short order."

The Pride of Aloha is NCL's first U.S.-flagged ship and, unlike most large cruise liners, must be crewed by U.S. workers. It began sailing seven-day Hawaiian Islands cruises on July 4 with a crew of nearly 800.

Passengers who voiced their dissatisfaction with the seven-day interisland cruise complained about two-hour waits for dinner, smelly bathrooms, poor preparation of foods and wet floors.

NCL officials say that service has improved during the past two weeks. Wait times to get into the ship's restaurants have been reduced substantially, often with no waits at all.

Despite publicity surrounding the complaints, bookings have not been affected, Schlesinger said. "Sales ... have been extremely strong — they're phenomenal," Schlesinger told about 80 attendees at the event sponsored by the Pacific Asia Travel Association, American Society of Travel Agents, and Hawai'i Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association.

Robert Kritzman, executive vice president and managing director for the Hawai'i operations of NCL, was scheduled to speak at the luncheon but had to attend meetings at the company's Miami headquarters, NCL said.

Schlesinger said bookings for cruises on the line's next U.S.-flagged ship, Pride of America, which arrives in Honolulu next July, are doing well. The interisland cruises went on sale about three weeks ago.

NCL hasn't had an unusual number of cancellations for the Pride of Aloha, either, Schle-singer said, despite problems with service and cleanliness on the ship.

Still some passengers say they are considering canceling — or have canceled — their reservations on the Pride of Aloha.

Mary Ellen Lenander of Hawai'i Kai had made reservations on the Pride of Aloha for her family of eight, costing about $15,500. Four from another family were going to join them.

But after hearing about the problems on the ship, they all decided to cancel.

"I've been watching the reviews since July and just hoping that they were going to get better," she said via e-mail. "But when it hit the news (of the NCL apology and more complaints), I finally told everyone that we had to cancel. My brothers were totally depressed. Some of us have never been on a cruise before and were really looking forward to it."

NCL said cancellations are typical of any cruise and the Pride of Aloha hasn't seen an unusual spike. According to NCL America, cruises for the next few months are still averaging about 2,000 passengers, or near full capacity.

In addition to the Pride of America, the Pride of Hawai'i is scheduled to arrive in the Islands in spring of 2006. At that time, 33 percent of NCL's beds will be in Hawai'i. The three ships will serve around 8,000 passengers at a time.

"The impact of (the Hawai'i market) will be dramatic for us," Schlesinger said. "There's no question about our dedication to this market and our dedication to this product going forward."

By Catherine E. Toth

Honolulu Advertiser Staff Writer

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