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Jason

Pride of Aloha's service has shaped up

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TAMPA—Last summer, NCL America, the new U.S.-flagged brand operated by U.S. crews in Hawaii, had serious service issues onboard Pride of Aloha. As NCL Group in Miami dispatched executives to Hawaii to fix the problems, agents awaited improvements. Some months later, the "fix" appears to be working.

Richard Goldstein, an agent with Four Corners Travel in Miami, a Carlson-Wagonlit Travel agency, booked a group of 445 clients on the ship this fall. "I was ready for the worst, considering all the bad publicity," says Goldstein, but he reports the group, former Pan Am flight attendants on an annual charity trip, had a great time.

He received at least 20 complimentary notes about the cruise—only one woman complained. But "that woman complains about everything," quips Goldstein. "These were people from 11 countries, and they know good service." The group found that "Pride of Aloha's service was good or trying hard to be good," he says. "It was clear everybody seemed to want to make it work."

Kathy Falkensammer, CTC, president, Prestige Travel & Cruises, Las Vegas, also had a group onboard Pride of Aloha this fall. "We held our breath, given the negative publicity," she says. "But it was clear the wait staff and cabin service staff had improved." She said the group she booked was also a success.

"Over the past few weeks, the Pride of Aloha is achieving a more than 90 percent guest satisfaction rating; overall, the entire NCL fleet usually operates in the 93 to 97 percent range," says Andy Stuart, executive vice president of marketing, sales and passenger services, Norwegian Cruise Line, NCL America and Orient Lines. "So we are very pleased [at the progress so far]."

Regarding the ship's crew, he says, "The turnover rate is improving significantly. We actually have more than 300 people who are on their third contract with us on Pride of Aloha. We are building a core group of experienced people who can really deliver a good product." Plus, recruitment continues to be a strong focus, he says.

Because the ship is U.S.-flagged, onboard staff must be U.S. citizens or hold U.S. green cards. More staff members are now onboard than originally stipulated. According to the company, it is overstaffing Pride of Aloha to build up a core group of trained personnel to be ready for next summer's launch of its second ship, Pride of America.

The foreign-flagged NCL brand is doing well with its Freestyle Cruising product, which provides open seating and multiple dining venues. "Free-style Cruising appeals to a broad audience, but it is still frustrating to us when someone comes on our ship and is surprised by the open seating," says Stuart. "There is definitely an opportunity [for agents] to tell that story every time, and we hope this gets communicated in advance."

OUT OF EUROPE:

NCL plans to sail mainly from U.S. and Canadian ports in 2005. It is basically "out" of Europe for summer 2005, although the new Norwegian Jewel (launching next summer) will operate one Mediterranean and one Baltic cruise prior to its transatlantic journey to America. Earlier this year, NCL introduced Norwegian Spirit, a former Star Cruises ship. "The ship has been well received; people like the heavy theming, and so while we do have plans to make some drydock changes in the fall 2005, we are not going to make wholesale changes," stresses Stuart. Many changes will address behind-the-scenes and galley improvements.

Across the system, cruise fares are edging upward. "There are still good deals available," says Stuart. "Probably they are not as voluminous as they've been in the past, but the good deals are encouraging people to book early."

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