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Cruise News & Rumor Update

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Among the various cruise news items this week, we also have a spate of rumors to talk about. Here’s the dirt…

We already established that Norwegian Epic is raising the prices for entertainment. So far, the ship is only charging for shows that have a meal element to them, but the prices on the Cirque Dreams and Dinner shows, as well as the one Second City Murder Mystery show have all been doubled effective September 25th.

Cirque Dreams and Dinner was previously just $15 for premium seats and $10 for the lesser seats in the smallish 280 seat theater. The prices have now doubled to $30 for the premium seats and $20 for the back rows. Now – it is important to understand a few things about this development:

  1. Nothing was said of the food getting any better, so it is highly unlikely anything about the food will change. In fact, there were many criticisms of the meals served with the Cirque Shows (tough steak and rubber chicken).
  2. The important thing about these meals is that NCL would have had to feed you anyway – this is not a specialty restaurant, you don’t even get a choice on what you eat unless you are a vegetarian. So, the bottom line is that this is a price raise for the SHOWS.
  3. This theater is very small, and they were turning away many people cruise after cruise. The truth is that if you do not go to an early show on the ship there really isn’t much else to do before the nightclubs start hopping. You can go to a premium restaurant and pay about the same price, but at the point it makes sense to say “or we could pay to see this show.”

We just did an informal poll on CruiseMates that asks if people would pay extra to see the kind of LasVegas quality entertainment, Blue Man Group, Legends in Concert and Second City Comedy, showing on Norwegian Epic.  The answer was NOT a resounding NO. Only 58% of respondents said they absolutely would not pay for quality entertainment on a cruise ship, while a full 25% of respondents said they would pay a small fee if it meant having a better seat guaranteed and no waiting in line.

Right now, while reservations can be made to see Blue Man Group for no extra charge, to get a truly good seat requires getting in line an hour or more before the show starts so you can be among the first guests to select your seats when the doors open.

NCL is also seating suite guests before the doors open-  so they are guaranteed front row seats for every show – a privilege they essentially pay for with higher cruise fares. Bottom line – all the elements are there for a cruise line to start charging for onboard entertainment for the first time ever. We do want to say, however, that the people who were opposed to this idea in our message boards were adamantly opposed. They were by far the most vocal voters in the poll.

Next Rumor: Disney About the Take Over the Hawaii Market

We received an email from an NCL employee last week telling us that the uniforms at NCL-America have changed. They now reflect what is more commonly worn by the crews on the foreign-flagged NCL vessels. He also says that the NCL-A logo is disappearing and being replaced by the plain NCL logo on new posters and signs around the ship. This crewmember says the rumor making the rounds is that Pride of America will be re-flagged as a foreign flag vessel.

Meanwhile – we know that Disney is moving into the Hawaii market – as a resort. They are building the new Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa on the opposite shore (from Honolulu) of Oahu now, slated to open in 2011. This resort for 800 guests looks a bit like an Atlantis theme hotel with tropical huts and waterslide and  inner tube rapids rides.

Is it just a coincidence that 2011 is the same year that Disney plans to relocate the Disney Wonder cruise ship to the West Coast for the second time? Is it also a coincidence that the Aulani Disney Resort is located just one mile from the only other dock on Oahu capable of landing a small cruise ship? Now, Disney Magic is not a small cruise ship, but it would certainly be easier (logistically, financially and legally) to expand an existing dock than it would be to build a brand new one as Disney did for its private island – they only cruise line to do so.

Is it possible the line may want to buy the rights to run the nation’s largest American flagged cruise line from NCL-America? If you look at the differences between Disney Cruise Lines and NCL you see that Disney maybe the a cruise line capable of demanding the kind of premium cruise fares required to run a U.S.-flagged cruise operation in Hawaii.

We have had vague confirmations from the Disney side with news of an internal newsletter saying Disney Cruises will definitely visit Hawaii in 2011 and 2012. The line has even reserved berths in Honolulu for these visits already. Testing the waters?

Rumor #3 – Cruise West to be a Bigger Mess than So Far Said

Simply doing the math tells us that the amount of outstanding liability Cruise West may be facing for its unfulfilled cruises may come close to $10 million or more. There were nine ships in the line, each of which sold for about $400 per passenger day. Say the line had 1000 cabins to sell all together at $400/day. That comes to $146 million if every cabin was fully pre-sold for a year. So $10 million is less than 10% of the amount of money the line could potentially owe.

The fact is that the only cruises that had bonds to keep the cruise fares in escrow were the two ships sailing in the United States. The other seven ships only had protection from a $1,000,000 USTOA bond. That singular bond is all there is to cover everyone else.

There were signs the company was becoming cash-strapped, yet this time many people missed the signs. The signs were:

  1. Moving more cruises to off-shore cruise itineraries like Central America, Mexico, Europe, the Polar regions, a world cruise, etc.
  2. The company offering incentives to people who agreed to pay cash (always a bad sign) directly to the company.

Strangely enough, the travel insurance providers did not catch this one early as they usually do. But the other people who almost always know when something is up were making some noise – travel agents waiting for commission checks. We have seen messages from last winter where agents are discussing promises from Cruise West that comissions would be paid as soon as they got a $1.5 million loan they were seeking. Word is that they got the loan, but they still never paid the all of the commissions.

That’s it for cruise rumor mill for now – stay tuned for more unsubstantiated updates as they occur.

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Comment from Dave Beers
Time September 20, 2010 at 10:04 am

Could it be that the fat lady is getting ready to sing at the NCL America funeral? Of course that would mean a return of Kirabati to the itinerary. I like the Disney rumor. Talk about the ultimate Disney experience!

Comment from Michelle
Time August 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm

I loved the Epic and we are going again to Barcelona and taking the trip through Italy. Sept 11 for my Birthday celebration. If you are going too, Please email me as we are looking for a few couples to take Limo Tours together

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