I've never felt that Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) was a good fit for Hawaii. I'm not even sure anymore what made me feel that way at the beginning, but then when I started to receive lots of negative email from folks who have sailed with them in Hawaii, I knew that my feelings were right. Over and over again I read of poor service and lousy food, the two things that most cruise passengers value most.
How NCL Came to HawaiiClearly a large part of the problem stemmed from the exception to the Jones Act passed by Congress in 2003 which allowed NCL to sail exclusively in Hawaii with their non-U.S. flagged ships. Part of the law required that NCL employ American crews to man the ships.
On the surface this appeared to be good news, especially for locals in Hawaii looking for jobs. It quickly became apparent, however, that Americans were not happy working under the restrictive conditions and long hours demanded by NCL - the same conditions foreign workers have endured for years.
I was surprised when NCL added a third ship to their Hawaii itinerary, but was happy for the locals who would get jobs on board the ships and others whose businesses would benefit from passengers coming ashore.
Pride of Hawaii and Pride of Aloha DepartHaving added the third ship less than two years ago, it shocked me when I read that NCL had decided to pull one of its three ships, The Pride of Hawaii, from the market and transfer it to Europe. The ship left the islands on February 4, 2008.
Yesterday, I read that NCL has decided to pull a second ship, The Pride of Aloha, from the Hawaii market as of May 11, 2008. The ship will be transferred to Star Cruises where it will be will be reflagged and deployed in Asia this summer.
Star Cruises' website states that they're the "leading cruise line in Asia-Pacific" and parent company of NCL. That's actually news to me, since I always thought that NCL was the parent company.
I've always been surprised by NCL's lack of cooperation in providing information about their Hawaii operations. Needless to say, I've never been invited to sail on one of their Hawaii cruises, so I've had to rely on others for information.
Pride of America Remains AloneThe remaining year-round ship in Hawaii will be the Pride of America which was introduced in 2005. Pride of America will be making inter-island cruises departing every Saturday from Honolulu.
NCL also announced that as part of its major fleet-wide initiative called the Freestyle 2.0 program, Pride of America will be seeing significant enhancements by May 2008 including "a major investment in the total dining experience; upgrading the stateroom experience; new wide ranging on-board activities for all guests; additional recognition, service and amenities for balcony, suite and villa guests; and the establishment of casual action-station restaurants taking the place of the "traditional" buffet experience."
In the same press release, NCL states that "as demand continues to grow for this premium experience, we hope to bring back our other modern purpose-built U.S.-flag ship, Pride of Hawaii." Only time will tell on that.
Economic Impact for Passengers and Local EconomyLeft unsaid in NCL's press release is the company's apparent desire to force demand to outweigh supply in the Hawaii market allowing the company to increase the prices of its Hawaii cruises.
An article in the February 12 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser estimates that the loss of the two ships from the Hawaii market will have almost a billion dollar ($964 million) impact on Hawaii's economy and the loss of up to 3943 jobs. Those are not only jobs onboard the ships, where locals may elect not to relocate to the ships' new locations, but jobs in the many island-based companies (activities, attractions and retailers) that serve passengers when the ships are in port.
In the same article, Hilo Harbormaster Ian Birnie comments, "It's interesting because NCL has actually increased the number of passengers for all three ships. They had a higher average passenger count last year and the year before with all three ships."
My own negative email had slowed considerably over the past year, so I assumed things were improving.
NCL Backs Proposal to Further Limit Foreign Flagged ShipsNCL's decision to reduce its Hawaii presence coincides with a pending NCL-backed proposal to require that foreign flagged competitors be forced to increase the length of their stays at a foreign port before they can continue on to a U.S. port.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection proposal first announced in November of 2007 would require foreign-flagged cruise ships that depart from a U.S. port to spend 48 hours in a foreign port. Also, the amount of time they spend docked at foreign ports must be more than 50 percent of the period spent at U.S. ports.
The proposal would require NCL's Hawaii competitors to increase their stays in foreign ports before or after sailing to Hawaii. Should this proposal see fruition, it is likely that other cruise lines would cut back or eliminate their Hawaii sailings, further impacting Hawaii's cruise industry.
NCL - Not a Good Fit for HawaiiAs I said, I never felt that NCL was a good fit for Hawaii. Now they show that they have no sense of loyalty to the people of Hawaii or visitors wishing to cruise the islands.
When NCL decided that they couldn't exploit the market which was generously handed to them by Congress, they decided to turn tail and leave a path of economic ruin in their wake. To make matters worse, NCL is supporting a proposal which would likely reduce the number of competitors' cruise ships that visit Hawaii.
I'd like to think that Hawaii's representatives in Congress would take another look at the deal which allowed NCL to sail exclusively in the Hawaii market. One thing for sure is that the people and government of Hawaii have learned a hard lesson about putting their trust in a foreign company with no ties to Hawaii.
Have you sailed on one of NCL's Hawaii cruises? Tell me about your experience, good or bad, in our comments section.
You can read some NCL Cruise Reviews on Linda Garrison's About.com Cruises site.