How Norwegian Cruise Line is breaking the mould

An exceptional onboard experience requires the line to act on feedback from staff and guests

How Norwegian Cruise Line is breaking the mould
Norwegian Cruise Line has top-class shows on its ships, such as the six-time Tony Award-winning ‘Kinky Boots’

By Mark Kansley |

Guests need to be at the heart of every decision when cruise lines define their onboard offerings. The accommodation, entertainment, food and beverage services and the overall environment need to be exceptional. 

Top-class entertainment is one of our key pillars at Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). Our onboard shows are West End and Broadway calibre, including ‘SIX! The Musical’ and six-time Tony Award-winning ‘Kinky Boots’. 

Another priority is to maintain and facilitate our ‘Freestyle Cruising’ ethos – NCL revolutionised the industry by offering guests the freedom and flexibility to design their ideal vacation on their preferred schedule with no assigned dining and entertainment times and no formal dress code. With Freestyle Cruising, holidaymakers can curate their own cruise as they would if they visited London, New York or Las Vegas.  

Every element of the cruise that impacts the guest experience is managed by the hotel general manager and hotel operations team. On average, 85 per cent of the crew onboard is dedicated to hotel operations.  

All accommodation is managed by the team, from our solo traveller staterooms to The Haven by Norwegian, our exclusive ship-in-ship area. Not only do guests of The Haven have access to all the ship has to offer, but they also get to enjoy the personal service of a 24-hour butler and concierge. I like to say that we have the best job in the world, as we get to make thousands of people happy every day. 

One onboard space that I am particularly engaged with is our Q Texas Smokehouse. We were the first cruise line to offer a Texas smokehouse and barbecue onboard, and the first to smoke meat onboard a ship. 

The barbecue-eating public are very discerning, so it was imperative that we did it right. Therefore, we visited numerous smokehouses in Texas, tasting copious amounts of barbecued food and practiced smoking meat over many weekends. The feedback has been tremendous, and, for me, it is a very exciting and vibrant space. 

We consider many factors when we’re looking at new concepts like Q Texas Smokehouse. Our approach is three-fold, focusing on what our guests are telling us, what is trending in the design industry, and what our team goes out and experiences.  

We’d obviously be foolish to ignore feedback from our guests. We always follow up with our valued customers to find out what they would like to see and do onboard a ship, and what they think the gaps are in the current onboard offerings. We then use analytics companies that specialise in trends, such as food and beverage, entertainment or retail, to corroborate what we have determined through our own research and take these insights into the design phase. 

Feedback from our onboard teams is also important as they’re the ones who are physically working and living in those spaces. Therefore, when we are in the design phase of a newbuild, we have regular workshops with the teams who know each space and venue best. In short, our onboard teams are a big part of the design process not only for the next generation of vessels, but also for refurbishments of our much-loved fleet of ships, too. 

Functionality is key for great hospitality design. No matter how beautiful the space is, we need to be able to operate in it. Whatever the space is designed for – whether it’s a space for entertainment, retail, relaxation or food and beverage – it must be functional for the purpose.  

A key part of functionality – and a lot of people forget the importance of this in the cruise world – is storage capabilities. The cast and crew of our entertainment shows, for example, need a significant amount of space to store their costumes and sets. So, we have a behind-the-scenes storage space to support that.  

Ultimately, my team are the ones that execute the product onboard the ship, so we need to have a hand in the design of it right from the start. We work with the building team, shipyards and the architects on all aspects of a ship’s design. This can include anything from the placement and appearance of guest locations, right down to how the storage of the vessel operates, and the flow of the guests. Once the spaces are defined and those ‘frames are frozen’, we work with the architects on the look and feel of each one of those venues. 

The design of our ships is so important to us because they’re the biggest part of our offering. We don’t see other cruise lines as our competition. Instead, we see Las Vegas, London and New York as our competition, because Norwegian ships are floating destinations. We strive to continuously elevate the look and feel of our cruises.  

Rather than going with the same ship engineers time and time again, we break the mould and commission architects who build beautiful hotels and bespoke venues. We want to keep the cruise industry evolving, and NCL has always been at the forefront of evolution and design. 

As our ships got more elevated and popular, we wanted to spread out the dining and entertainment experience for our guests. Instead of one dining room gally, our ships now have 10-15 restaurants to enable guests to sample a wide array of different cuisines and never feel too crowded. We’ve also designed our ships with our innovative entertainment offering in mind. Our critics said it wasn’t possible to build a racetrack on a cruise ship, or the Waterfront where guests can sit by the water and enjoy their meal – but we proved them wrong. 

Mark Kansley is senior vice president of hotel operations at Norwegian Cruise Line 

This article was first published in the 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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