Best in Class

At Norwegian, it’s all about providing the best possible guest experience – across each of its three brands.

Courtesy NCL

Published Apr 21, 2024 12:17 PM by Tony Munoz

(Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2024 edition.)


“We try to win with the guests regardless of the brand they choose,” says President & CEO Harry Sommer. “Our goal is to have the best product within each category. And to do it with passion – you have to have passion to move the business forward.”

Sommer knows. He’s been in the business for upwards of 30 years, and he’s seen it all. Last July he assumed his new post, taking over from the retired Frank J. Del Rio, whom he had worked with most of his career. It was a seamless transition, and his timing couldn’t have been better.

The industry, and NCLH, are on a roll. Bookings are up. Pricing is up. COVID is in the rear view mirror, and the future looks bright. “We’ll move more guests this year than any year in the history of the company,” he exclaims. “It’s going to be a fantastic year.”

Back Story

Founded in 1966 as Norwegian Caribbean Lines by Knut Kloster (yes, it really was founded in Norway by a Norwegian), it soon relocated to Miami and helped pioneer weekly cruises to the Caribbean. Along the way it achieved many firsts and was known for its innovative marketing campaigns and catchy slogans. Remember “Cruise Like a Norwegian” and “Freestyle Cruising”?

It also changed hands a number of times, and it really wasn’t until 2014 – barely ten years ago – that it assumed its present shape.  

That’s when the renamed Norwegian Cruise Line, having gone public the year before, bought Prestige Cruise Holdings, which included the Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands. Del Rio and three others had founded Oceania Cruises in 2002 and, with the help of private equity firm Apollo Management, which owned Oceania Cruises at the time, purchased Regent Seven Seas Cruises in 2008 from the Minneapolis-based Carlson Companies to form Prestige.

The lineup was now complete. Three established brands – Norwegian, Oceania Cruises and Regent – each a leader in its category, each appealing to a different demographic and each upscale.

Three Brands

At the top of the lineup is Regent, which Sommer describes as “quite simply the best there is.” It's NCLH’s ultra-luxury, ultra-all-inclusive brand, and it’s committed to giving guests the best possible vacation experience. Everything is included – Business Class air, all onboard amenities, gratuities, liquor, unlimited shore excursions, WiFi, laundry.

“We really try to deliver an all-inclusive and unrivaled experience,” says Sommer.

The staff-to-guest ratio aboard Regent ships is unparalleled. Everyone feels like a VIP. Sommer likes to tell people that “the difference in luxury cruising is that instead of waiting in line in lots of places, there's a bunch of staff waiting in line to serve you.”

Last year saw the introduction of the sixth ship in the Regent fleet, the Seven Seas Grandeur, described as “the culmination of Regent’s more than three decades of expertise in luxury cruising.” With room for only 744 guests, it has a staff of 548 – among the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry. And the cabins are huge, ranging up to 4,443 square feet in the palatial Regent Suite.

But the real stunner is its 1,600-piece art collection featuring a custom-designed masterpiece, “Journey in Jewels,” the first Fabergé Egg to permanently reside at sea. The ship’s godmother, appropriately, was Sarah Faberge, founding member of The Fabergé Heritage Council and great-granddaughter of Peter Carl Fabergé.

Sommer says he’s “super excited” about the luxury market in general and believes it has huge potential.

After Regent comes Oceania Cruises, the company’s upper premium brand, which bills itself as “the world's leading culinary- and destination-focused cruise line.” Sommer calls it the “foodie line” and raves about the cuisine, renowned as being the finest at sea and rivaling Michelin-starred restaurants.

“What they do with food is simply extraordinary,” he states. “At the Italian restaurant they hand you a card with 10 different olive oils and five different vinegars. I don't know any other cruise line that has an olive oil and vinegar sommelier. I don't think it exists anywhere else. That's the attention to detail they have with everything. I remember visiting the galleys on the Oceania ships, which only have 700 to 1,250 passengers. They’re almost the same size as those on larger ships.”

Like Regent, Oceania introduced its own new ship last year, the 1,200-passenger Vista, bringing its fleet to seven vessels with 6,300 berths.

While the demographic for Regent and Oceania is similar – affluent, older – the Norwegian Cruise Line brand caters to a slightly different market. “We consider her our contemporary brand,” says Sommer.

Norwegian offers an upscale experience with enhanced cuisine and premium destinations like Hawaii and Alaska. All of the ships within the brand – NCLH’s largest with 19 vessels – have lots of different specialty restaurants and multiple entertainment venues.

Its newest ship, the 3,099-passenger Norwegian Viva, was introduced last August and is the second ship in the award-winning Prima Class. She features the Indulge Food Hall, a food market with 11 unique eateries, as well as an awe-inspiring art collection of her own. Sommer says Viva's initial guest satisfaction scores were the highest of any newbuild in the history of the NCL fleet.

“Norwegian has the best contemporary product, Oceania the best premium product, and Regent has just simply the best product in the industry,” Sommer proclaims. “That's how we like to position ourselves – more upscale ships, more upscale destinations, more upscale service, more upscale food, more upscale entertainment.”

The Road Ahead

It’s a winning formula, and the company continues, in Sommer’s words, “to win with the guests” –where it counts.

He has his team in place – David Herrera at Norwegian, Frank Del Rio, Jr. at Oceania and Andrea DeMarco, the company’s first female brand President, at Regent. There’s tremendous comradery and shared vision among the group, according to Sommer, and that’s “super important.”

“I’m a big fan of comradery, shared vision, innovation, transparency,” he says. “Those are sort of the key principles of the company.”

So is a commitment to sustainable operations: “We take great pride in our sustainability program, Sail & Sustain,” Sommer adds, “which is centered around our commitment to drive a positive impact on society and the environment while delivering on our vision to be the vacation of choice for our guests.”

As for the year ahead, he sees tremendous consumer demand and says the company will move more guests than ever before: “We're going to blow past anything we did in 2019 from a guest perspective, a revenue perspective. It's going to be a fantastic year.”  

Tony Munoz is Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Maritime Executive.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.