(6 p.m. AEST) — Mysterious listings have appeared in the Sydney cruise schedule. According to the Port Authority of NSW, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Star has 11 bookings at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal from 7 October 2017 until 1 May 2018 — enough to suggest a six-month season in Australia.
NCL is one of the few ‘big ship’ companies without a superliner based in Sydney. Last year the line confirmed a short series of three sailings to or from Australia and New Zealand on Norwegian Star in January and February 2017.
Earlier this week, the company responded to ongoing speculation about an Australia-based ship by saying it was “on our radar”.
At pre-dinner drinks with media aboard Oceania Marina, anchored in Sydney Harbour on Monday night, Steve Odell, Senior Vice President and Managing Director Asia Pacific of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), said: “It’s not in our short term plan to put a ship here. We are bringing Norwegian Star for a season of four months [to Asia, Australia and New Zealand] starting in November this year but we don’t have a definitive plan to have a homeport here at this point. It’s on our radar screen, of course, because we wouldn’t be investing here if we didn’t have bigger ambitions.”
When asked again today, an NCL spokesperson told us, “there’s nothing to report, just fishing for space”.
NCLH, which encompasses NCL, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, has made a huge investment in Australia over the past few months, opening an office and call centre in Sydney employing more than 40 staff. From 1 April, a much broader range of local travel agents will start selling its cruises.
Sales offices have also opened in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, to be followed by Tokyo, Singapore, Mumbai and New Delhi. Next year NCL enters China cruising with a new ship customised for the Chinese traveller.
Expanding to Australia and Asia was a necessary move, Odell said, with 45,000 beds to fill in 22 ships across the three lines, and six new ships launching from 2015 to 2019. “That’s a 40 per cent growth in capacity so you can see why we’re investing internationally, especially when the main North America market is not growing at this rate.”
Meanwhile, a further investment of US$525 million has been committed to major upgrades of all existing ships over 24 months so that “every ship looks like a brand new ship”.
Describing the three brands, Odell said NCL is “contemporary, all about freedom and flexibility, with big ships ranging from 3,000 to 4,500 guests”; Oceania is “upper premium and has a reputation for the finest cuisine afloat”; Regent is “the top end of the scale, luxury, unique, boutique cruising at its best”.
This year sees Oceania Sirena set sail in April and the brand new Regent Seven Seas Explorer debut in July.
Odell said the team was “hungry” for local business. “It’s a very exciting journey, there are so many opportunities for us here. I can only see us getting bigger and bigger in Australia.”