When Norwegian Cruise Line first announced it would commence year-round cruises from New York a decade ago I thought they were crazy. Who in their right mind, I thought, would plunk down money to board a cruise ship during the dark days of winter to cruise to the Caribbean or the Bahamas and Florida when it involved sailing for two days in each direction on the North Atlantic at its most turbulent?
The answer is lots of people, including this New Yorker. In fact, NCL’s cruises were so popular the company added a second ship. When other cruise lines saw how well NCL did, they jumped on the “Homeland Cruising” bandwagon by positioning ships in the three ports of New York (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Bayonne, NJ).
In 2010, two of NCL’s best ships sail from New York during the winter months: Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Jewel sail on seven-night voyages stopping in Nassau, Orlando (Port Canaveral) and NCL’s private Bahamian island.
What may seem equally odd is that folks from New York and surrounding states — generally a well-traveled, sophisticated bunch of people who probably don’t think “see Nassau’s straw market and die” — would flock to this itinerary. But as a New Yorker I can understand the popularity of NCL’s winter Freestyle cruises.
The Joys Of Homeland Cruising
According to the Department of Transportation, New York-area airports are the worst in the country in terms of delays and flight cancellation. Add to that the hassle of getting to and from JFK, LaGuardia and Newark and the exorbitant cost of parking and airfare. When a mode of transportation — flying — that was as natural as breathing becomes fraught with aggravation and very expensive we’ll jump at the chance to board a ship going practically anywhere as long as long as it’s accessible by car, bus, taxi or Amtrak.
Running Off to Sea
While NCL’s one week Florida/Bahamas itinerary is pretty unexciting, it really doesn’t matter. Several years ago, when I sailed aboard Norwegian Dawn on this itinerary, the ship’s hotel manager told me that half the passengers don’t even bother to get off. Those who want to make a fast, quick getaway from the everyday stresses of life see being pampered, well fed and entertained as the most important aspect of the vacation.
Freestylin’ New Yorkers
NCL’s Freestyle cruising seems tailor made for well-traveled cruisers from the Northeast, many who would balk at the thought of assigned dining in one restaurant — or any regimentation at all. We’re accustomed to dressing down at night and don’t relish the idea of having to lug along formal clothes. And of course we want the ability to dine at a different restaurant every night if we want to.
The Price is Right
We’ve earned our reputation of being cost- and bargain-conscious so the thought of getting a balcony cabin for under $1000 per person, per week is very enticing. Especially since we can eat, eat, eat and party hard at night and opt to dine in a different restaurant every night.
But there are also those of us who want extra pampering and luxury, not normally synonymous with cruising. Norwegian Gem and Jade both have Courtyard Villas, a truly sybaritic cruise experience. Located in a private area of the ship, the Courtyard complex is only accessible to passengers booked in the exclusive villas, which have a separate living room and bedroom. Outfitted with a private swimming pool and hot tub, the courtyard is beautifully adorned with Balinese-style lounge chairs, fitness area and steam room. A concierge is on hand to assist in ordering from any restaurant aboard ship, fetching cocktails and making spa appointments so luxury cruisers can stay in this area for the entire cruise if they wish.
So it makes perfect sense that NCL needs to of its largest ships to accommodate everyone who wants to sail from New York — in February. For me it’s a seven minute taxi ride to the Manhattan terminal and the ability to avoid the endless hassle of trying to fly to a warm-weather port.