Two days after parent Star Group announced in its quarterly filing that Orient Lines' "yields were significantly down" and that the brand "has had a challenging nine months," it was decided to remove the 1,050-passenger Crown Odyssey from Orient's fleet and deploy it under the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) banner instead.

The new addition will allow NCL to further bolster its "Homeland Cruising" presence, explained NCL CEO Colin Veitch. According to Veitch, Homeland Cruising "has been so successful that we have been looking at ways of adding more ships to the program, and we have decided that bringing Crown Odyssey back into the NCL fleet will allow us to open up several more Homeland ports."

The Crown Odyssey will be drydocked in February 2003 in Singapore for significant changes: three restaurants will be added, as well as a new fitness center and children's area, while the spa and casino will be expanded and additional cabins will be installed. The ship will continue to sail for Orient Lines in the Mediterranean next summer, then will begin sailing for NCL on Sept. 15, with a series of four 11-day New England/Canada cruises from Baltimore. The Crown Odyssey will then be deployed for a winter season sailing the Chilean Fjords and the Strait of Magellan, before sailing spring and summer seasons to Bermuda in 2004.

Concurrent with the arrival of the Crown Odyssey, several other fleet redeployments are being made. The Norwegian Sea will be redeployed to Houston beginning Nov. 8, 2003, when it will begin sailing year­ round seven-day Western Caribbean cruises. NCL had previously scheduled the ship on four- and five-night cruises to the Bahamas and the Western Caribbean out of Miami; the ship's new route takes it to Mexico, Honduras, and Belize.

Also being shifted next winter is the Norwegian Dream, which had originally been scheduled to sail in South America (the program taken over by the Crown Odyssey). Instead, the ship begins seven-day cruises from New Orleans on Nov. 2, 2003, with calls in Mexico, Honduras and Belize. It is scheduled to return to Scandinavia for summer 2004, and to New England/Canada for fall 2004.

In the past, Veitch has characterized NCL's deployment strategy as using its overall 10 percent market share versus the "Big Two" in the most effective way, by seeking out markets that it can be a major player in - such as it does in Hawaii.

The moves to Houston and New Orleans may appear counter to that previously stated strategy, as both Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International have a strong presence in the Gulf.

NCL has announced that it will offer seven-day cruises from both those homeports starting at $399, undercutting current rates and implying a price- versus market share-based strategy.

However, Veitch noted that NCL will be the only major cruise line offering year-round cruises out of Houston versus Galveston. "Houston's attraction over Galveston, from a consumer standpoint, is that it is much closer to the population center of Houston and the suburbs. It is also much closer to George Bush Intercontinental Airport for passengers flying in," he said. Noting that NCL was the first to trail-blaze Texas cruising with its Texaribbean program in 1997, he added, "We are now looking forward to building on the original success."

According to estimates by Cruise Industry News (ClN), the NCL Group, including both NCL and Orient, will have capacity to carry 899,364 passengers next year, versus 773,588 passengers in 2002, up 16 percent. Significant gains are expected in 2004, when the impact of the Crown Odyssey's transfer becomes apparent, and with the delivery of the Project America-hull newbuild currently being towed to Lloyd Werft for completion.

Despite the diversity of the NCL Group's itineraries in 2003 - with ships sailing in 16 markets worldwide - the company is concentrating the vast majority of its passenger-carrying capacity in the Homeland Cruising market. According to CIN, 90.7 percent of the NCL Group's 2003 capacity will be based either in U.S. markets or adjacent markets such as Bermuda and West Mexico.