The addition of the 34,250-ton, 1,050-passenger Crown Odyssey (ex-Norwegian Crown) to Orient Lines' fleet will mark both a quantitative and qualitative change for the company. Quantitative in the sense that passenger capacity will increase 130 percent and staff by 50 percent. Qualitative in the sense that Orient Lines will be able to offer both a new ship and new destinations to its customers.

According to Orient Lines President Deborah Natansohn, the success of the company's first ship, the 800-passenger Marco Polo, has built up enough demand to justify the Crown's addition. "What we'll do is put the Crown in the tried-and-true markets we've served previously with the Marco Polo - the Med, Indian Ocean and Far East - and then put the Marco Polo on new itineraries, in Scandinavia and South America. This way, we will avoid the situation where all of our past passengers rush to the new ship." It also allows increased capacity in proven markets; for example, Orient expects to carry more than 38,700 passengers in the Mediterranean in 2000, an increase of nearly 50 percent over 1999.

The move makes financial sense for Orient owner NCL Holding too, because it is believed that transferring the ship from Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) to Orient will increase the vessel's per diems, as Orient's per diems average an estimated 50-100 percent more than NCL's. Explaining how the same ship will garner more money with a different name, Natansohn said, "I think you have to take into consideration both the hardware and software when making that calculation. We have a targeted segment, and premium-service level; also, our product is very destination-oriented, really a cruise-tour, with extensive pre- and post-cruise offerings, and more time in port."

The Crown Odyssey will make its inaugural cruise on May 8, 2000. It will enter drydock in April 2000, at which point its hull will be painted blue to match the Marco Polo's; its outdoor dining will be expanded on the lido deck; and furnishings will be refurbished. However, there will be no expansive changes to the ship.

Is the Crown Odyssey just the beginning of Orient's expansion? "I have said that I do believe we could be a three- or four-ship line," said Natansohn, "but at the same time, I also believe that in our segment, it is a mistake to grow too rapidly. Our market is a smaller segment and it takes a little longer to develop growth. So I think we should demonstrate the success of the two ships in the next couple of years, and then look to the future, when we could add another ship and expand further in markets like the Orient, Southeast Asia and China."